These Quick-Pickled Eggs Are Bar Food At Its Best

These easy quick-pickled eggs are sweet, savory, and have just enough kick from black peppercorns. Plus: They require just 20 minutes of active time.

Side view of pickled eggs
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In The Simpsons, the bartender Moe always has a jar of pickled eggs at the ready. When Frankie, the health inspector, stops by the bar to conduct a routine check and samples an egg to make sure everything Moe serves is “hygienically stored,” the ill-fated inspector immediately meets his demise, falling to the floor in a dramatic, pickled-egg induced death.

Such is the lore surrounding pickled eggs, a divisive dish that often elicits unenthusiastic groans. And though the murky, bubbling jar of green liquid on the counter at Moe’s doesn’t look the least bit appetizing, pickled eggs can be delicious—and totally safe to eat—when done right. These quick-pickled eggs, which are sweet and savory with a spicy kick from black peppercorns, are truly delicious. And because they’re quick-pickled and kept in the refrigerator, extremely unlikely to kill you.

A Brief History of Pickled Eggs

Though it’s no longer as common to see pickled eggs at bars, they were once a staple snack at drinking establishments throughout Europe and the United States. It’s unclear where pickled eggs originated, as preserving eggs in vinegar was a common practice in England and much of western Europe as far back as the 16th century. Sue Shephard, author of Pickled, Potted, and Canned, notes that vinegar pickling became extremely popular in 16th century England when homemakers tired of salt-preserving. “When the English farmer’s wife had a glut of eggs,” she writes, “she would boil them hard, shell them, and pile them into earthenware or glass jars and pour over them scalding vinegar well seasoned with pepper, ginger, garlic, and allspice.” 

Overhead of pickled eggs
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Pickled eggs were also a sought-after snack in 18th century Germany, and German immigrants helped spread the tradition to other countries. By the mid-1800s, jars of pickled eggs were common at German-owned bars in America, while British pubs served them alongside bags of crisps (potato chips). It’s unclear exactly why pickled eggs are so often served alongside alcohol; writing for Punch, journalist Talia Ralph suggests that there may be “some well-founded nutritional logic to the pairing of eggs and booze,” as eggs contain cysteine, an amino acid that can aid liver function, which in theory might help prevent hangovers. 

Pickled eggs may no longer be a hot ticket item, but some bars are doing their best to keep the tradition alive. The Cock Tavern in Hackney, London, still serves them—and bartenders keep a running tally on a black chalkboard of how fast their patrons can eat a pickled egg.

Some US bars still have a batch of pickled eggs on hand, too. In Austin, Texas, patrons at The Haymaker can enjoy their beer with a house-pickled habanero egg, while in New York City, Jacob's Pickles preserves theirs in a spicy jalapeño brine and serves them as an appetizer.

What Is Quick-Pickling?

There are two common methods of pickling: vinegar pickling and lactic-acid fermentation. The first typically involves submerging and preserving food in a brine of vinegar, salt, and sugar; the acidity of the solution slowly draws water out from the food via osmosis. The brine gradually penetrates the food as it sits, creating a hostile environment for harmful bacteria and making the food safe to eat. Pickles made via lacto-fermentation develop their flavor as microbes convert the natural sugar molecules into lactic acid, turning sweet into sour and reducing the food’s pH to prevent bacterial growth, thus aiding in long-term preservation.  

Side view of eggs with brine
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

While other pickling methods can take weeks or months, quick pickling simply involves popping the ingredients in a jar, adding a vinegar-based brine, and refrigerating. Intended for short-term consumption, quick-pickled items must remain refrigerated at all times. Refrigeration inhibits bacterial growth and vinegar lowers the pH of preserved foods, so both the cool fridge temperatures and the acetic brine play an important role in quick-pickling. The vinegar brine also alters the flavor of the ingredients in the jar, adding a sour note often balanced by sugar, spices, or other components added to the pickling solution. 

You can quick-pickle lots of things, including asparagus, rhubarb, fennel, red onions, cucumbers, and of course, eggs. Some quick-pickles—especially vegetable recipes—use a cold brine, allowing the vegetables to retain their original texture and color. In contrast, a hot brine may cook and soften the ingredients ever-so-slightly. In the recipe below, I opt for a hot brine, as the heat helps dissolve the granulated sugar.

