Vidalia onion shortcake

Skip the cornbread or the biscuits, and try this shortcake instead. The base of the cake is soft like a biscuit with a creamy buttermilk, sour cream, onion custard top. 

The Runaway Spoon
Serve this savory shortcake warm or at room temperature with classic barbecue chicken, smokey ribs, or pulled pork.

Here is a classic old recipe I have had to reconstruct from memory. I can’t remember where I first had it, but it definitely stuck with me. It’s the kind of dish that you ask the recipe for as soon as you eat it and the cook rattles it off from memory, but you never manage to actually jot down what she says. I searched online, but most of the recipes I found for onion shortcake used packaged corn muffin mix, which is not what I remember at all.

This is what I remember — a soft biscuit base with a creamy onion custard on top. I added thyme, because I think it goes so wonderfully well with sweet onions. And when Vidalia onions are in season, I use them in every way I can. Serve wedges of this with a saucy barbecue meal, I particularly like it with a sticky, burnished chicken.

Vidalia onion shortcake
Serves 8

2 tablespoons oil

1 large Vidalia onion (or other sweet onion)

1 bunch fresh thyme leaves


2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes

1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Black pepper

1/2 cup sour cream

1 egg

1. Thinly slice the onions into half-moons. I like to do this quickly on a mandolin. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and the leaves from 3 or 4 thyme sprigs and salt. Stir to coat the onions. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and caramel brown, being careful not to scorch the onions. Leave the onions to cool slightly.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch pie pan or similar baking dish.

3. Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and the leaves from 2–3 thyme sprigs in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Drop in the butter cubes and pulse several times until the mixture is grainy. Pinch a bit of the flour between your fingers and it should stick together. Dump in the buttermilk, then process until everything is combined. It will be a wet dough that won’t come together in a ball.

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared dish and press it out to fill the dish. Wet your fingers to help keep the dough from sticking to them.

5. In a small bowl, mix the sour cream and egg. Add the leaves from a few more sprigs of thyme and a few good grindings of pepper. Stir on the onions, making sure the mixture is evenly combined. Pour the mixture over the base in the baking dish and spread it out to cover the top.

6. Bake the shortcake for 25–30 minutes, until the edges are browned and pull slightly away from the edges of the pan. The sour cream filling should be set and browned. Serve the shortcake warm or a room temperature.

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