The strawberry field at Wegmeyer Farms (photo gallery) is blanketed with plants laden with blossoms and fruit. The field slopes down from the grass-covered parking area, and the rows are covered with black plastic to keep the weeds out and prevent erosion. During my visits, workers picked berries and put them in flats destined for nearby Whole Foods Markets, while visitors selected berries and dropped them into picking buckets. The farm is in a very peaceful area of Loudoun County with beautiful views of the hills, giving me the chance to enjoy the stillness of the cool morning while I worked. It was a Zen-like experience.
The strawberries ripened early this year due to the warm winter weather, just in time for Mother’s Day. The ripe berries were a brilliant, shiny red, gleaming in the buckets, and the sweet flavor of the just-picked berries was so enticing that I could just sit with the bucket and eat them as is, nothing else required. But I also had desserts in mind: shortcake, ice cream, trifle, pie. It’s strawberry season and it passes so quickly, so I want to enjoy it in every way possible.
My favorite kind of shortcake is the old-fashioned biscuit type, and these shortcakes from Southern Biscuits by Nathalie Dupree are excellent. I particularly like the combination of brown sugar and buttermilk, which goes so well with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. The original recipe bakes the shortcake in 6-inch cake pans, though I like to cut them like biscuits and bake on a sheet pan, just shape the dough very carefully with as little pressure as possible so the final texture won’t be tough, then cut.
I like to eat shortcake with the fresh strawberries on their own, no sugared sauce, and just a teaspoon of local honey drizzled on top.
Brown Sugar Strawberry Shortcakes
- large wide bowl
- dough blender
- 2 (6-inch) cake pans, lightly greased or 1 half sheet baking pan lined with parchment
- biscuit cutter (optional)
- small mixing bowl
- hand mixer
- 8 ounces fresh strawberries (hulled and sliced)
- 2¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup chilled butter (roughly cut into 1/2-inch cubes)
- 1¼ cups buttermilk (divided)
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar (sifted)
- Place the baking rack in the top third of the oven and preheat to 425° F/220° C.
- In the large bowl, whisk the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Reserve the remaining 1/4 cup of flour. Work the butter pieces in with a dough blender until the butter and flour clumps together in pea-sized lumps. (You can also use two knives.) The butter should stay cold, so if the butter gets warm, put the bowl in the refrigerator for 5 minutes or so to chill.
- Make a hollow in the center of the flour and pour in 1 cup of the buttermilk. Stir with a rubber spatula just until all the flour is mixed in and the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be a little wet and shaggy. If it’s too wet, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour, or if it’s too dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the remaining milk.
- Scrape the dough out into two 6-inch cake pans and sprinkle the top with light brown sugar. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops are light golden, about 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the pans about halfway through baking. When the biscuits are done, remove from the oven and cut into 6 triangles. Split and serve with whipped cream and sliced strawberries. [Optional: Cut into biscuits and bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment.]
- While the shortcakes bake, use a hand mixer to whip the cream and confectioners sugar in a small mixing bowl, until the cream has soft peeks. Spoon onto the hot shortcakes and top with sliced strawberries. Drizzle a little honey over the strawberries and serve.