strawberry shortcakes

“But I don’t LIKE strawberry sweets,” said Oliver, a scowl coming over his face. He stomped his feet for emphasis, and the swinging of his arms and whiny pitch to his voice heralded the potential for a tantrum. He had been asking me to make a chocolate cake for the past two weeks. He prefers chocolate.

I prefer chocolate, too, but we had strawberries. Lots and lots of strawberries.

If our family of four were to – hypothetically, of course – stop at the drive through at Steak ‘n Shake for milkshakes, there would be two orders of strawberry shakes and two orders of chocolate shakes. Oliver and I would have the chocolate ones. We would all have whipped cream on our shakes, though. On the issue of whipped cream, we are all four in agreement.

And, if the Easter Bunny were to come at Easter, two of the humans in my home would prefer to receive jelly beans – the husband and the daughter – while Oliver and I would hoard the chocolate, stashing it away in our secret spots to enjoy quietly, sparingly. This year, I’m hoping the Easter Bunny will bring See’s Chocolates, for those are some of my most favorite chocolates. And Oliver’s too, by default. We are chocolate-type people, that’s just how we’re made.

strawberry shortcakes | the merry gourmet

So I understood his reservations about strawberry desserts. But on this occasion, we had strawberries, and a strawberry dessert would be made. I planned to make strawberry shortcakes, an excellent use for several pints of the seventeen pounds of berries we picked. I reassured Oliver that we could pour chocolate syrup on his, if he really insisted. He seemed satisfied with that plan.

My father used to make strawberry shortcakes for us when I was a kid. His were the classic supermarket shortcakes – yellow sponge cakes shaped like hockey pucks, with a circular crater in the top. Dad would peel the individual cakes off their white cardboard backing, nestle each one in a bowl, and fill the cakes with sweetened, macerated strawberries. The shortcakes weren’t complete until a sizeable dollop of Cool Whip was perched on top.

Instead of using prepackaged cakes, I baked the shortcakes from scratch. They were more like tender, sweetened biscuits, rather than cakes, and made with lots of butter and cream. Each biscuit was sliced in half, and one half was placed in a bowl to collect all of the juices from the strawberries and their sugary syrup. I drizzled strawberry balsamic and black pepper sauce over the berries, and topped each with homemade vanilla whipped cream and the other half of the biscuit.

They were divine.

These strawberry shortcakes were like distant cousins to those my father used to make. His were simple and store-bought, but I still love them – or the memory of them. These strawberry shortcakes are decadent, require more work, but the effort is entirely worth it.

Oliver ate every last crumb in his bowl. And he didn’t require a single drop of chocolate sauce on top.

strawberry shortcakes | the merry gourmet

Yield: 8 servings.

Strawberry Shortcakes

If you’d like to make these in advance, I recommend making the shortcakes (biscuits) and the whipped cream early in the day. After baking the biscuits, leave them at room temperature until you’re ready to serve them. Store the whipped cream in an airtight container and refrigerate.

The strawberry balsamic and black pepper sauce recipe can be found here.


4 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/3 cup (67 grams) granulated sugar

2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, frozen
1 cup heavy cream, cold
1 egg, beaten (for glaze)

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream, cold
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce


Prepare topping:

Mix strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside while preparing biscuits (or up to 2 hours).

Prepare Biscuits:

Heat oven to 425 degrees, with rack in center position of oven. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. In a food processor, combine flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt; pulse a few times to blend. Add butter and pulse five or six times, until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Add cream, and process until moist clumps form. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and gather dough into a ball. Flatten dough into an 8 x 4-inch rectangle. Cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 4 equal pieces, forming 8 square biscuits. Transfer biscuits to parchment-lined baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes.

Brush tops of biscuits with egg glaze and sprinkle with remaining teaspoon of sugar. Bake until biscuits are golden brown, approximately 15 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.

Prepare whipped cream:

Using an electric mixer or stand mixer, beat heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla until peaks form.

Assemble the shortcakes:

Cut biscuits horizontally in half. Place bottom half of each biscuit, cut side up, on a plate. Spoon strawberries equally among the biscuits. Place a dollop of whipped cream atop the strawberries, and drizzle a tablespoon of strawberry balsamic and black pepper sauce over the whipped cream. Cover each with a top half of the biscuit.

Adapted from and inspired by this recipe.