Overhead view of brining mixture in pot
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

5 Tips for Making Quick-Pickled Eggs

Use a clean jar. While sterilization is not required for quick-pickling the way it is for traditional canning, a thorough wash with soap and water will remove any traces of bacteria, mold, or leftover food, creating a clean, safe environment for your pickled eggs. 

Use water and vinegar in your brine. Pickling your eggs in just vinegar can produce rubbery egg whites, as the acidic nature denatures and stiffens the egg white proteins as the eggs sit. Using a brine of both water and vinegar not only produces a more balanced pickling liquid, but also helps reduce the likelihood of rubbery pickled eggs. 

Use fresh dill. Fresh herbs contain flavor compounds that lose their potency during the drying process, so in this recipe, fresh is best. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to use all of that fresh dill from your summer herb garden (if you're lucky enough to have one). 

Allow the eggs to sit for at least three days. You can eat the eggs after 24 hours, but it's worth pickling for at least three days for maximum flavor. Oh, and don't worry if the garlic turns green or blue. A chemical reaction causes this unexpected color change, and it's totally normal.

Flavor to your heart’s desire. Once you've tried the basic recipe below, consider customizing your next batch by using different herbs and spices, making the brine with an alternate vinegar (such as cider or white wine), or adding vegetables to the jar. I tested this recipe with two "add-in" options: onions and jalapeño peppers. The onion-pickled eggs developed a noticeable onion flavor, while the jalapeño (my favorite!) packed a spicy punch. In addition to uniquely flavored eggs, you'll have tasty pickled vegetables, too. I added my pickled onions to a salad, and scattered the jalapeño rings on a pizza.

How to Serve Quick-Pickled Eggs

Bring quick-pickled eggs to a picnic or potluck, eat them as a snack, or go retro and serve them as an hors d'oeuvre at your next cocktail party. Turn them into deviled eggs or a sandwich or add them to a cobb or niçoise salad. I also enjoyed mine on top of ramen and in rice and vegetable bowls.

In a 1-quart heat-safe glass jar with a lid, combine hard-boiled eggs with dill and garlic.

Side view of eggs in jar
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In a medium saucepan, stir together vinegar, water, sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, and salt. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer until liquid reduces and darkens slightly, 10 minutes.

Overhead view of brining mixture in pot
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Carefully pour hot brine, along with bay leaves and peppercorns, over eggs, garlic, and dill. Cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Side view of eggs with brine
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Cover with a lid and refrigerate until eggs taste and smell vinegary and become beige, for at least 3 days and up to 2 weeks. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Side view of pickled eggs
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Variations

To make onion-pickled eggs: Peel a small (approximately 130g; 4 1/2 ounce) white onion. Slice into thin rings. Layer with the hard-boiled eggs, then proceed with the recipe as written.

 To make jalapeño-pickled eggs: Trim and de-seed 1 jalapeño pepper (about 1 ounce; 30g). Thinly slice pepper 1/4-inch crosswise. Layer peppers with hard-boiled eggs and proceed with step 2 above. (For spicier eggs, add 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes to the brine.)

Special Equipment

1-quart heat-proof jar, medium saucepan

Notes

You can make quick-pickled eggs in any lidded glass jar or heat-proof food storage container.

8 large hard-boiled eggs fit comfortably in a 1-quart jar, but if you are using smaller eggs, you might have room for 1 to 2 more. Avoid cramming too many eggs into the jar to provide adequate space for the brine to fully surround the eggs. 

The recipe can easily be doubled. To pickle 16 eggs, use a 2-quart heat-proof jar or two 1-quart containers. 

Make-Ahead and Storage

You can eat the eggs after 24 hours, but for maximum flavor, refrigerate for at least 3 days before serving.

This is a quick pickling recipe, and is not intended for canning or long-term preservation. Store quick-pickled eggs in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

How to Turn Corn on the Cob Into the Most Flavorful, Buttery Casserole Ever

This fresh spin on Pennsylvania Dutch corn pudding is soft and creamy, with just a bit of salt and pepper to balance the corn’s natural sweetness.

Pennsylvania Dutch pudding in a red baking dish.
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Growing up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, corn was always in regular rotation around our family table. The region’s rich agricultural history of growing and preserving the crop meant that there was always plenty of corn around, no matter the time of year. While indigenous people in what eventually became the Americas had long been growing corn and incorporating it into their cuisines, the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of cooking with corn dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, when German immigrants arrived in America. They sought to meld their culinary customs with the new ingredients available to them, resulting in what has now become Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. 

