Perhaps the most-famous shortcake dessert is strawberry shortcake. Depending on where you are in the United States, shortcakes can either be sponge cakes or sweet biscuits. These shortcakes are split and the bottoms are covered with a layer of strawberries and whipped cream. They are divine down-home comfort.
What’s the secret to a light, tender shortcake? This is where down-home comfort meets food science. Wheat flour contains two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. When you combine flour with water, the proteins create a strong and elastic sheet called gluten. Flours vary in their protein levels, which affects the texture of baked goods. Gluten gives structure to yeast breads but is not recommended for tender sponge cakes, biscuits and quick breads. All-purpose flour milled in the South is from soft red winter wheat, which has less gluten-forming protein. It is typically bleached, which makes it whiter, but this does not affect the protein. My family has always used White Lily flour, a staple across the South; another dependable Southern brand is Martha White.
Most national brands of all-purpose flour use a combination of soft winter wheat and higher-protein hard summer wheat. White Lily contains approximately 9 grams of protein per cup of flour, whereas national brands can contain 11 or 12 grams of protein per cup of flour. If you live outside the South, White Lily is available online or in some specialty shops in other parts of the country. For results similar to those using flour milled in the South, substitute one part national-brand all-purpose flour and one part cake flour for the amount of Southern all-purpose flour in a recipe.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Get the Recipe: Brown Sugar-Strawberry Shortcakes
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.