Red, white, and blue shortcakes are a standard Fourth of July treat in our family. Just a simple, warm shortcake topped with red strawberries or raspberries and blueberries with whipped cream. They come together easily, especially the years we celebrate on the Cape shuffling between the lake, riding bikes to watch the Chatham parade, and getting ready for fireworks.
This year I got to dreaming a bit. What if I kicked up the flavors a notch? And that is how candied ginger shortcakes with strawberry rhubarb sauce came to be.
Someone asked me the other day: What is the difference between a biscuit and scone? The answer: not much. Scones are sweeter with added sugar or dried nuts. And they are also used differently. Biscuits sop up gravy or sit alongside a steamy bowl of soup. Scones can serve as a quick breakfast meal, or a tea time treat loaded with jam and freshly whipped cream.
Shortcakes are really just big scones. But some people really like big scones anyway, so I say a shortcake is one you pair with fresh berries, like these candied ginger shortcakes with strawberry rhubarb sauce and blueberries.
I used my standard scone recipe for the base, and cut up small pieces of candied ginger. That part was easy. But I had to root around a bit to come up with strawberry rhubarb sauce. In the end, I took the best of what I found and combined it this way: I cooked down the rhubarb with orange juice and agave syrup. Agave is used as a plant-based sugar substitute for honey, dissolves easily in cold drinks, and is a popular ingredient in vegan recipes. I happened to have some on hand. It’s sweeter than sugar so you don’t need as much, instead of 3/4 cup of sugar, I used half a cup of agave. The syrup brought a nice consistency to the sauce, even though some research indicates that agave has more fructose than high fructose corn syrup. It’s really your choice for what kind of sweetener to use. Rhubarb sauce breaks down into mostly mush, so stirring in the strawberries (not crushed) after the rhubarb has cooked adds good texture and is visually pleasing.
So there you have it – a modern American dessert: A classic English scone base with a little bit of heat (fireworks!), covered with in-season, local fruit and berries with a hint of exotic flavoring. A perfect melting pot of red, white, and blue.
Candied ginger shortcakes
Makes 6 3-inch shortcakes
The key to making perfect scones and shortcakes is to use self-rising flour. Sifting the flour will add air and ensure that the scones are light. Work quickly and lightly and handle the dough as little as possible.
2 cups self-rising flour, sifted*
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup candied ginger, diced
5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/2 cup milk, approximately
*If you don’t have self-rising flour, use 1 teaspoon baking powder for every cup of flour.
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. and grease a baking sheet.
2. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add sugar, salt, and candied ginger. Cut the butter into the bowl with a knife or pastry cutter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Make a well in the center of the mixture and drop in the egg. Adding a portion of the milk at a time, stir the egg and milk into the dough using a rounded-edge knife. How much milk you use depends on the size of the egg. The dough should incorporate all the flour, but it shouldn’t be wet and sticky.
3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Using your fingertips, gently smooth out any cracks in the dough. Lightly press out the dough or roll lightly with a rolling pin until about 3/4 inch thick. Cut with a 3-inch round cutter dipped in flour. Place rounds on the greased baking sheet and brush the remaining milk on top with a pastry brush. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.
4. After removing the shortcakes from the oven, put them onto a cooling rack covered with a tea towel. Place another tea towel on top of the scones to trap the steam and to keep the scones from drying out as they cool.
Strawberry rhubarb sauce
2 stalks rhubarb trimmed and chopped into 1/2 pieces (2 cups or 1 lb.)
4-5 cardamom pods husked and ground (1/2 teaspoon ground)
Juice + zest of 1 orange (I like Valencia oranges)
1/2 cup agave syrup (or 3/4 cup white sugar + 1/2 cup water)
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered (2 cups)
1. Combine the chopped rhubarb, cardamon, orange juice, and agave into a large sauce pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 10 minutes until rhubarb softens into a sauce, about 10 minutes.
2. In a separate bowl, add the quartered strawberries and pour in cooked rhubarb sauce. Stir to combine. Cool and then chill in the refrigerator until ready to use. Leftover sauce can be used atop of vanilla ice cream for dessert, or with Greek yogurt for breakfast.
To assemble the red, white, & blue shortcakes
Split the shortcakes in half. Spoon over strawberry rhubarb sauce over each half. Add a dollop of whipped cream and then garnish with blueberries.
Happy Fourth of July!