Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An Old-Fashioned Shortcake


Strawberry Shortcake is my absolute favorite cake, so when my mother asked me to make her a birthday shortcake with strawberries, blueberries, and peaches I was thrilled.  This is a towering, fancy-looking cake that is quite simple to make.  It's also quite special to me because the basic cake recipe is my great-grandmother's.  Isn't that neat?

Here is a copy of the recipe in my mother's hand.  As you can see, it has been well-loved through the years.


I love strawberries with cream, and this is a beautiful, fluffy cake version of just that with peaches and blueberries to add a little pop.  To make a shortcake you need three basic things: two 9-inch cakes, whipped cream, and fresh fruit.  Before we look at any of those things, let's take a moment to examine pan preparation.  You'll need two 9-inch cake pans for this recipe.

Many people grease and flour their pans to keep the baked cake from sticking, but I prefer to line my pans  with wax paper.  I don't always do this when I bake, but I always do so when I bake this cake.  Here's my favorite way to create the perfect wax paper liner.

1. Flip the cake pan over so the bottom is facing up.  Place a sheet of wax paper on top of the pan.


2. Run the blunt side of a butter knife around the rim of the pan, creating an impression on the wax paper.

3.  Remove the wax paper and cut out the circle impression left behind.  Place the cut-out in the pan.  Voila!  


You can purchase pre-cut liners at gourmet shops and baking-supply stores, but it's much more cost-efficient to do it yourself.  At this point you can flour the cut-out for extra assurance if you like.  I generally leave them as they are, and it works for me.  Now that the pans are ready, it's cake-baking time.

Mama Holley's Basic Cake

2 1/4 cups self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients thoroughly.  Bake at 325 degrees F until brown.

That's the original recipe in its entirety.  Isn't it beautiful?  I like how simple and old-fashioned the recipe is, but there are a few little tricks that will help when baking this cake.  Most important is the order in which the ingredients are combined.  I begin by mixing the flour and sugar, then working in the shortening with my hands. This will help ensure even distribution of the ingredients.  In a separate bowl mix the milk, vanilla extract and eggs, then add to the dry ingredients.  

Another helpful piece of information that's missing from the recipe is the bake time.  My great-grandmother would probably have recommended baking it "just until it looks about right" if pressed for a time. I'll try to be a little more specific.  :)  At 325 degrees F in 9-inch pans this cake takes approximately 30 minutes to bake.  It may take a little more or less time depending on your oven.  It should be golden on top, and a toothpick should come out clean when inserted in the center.


After the cake has cooled a little, gingerly peel off the wax paper.  Take care not to be too rough or you risk tearing the top of the cake.


Lovely, isn't it?  This cake has a coarse crumb that I adore.


Using a long bread knife, split each cake horizontally so you have two layers per cake.  



Now your cakes are ready, and you'll need some fresh whipped cream.  Whatever you do, don't reach for the Cool Whip!   Try this instead.

Fresh Whipped Cream (a guide, not a recipe)

1 pint (16 oz) heavy whipping cream
approximately 1 Tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer, beat cream until light and fluffy.  Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract.  Beat until fully incorporated.

Spread a covering of whipped cream on the first layer of cake.  Top with sliced fresh fruit of your choice.  Place the second layer on top and repeat.  You should have a total of four layers.  


That's it for a shortcake!  As I mentioned, my favorite shortcake has only strawberries and cream.  I love the simplicity and the intensity of the strawberries in summer.   The addition of peaches and blueberries was nice, and it certainly made a bright, festive birthday cake.  Check out the damage!


The best way to eat this cake is very early in the morning, on a back porch with a cup of black coffee.  It's the best breakfast imaginable.  


  1. OH KASIE!!!! It really doesn't get much better than a good old fashioned shortcake and this looks just like something my grandmother used to make...right along side her infamous angel food cake and other deliciousness! AND I TOTALLY AGREE about the homemade whipped cream! Nothing is better!

  2. Nothing better than cake for breakfast. I had no idea that this would be such an easy recipe. Can't wait to try it myself!

    Casual Kitchen

  3. WOW! Kaise that looks so amazing!

  4. This is so beautiful. I love it! :) I will be trying it as well....

  5. I'll be making this today for my mother in-law. It looks amazing!