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15 Responses to “strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce”

  1. 1
    Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon — April 6, 2014 @ 8:13 pm

    All I can offer is the encouragement for you to hang in there. And remember to be kind to yourself.

  2. 2
    Liren — April 6, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

    Each day is a process, I’ve found, when grieving. It never goes away, but the good days eventually outweigh the hard ones. The nights and those dreams, though…sigh. When we were in NY I dreamt of my father in law, it was so real, and I didn’t want to let go. Agonizing, but in many ways, I hope for those dream visits, from him and especially from my mom. I’m glad you found your way into the kitchen again, MJ. It’s such a good way to heal. Hugs.

  3. 3
    Macaroni Mama — April 6, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

    Wonderful blog. It’s hard Merry Jennifer. At least you have a focus .

  4. 4
    Kathryn — April 7, 2014 @ 4:31 am

    Such a wonderful post – after my grandfather died I had similar dreams (I still do every now and then) and it took me a while to remember him how he would have liked to be remembered, not how he was at the end. It does take time and the space to grieve. Thinking of you all xxx

  5. 5
    Katy — April 7, 2014 @ 11:59 am

    So glad sharing and cooking is part of your healing. It’s such a blessing to read your posts!

  6. 6
    Paula — April 7, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

    I’m so sorry that you must take this journey Merry-Jennifer. No one can tell you how how long it will last, nor what you should be experiencing. It’s a personal and solitary one but remember that you have many, near and far who support you throughout its duration.

  7. 7
    Cherie — April 7, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

    I’m just glad to hear something from you again – another baby step – good to know you’re paying attention to yourself at least a little in this process – so difficult.

    Wishing you dreamless nights, at least for a while . . .

  8. 8
    Justine — April 7, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

    My father has been gone for 6 years. I still have dreams of him. I like my dreams as it makes me feel connected. Hope this helps. 🙂

  9. 9
    LeeAnn — April 7, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. I lost both my Mom and Dad 4 months apart,so I really understand your pain. I can tell you for sure, as cliche as it sounds, that time will help heal the pain you are feeling. Please take care of yourself and know that you are making a difference in so many lives.

  10. 10
    Melanie — April 7, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

    Merry – I’m so sorry for your loss. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man. It’s so wonderful that you were so close to him. Regarding your dreams…..I wonder if he keeps visiting you because you don’t want to/haven’t really let him go. I don’t know how to offer help with ‘letting go’, but if you know someone who could guide you, maybe that would make the dreams stop or at least turn them into ones where he is a live and stays alive…..not where you knows he’s going to die at the end of each dream…..that has to be incredibly painful. I wish you the best.

  11. 11
    Eileen — April 8, 2014 @ 8:04 am

    Ah, the dreams. After my mom passed away I’d dream she would visit me. In the dreams I’d know that she was gone and that I only had a limited time to visit with her before she was gone again. The dreams seemed so real and I would always wake up crying. I experienced a sense of joy and grief all at the same time. I’d like to believe that it’s not just our subconscious was of trying to deal with death, but rather a spiritual experience that many would conceive as highly improbable. I guess that’s where the word FAITH comes in. Glad to see your are slowing healing and getting back to the things you enjoy. I can’t eat strawberries anymore and that in itself makes me cry…. Thanks for sharing your great stories and recipes Jennifer 🙂

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  13. 12
    Jenni — April 11, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

    The first couple of years after my brother died, when I dreamed of him, he was sick or dead, and the dreams were horrifying. Eventually, though, my dreams found him as he was when he was healthy and happy. When I dream of him now, this is always how I see him. I awake smiling, if a bit wistful. But smiling.The cloak of his illness eventually fell away and turned to dust, leaving only him.

    It will come. Give yourself time. Be kind to yourself.

    PS I would bathe in that strawberry sauce if I could. My brother would have made it into a milk shake. He was always much more refined than I. =)

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  15. 13
    Liesl — April 21, 2014 @ 11:55 am

    Thank you for your words. My father passed away on February 3rd, a wonderful man, too. I miss him terribly. I knew that I would, but I was unprepared for how different life would feel without him, for feeling less safe and secure in the world (though of course, I am) and for the feeling of a huge hole in my life. I started cooking again about a month afterward, too. Thanks for all you do, writing and cooking and helping me feel less alone.

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