Corn quickly became part of the Pennsylvania Dutch diet, and many cookbooks and magazines from the 19th century, including Phebe Earle Gibbons’ 1872 book Pennsylvania Dutch and Alice Morse Earle’s 1898 Home Life in Colonial Days, contain instructions for preparing corn, with the ingredient appearing in dishes like Johnny cakes, scrapple, dumplings, and corn pudding. 

As the late Edna Eby Heller wrote in her 1960 book The Dutch Cookbook, “There are more [Pennsylvania] Dutch ways of serving corn than any other vegetable, excepting potatoes.” If my childhood was any indication, she’s really not wrong. There was chicken corn soup on busy weeknights, garden-fresh corn as a summertime side, and during the holidays, a family favorite: baked corn pudding. With plenty of eggs, butter, milk, sugar, and sometimes cornstarch or flour, the dish is soft and creamy and balances the corn’s natural sweetness with just enough salt and pepper to make it a savory side.

Though corn pudding appears in many regional American cuisines—spicy green chile-inflected pudding in the Southwest, Southern spoonbread and casserole, and molasses-sweetened pudding in New England—they typically feature canned, creamed, or fresh corn. The version I grew up eating is traditionally prepared with dried corn, as drying corn and other homegrown produce was once such an important part of Pennsylvania farming culture that some homes were built with dry houses, small buildings with shelves and drawers specifically designed for drying fruits and vegetables. 

Nan Best, a family friend who grew up in the town of Brownstown in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, remembers her grandmother painstakingly removing the kernels from cobs of corn and spreading them onto trays that fit into a device her grandfather built to heat and dry corn. The process took several days, she recalls, and filled her home with a toasty aroma as the corn turned from vibrant yellow to deep golden brown. Best's memories are echoed by many other Pennsylvania Dutch cooks. “The operation was something of a culinary ritual,” writes Betty Groff in her Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook. “As the corn dried on the stove in the corner of the farm kitchen, [family members] took turns staying awake all night to make sure it didn’t burn.”

 One company, Cope's, has sold dried sweet corn to Pennsylvanians for over 100 years, harvesting young corn and preserving it for a nutrient-dense dried corn; which the company describes as having a “golden color and toasted sweet corn flavor.” Cope’s is the brand Pennsylvanians turn to when they need dried corn, and some vintage Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks even include an address so home cooks—in the pre-internet age—could order bags of the signature dried corn by mail.

Corn pudding in a red baking dish.
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

A Fresh Twist on Pennsylvania Dutch Corn Pudding

To make corn pudding the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch way, home cooks soak finely ground dried corn in milk overnight to rehydrate it. While that method produces a delicious, flavorful dish, it’s a multi-day affair that simply isn’t realistic for most people. Although Pennsylvania grocery stores do carry dried corn occasionally, especially around fall and winter holidays, the kind needed to prepare this pudding the traditional way isn’t easy to source if you live elsewhere in the world. In Britain, where I now live, a search for dried corn led me to popping corn, freeze-dried corn, and plenty of chicken feed—but nothing suitable for making corn pudding. 

With that in mind, I call for fresh corn in my recipe below, making this a corn pudding that takes just one hour to prepare and is much easier to shop for. I’m not veering too far from tradition, as Pennsylvania Dutch puddings do incorporate fresh corn when seasonally available. (One of my vintage cookbooks includes options for puddings made with canned corn, dried corn, or fresh corn—three slightly different approaches to the same dish.) This version is similar to the one my family prepares: sweet and custardy, with a consistency that falls somewhere between pudding and quiche. 

With the exception of the food processor, this corn pudding is practically a one-bowl recipe that takes 10 minutes to whip up before you place it in the oven to bake. Though it’s slightly different from the dried corn pudding recipe that Nan shared with me, it’s no less delicious. When fresh corn comes into season, this is always one of the first things I make.

Close up shot of corn pudding in a bowl.
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Generously butter a 7-inch round or a 9- by 13-inch baking dish.

Greasing a red baking dish.
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse corn kernels until thick, creamy, and some kernels are still visible, about 45 seconds. Set aside. (See notes.)

Corn in a food processor.
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

In a medium bowl, whisk cornstarch, granulated sugar, salt, and pepper to combine. Add eggs, followed by the corn, milk, and melted butter, whisking until well combined. Pour into prepared baking dish.

