What is a Shortcake?

Mary McMahon

A shortcake is a sweet quickbread made with a high percentage of shortening, creating a very rich flavor and flaky texture. Shortcakes may also be known as biscuits in the United States, or as scones in the United Kingdom. This quickbread is the basis for a family of desserts also known as shortcakes, of which the most famous is probably the strawberry shortcake, traditionally made with fresh strawberries, cream, shortcake, and sometimes a drizzling of syrup for moisture and sweetness.

Melted fruit jam is a common topping for shortcakes.
Melted fruit jam is a common topping for shortcakes.

There are two basic types of shortcake. The traditional style is a slightly dry, tender quickbread with added sugar and shortening such as butter, lard, or vegetable oil. It typically includes flour, butter, sugar, eggs, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and milk or cream. The other style is a sponge cake, which lacks the traditionally flaky style, although it contains the sweetness which people associate with shortcake.

Sugar is typically added to the dry ingredients in shortcake recipes.
Sugar is typically added to the dry ingredients in shortcake recipes.

It is relatively easy to make shortcake at home, and many people have recipes passed down among family members for this basic quickbread. Shortcakes can be eaten on their own out of hand, or spread with butter, clotted cream, jam, and other materials as a snack. For shortcake desserts, shortcakes are classically split, with the fillings being layered in the center, and sometimes on top for added effect.

People have been making and using shortbread for a very long time. Unlike yeast-risen breads, shortbread is very fast and easy to make, and it doesn't require special baking skills, being easy enough for very young children to make. It is also easy to experiment with shortcakes, adding ingredients like lemon zest, chocolate chips, dried fruit, and so forth to come up with variations on the basic recipe. Many people associate shortcake with formal teas and summer, when shortcake desserts can feel very refreshing.

It is also possible to purchase shortcakes in bakeries and grocery stores. The traditional version of this quickbread does not have a very long shelf life, becoming stale, dry, and crumbly rather than flaky if it is stored too long. Conversely, it can become soggy if stored in plastic. Sponge cakes, on the other hand, have a longer shelf life, especially when stored in airtight containers, and they are commonly the shortcake of choice at grocery stores, as they can be stocked in ample amounts for shortcake-hungry customers.

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