Whisking together corn pudding.
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Bake, uncovered, until edges are golden brown and the center no longer jiggles, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove corn pudding from oven and allow to rest 10 minutes, or until cool enough to eat. Serve immediately.

Corn pudding in a red baking dish.
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Special Equipment

7-inch round or 9- by 13-inch baking dish, food processor

Notes

Removing kernels from fresh corn can be a messy affair; I do this by running a sharp knife along the sides of the cob, but feel free to employ the assistance of a corn stripper. And though some recipes suggest grating the corn, I found this technique even messier and unnecessarily labor-intensive, so I've used a food processor to blitz the kernels instead. 

The processed corn should be pulplike, with visible chunks or pieces of kernel remaining. It should not be completely puréed or liquified, or the pudding will take much longer to bake.

This recipe also works with canned or thawed frozen yellow sweet corn, and will yield a similar taste and texture. Drain the corn very thoroughly, and increase the baking time by 5-10 minutes to account for the additional moisture, or you’ll run the risk of watery pudding.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Corn pudding can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.To reheat, microwave on medium-high power, stirring every 30 seconds until warmed through. Alternatively, place leftovers in a baking dish and reheat, uncovered, in a 350°F (175° C) oven until warmed through, 15 to 20 minutes.

 Corn pudding can be frozen in an airtight container for up to three months. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating in the microwave or oven.

The Easy British Ice Cream Parlor Treat I’m Submerging Myself in All Summer

Featuring layers of vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries, swirls of whipped cream, and a fan wafer, the knickerbocker glory is a summer staple at ice cream parlors and seaside cafés across the United Kingdom.

Side view of Knickerbocker glory
Serious Eats / Larisa Niedle

Featuring layers of vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries, swirls of whipped cream, and a fan wafer, the knickerbocker glory is a summer staple at ice cream parlors and seaside cafés across the United Kingdom. I first encountered the knickerbocker glory back in 2019 when I moved to London to attend pastry school and began an ongoing quest to eat my way through the repertoire of classic British desserts. Even though I discovered this sundae on the British side of the Atlantic, its name immediately reminded me of home. Turns out, there was a good reason for that mental connection, as this dessert almost certainly traces its roots to New York.

A Brief History of the Knickerbocker Glory

In his 1809 History of New York, former US ambassador Washington Irving—writing under the pen name Diedrich Knickerbocker—referred to descendants of the city’s early Dutch settlers as “knickerbockers.” This may be why countless New York buildings, businesses, and landmarks, including a Brooklyn subway station, a hotel, a housing development, and of course, the city's famous basketball team, have adopted this peculiar name. As a New Yorker, I wasn’t surprised to learn that a sundae called the “knickerbocker glory” originated not in Britain but in the Big Apple.

Although the exact history of the knickerbocker glory remains hazy, it likely dates back to the early 20th century. A recipe for a similar dessert named "The Knickerbocker" appears in The Dispenser's Formulary or Soda Water Guide, a manual for soda fountain operators published in New York in 1915. With ice cream, chocolate syrup, raspberries, cherries, whipped cream, and rose essence “served in a tall, narrow, 10 ounce, thin glass,” the dish may very well have been the blueprint for the knickerbocker glory that eventually made its way across the pond.

The London department store Fortnum & Mason claims it introduced the sundae to the country in the 1950s; the knickerbocker glory is so synonymous with the store today that it even sells sundae-shaped souvenirs. British newspaper advertisements from the 1920s and 1930s, however, reveal that the knickerbocker was around before Fortnum & Mason put it on its menu. Writing for the Scottish newspaper The Press & Journal, editor Brian Stormont notes that it’s likely the dessert “first came to prominence” in 1920s London, but wasn’t popularized until it appeared on the menu of American burger chain Wimpy’s, which opened its first British location in 1954 and sold the knickerbocker glory until 2011. 

Today, the London restaurant Dovetale offers an £18 ($23) “luxury sundae” from a high-tech tableside trolley designed by rocket engineers and equipped with carbon dioxide jets. You certainly don’t need a fancy trolley to make your own knickerbocker glory at home, though.

Overhead view of Knickerbocker Glory
Serious Eats / Larisa Niedle

5 Tips for Making a Stellar Knickerbocker Glory

Like most easily customizable desserts, there’s no definitive recipe for the knickerbocker glory, but a classic one typically includes vanilla ice cream; a fruit purée, syrup, or coulis; fresh fruit; swirls of whipped cream; and a fan wafer, all served in a tall glass with a long metal spoon.

Traditional versions, including the iconic Fortnum & Mason offering, usually feature strawberries, raspberries, or a combination of the two. The white ice cream and bright red berries create a striped pattern thought to mimic the facade of the historic Knickerbocker Hotel in New York, or perhaps the long socks worn with another US export, knickerbocker breeches. 

There's plenty of room for creativity, though, and it’s not uncommon to see chefs layer in additional components, like meringue, cake, marshmallows, or fruit jelly. Other more modern takes may include poached rhubarb, roasted peaches, caramel sauce, brownie chunks, nut brittle, or honeycomb. There are even boozy variations with alcohol-infused fruit syrups and fudgy versions for chocolate lovers. With the tips below, you’ll be able to make a spectacular knickerbocker glory to suit your tastes.

Gather your mise en place. Because we’re working with ice cream, time is of the essence; the first key to success when making a knickerbocker glory is to have all the components ready to go. Once the ice cream is softened, the fruit is diced and puréed, and the cream is whipped, you can start assembling your knickerbocker glory immediately.

Soften the ice cream. For ice cream that blends easily with the berries and syrup for a swirly, striped look, you want it to be just soft enough to work with—not the firm scoops of ice cream you’d get straight out of the freezer. Aim for scoopable but not quite soft serve consistency, and definitely not runny. Any brand or flavor of ice cream will work, but traditional vanilla will likely complement the fresh berries best—and help create the sundae’s signature red-and-white pattern.

Make your own fruit purée. You can substitute store-bought strawberry sauce if you’re short on time, but it's worth taking a few minutes to make your own, which will allow you to adjust the sweetness of the purée as desired. We've written the sauce into the recipe below, and while it's quick to prep at the last minute, you can also make it up to two days in advance. 

Alternate your layers. For the prettiest sundae, alternate the syrup, fruit, and ice cream in a tall glass and use the long parfait spoon to push the fruit and ice cream outward to the edges. A sundae glass is nice and will allow you to admire your dessert, but if you don’t have one, a tall drinking glass or jar will work too. 

Get creative. Feel free to experiment with different fruits, sauces, and nuts or cookies for extra crunch. But if you’d like to stick with the classic version below, that’s perfectly fine, too. After all, you really can’t go wrong with the summery combo of vanilla ice cream, berries, and whipped cream.

Remove container of ice cream from freezer. Set aside to soften until easily scoopable but not melted, about 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the other components.

Overhead view of ice cream
Serious Eats / Larisa Niedle

In the bowl of a food processor or the jug of an immersion blender, combine 1/2 cup (70g) diced strawberries and 1 tablespoon powdered sugar. Purée until smooth, about 1 minute. Using a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl, strain purée, scraping and pressing with a flexible spatula to push mixture through as needed. Set aside.

Two image collage of making puree
Serious Eats / Larisa Niedle

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip heavy cream and 1 teaspoon powdered sugar, if using, on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. (Alternatively, place heavy cream in a medium bowl and, using a hand mixer, whip heavy cream and powdered sugar, if using, on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes.) Using a flexible spatula, transfer whipped cream to prepared piping bag and refrigerate until ready to use.

Two image collage of making whipped cream
Serious Eats / Larisa Niedle

Cover bottom of a parfait glass with 1 tablespoon strawberry purée. Add remaining 1/4 cup (35g) diced strawberries. Top with 1 scoop vanilla ice cream and drizzle with 1 tablespoon strawberry purée. Top with 1 more scoop vanilla ice cream and raspberries, using an iced tea–spoon to smooth ice cream and arrange fruit as needed. Top with 1 scoop vanilla ice cream and drizzle with remaining strawberry purée.

Four image collage of assembling Knickerbocker Glory
Serious Eats / Larisa Niedle

Pipe whipped cream over the sundae and garnish with a fan wafer. Serve immediately with iced tea–spoon.

Two image collage of assembling knickerbocker glory
Serious Eats / Larisa Niedle

Special Equipment

Piping bag, star piping tip, parfait glass, hand mixer, food processor, fine-mesh strainer, ice cream scoop, long spoon

Notes

If you don't have a parfait glass, you can assemble your knickerbocker glory in a tall drinking glass or glass jar instead.

If you can’t find fan wafers, you can garnish your knickerbocker glory with rolled wafer sticks.

Make-Ahead and Storage

You can prepare the strawberry purée up to 48 hours in advance. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.

Strawberry Shortcake

Buttery shortcake, juicy berries, and fluffy whipped cream make this a delicious way to enjoy strawberries at their peak.

Three strawberry shortcakes
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Where I grew up in Central Pennsylvania, strawberry shortcake was a big deal. Strawberry festivals are especially popular there during the summer months, and while these celebrations offer an array of berry-centric treats—jams, pies, ice cream sundaes—strawberry shortcake almost always steals the show.

For this strawberry shortcake recipe, I started by diving into my grandmother's trusty cookbook collection, and quickly discovered that today's strawberry shortcake hasn't changed much since the days of mid-century cookbooks like Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens: The shortcakes are similar to biscuits, but not exactly the same as the tall, fluffy version typically enjoyed with gravy. Instead, they're like a sweeter, cakier cousin that's rich and buttery, with a crunchy, crumbly, sugary top. Once baked until golden, they're served with a generous helping of sweet berries and thick dollops of whipped cream.

Gif of strawberry shortcake being assembled
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Growing up in the United States, I assumed that strawberry shortcake was an American recipe. Then I moved to England and learned that it is also a quintessentially British dessert. And in fact, the earliest shortcake references date back to the Elizabethan era. In the late 16th century, author Thomas Dawson included a shortcake recipe in one of his cookbooks. It's remarkably similar to today's versions, calling for clotted cream or sweet butter (but recommending clotted cream more), though his also adds an egg yolk as well as mace, clove, and saffron for a more spiced flavor. Not long after, Shakespeare named a character "Alice Shortcake" in The Merry Wives of Windsor, indicating an established awareness of the pastry at that time (something similar in our era would be the Peppermint Patty character in Peanuts).

Contemporary British recipes often employ self-rising flour, but otherwise, the basic equation remains the same on both sides of the pond: buttery shortcake + juicy berries + fluffy cream = one of the most beautiful ways to enjoy strawberries at their peak of ripeness.

How to Make the Shortcakes

My ideal shortcake is rich and buttery, with a tender, cakelike center that's perfect for absorbing plenty of sweet macerated strawberry juice. Shortcakes typically include milk, cream, buttermilk, or a combination of the three. I experimented with milk and cream, and found that the cream version produces a richer cake (which makes sense, since heavy cream contains the most fat).

The amount of cream is also important; I tested several flour-to-liquid ratios before landing on a dough that isn't dry, yet rises more than it spreads. The finished shortcakes won't be overly tall, but a bit of a rise is important here: Flat shortcakes are impossible to slice! 

Baked shortcake
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Some recipes require a food processor, fork, or pastry cutter to incorporate the butter, but I prefer rubbing it in by hand. This helps keep tools to a minimum, and also gives the cook a better tactile sense of the butter's temperature and size. The "rubbing in" method is exactly what it sounds like—rubbing everything together with your fingertips. Like biscuits, cold butter is crucial. In a hot oven, pea-sized chunks of cold butter create pockets of steam, helping the shortcakes to rise and creating a tender, cakelike, and slightly flaky texture. Cold butter also takes longer to melt in a hot oven, so chilling the dough after working it with warm hands (or working in a warm kitchen) will help  the cakes to retain their shape as they bake.

How the shortcakes are formed varies too. I've seen a few recipes that have you bake the shortcake in a single piece, then cut it with a knife after, similar to a tray of brownies. Others have you scoop and drop a wetter shortcake dough onto a baking sheet in the style of a drop biscuit, or bake a cake-sized shortcake to serve for slicing at the table. And yet others have you stamp them out of the raw dough with a biscuit cutter before baking. My preference is to use a biscuit cutter because it produces round, evenly-sized cakes which make for a prettier plated dessert. The key to a clean cut is to use a sharp, metal cutter with an up-and-down stamping motion (rather than twisting it into the dough like a screw); periodically wiping the cutter with a paper towel guarantees clean cuts to the last shortcake.

Assembling Your Strawberry Shortcakes

Most of the work required to make strawberry shortcakes is making the shortcakes themselves. The other two components are much simpler, but they do benefit from some thought.

Simply slicing fresh strawberries and mounding them on the shortcakes with cream is an option, but not one I'd recommend. What really makes the dish sing is to macerate the strawberries with sugar first, which softens the berries and draws out their natural juices to form a flavorful syrup. This syrup acts as a sauce that allows for a much more delicious result. Some recipes suggest a 24-hour maceration, but I found four to eight hours optimal for creating enough syrup to moisten the shortcakes without drowning them in syrup.

When it's time to serve, just remember that these are meant to be rustic so don't fuss too much over a perfect presentation. The strawberry shortcakes of my childhood were crumbled in a bowl, doused with milk, and eaten with a spoon, and they were absolutely sublime. Tossed together with a bit of a free hand, and these will be too.

For the Strawberries: In a large bowl, combine diced strawberries, granulated sugar, and lemon juice and stir until well combined. Cover bowl, transfer to refrigerator, and let macerate, stirring periodically, for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.

Two image collage of strawberries before and after in sugar
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Meanwhile, for the Shortcakes: Using a fine-mesh strainer, sift flour into a large bowl, then add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk for 30 seconds to combine. Add butter and, using your fingertips, press the butter into the dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces of butter remaining.

Four image collage of shifting, whisking an dadding butter to flour
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

In a measuring cup, stir together heavy cream and vanilla extract. Form a well in the center of the flour mixture, then pour cream into the well. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a shaggy dough forms, about 30 seconds (you might still see some crumbly flour bits in the bottom of the bowl, that's okay).

Four image collage of adding cream to flour
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Turn dough and any unincorporated flour out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your hands, pat dough into a mound; this should only take 10-15 seconds as the goal is not to knead, but to gently bring the dough together. Gently pat dough into a rectangle approximately 5- by 7.5-inches in size and about 1 inch thick.

Dough in a rectangle shape
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Using a 2.5-inch round biscuit cutter, punch out dough into circles; for the cleanest cuts, try to press directly down instead of twisting the cutter and periodically wipe the cutter clean with a dry towel. Using a floured metal spatula, transfer dough circles to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, allowing 2-3 inches between the cakes. Bring dough scraps together with your hands and repeat the process. Transfer baking sheet to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.

Four image collage of cutting our biscuits
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

While shortcakes chill, preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Once chilled, use a pastry brush to brush tops of cakes with cold heavy cream, then sprinkle lightly with Demerara sugar. Bake until shortcakes are slightly risen, golden brown, and slightly cracked on top, 15 to 18 minutes. Allow shortcakes to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool until slightly warm while you prepare the whipped cream.

Two image collage of biscuits before and after in the oven
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

For the Whipped Cream: To a large metal mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add cold heavy cream and whip on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 4 minutes. Use a fine-mesh strainer to sift in confectioners' sugar, then add vanilla extract. Whip on high speed until just combined, about 10-15 seconds.

Two image collage of shifting sugar into whipped cream
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

To Assemble: Using a serrated knife, slice each shortcake in half horizontally. Place bottom halves on dessert plates. Top each with a spoonful of macerated strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream, followed by the top half of the shortcake. Top with another spoonful of berries and another dollop of whipped cream.

Gif of strawberry shortcake being assembled
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

If desired, dust with confectioners' sugar and/or sprinkle with extra Demerara sugar (for more crunch), and garnish with fresh herbs and/or whole strawberries. Serve immediately.

Dusting strawberry shortcake with. sugar
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Special Equipment

Pastry brush, wire whisk, serrated knife, 2.5-inch round metal cutter, metal spatula, rimmed half-sheet pan, wire rack, parchment paper, fine-mesh strainer, stand- or hand-mixer.

Notes

Refrigerate the cubed butter until you are ready to incorporate it into the flour mixture. Do not let the butter sit at room temperature or it will become too soft.

Flour countertop as sparingly as possible. A generously floured countertop can add too much extra flour to the dough, resulting in dry shortcakes. 

If your rimmed half-sheet pan does not fit in the refrigerator, you can chill the circles on a smaller parchment-lined plate or tray, then transfer to prepared sheet for baking.

A hot oven is very important, so preheat it for the entire 30 minutes the shortcakes are chilling. However, do not begin preheating until shortcakes are in the refrigerator: This is to prevent butter from softening, as the kitchen must stay as cool as possible while working with the dough.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Strawberries should macerate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. If desired, the strawberry mixture can be prepared up to 8 hours in advance.

Shortcakes are best enjoyed on the day they are made, and ideally while still slightly warm.

Bake the cakes no more than 4-6 hours in advance, and don't assemble the finished dessert until you are ready to serve.