Adventures in Strawberry Shortcake Making, Plus a Simple Recipe
I like to cook with my 8-year-old. It’s way more fun than room cleaning and other required household activities. Recently, I decided to bring our pastime into her third-grade class and make strawberry shortcakes with them.
I was nervous. I have stage fright. Also, though I have made this dish dozens of times, I have no prior experience doing it with the help of 19 small friends. (Hats off to all teachers in the land, by the way.)
I figured that strawberry shortcakes would be a good teaching dish; most kids like this springy dessert, making it does not require tons of technical skill, and the recipe has three parts to keep kids engaged. To make it easier, I chose the simplest cream biscuit recipe I knew, and measured out the ingredients ahead of time. (I sliced the berries too, because that’s time-consuming and a little boring.)
The primary reason to show kids how to make this is that someday our kids will be old enough to cook by themselves, and if they know how to make strawberry shortcakes, they might make some for us. Don’t I want that to happen? Yes, I do.
Here’s what you need to make strawberry shortcake with your own group of kids.
Below, I am including a prep list, an equipment checklist and the recipe. Scale it up for every 12 kids you want to feed. It is possible, with some extra preparation, to sneak in other skills like addition, multiplication, division and fractions, and how to read and follow instructions.
Use the shopping list and class plan to help simplify the work. Use the checklist to pack and to plan, and the class itself will go pretty smoothly. As it turns out, this third-grade class was a friendly audience. They were curious and helpful, and loved eating their work.
1: Find a space that has an oven (or even a toaster oven with two shelves), tables and a sink for cleanup.
2: Plan for it to take an hour to measure and assemble the tools and ingredients at home (you can do this the day before). Plan for 20 minutes to set up work stations at school, and about an hour to make and serve the shortcakes with the class.
3: Measure everything ahead of time, and bring it in bags and sealable containers. If you are doubling or tripling the recipe, make separate batches so you don’t overwork the dough and the biscuits stay tender. Clearly label all ingredients.
4: Plan what you want to talk about, and write down a few bullet points. It’s not as easy as it looks to talk and cook at the same time.
5: Break the kids into three or four teams and give the teams names. Divide the work so that kids do some of it and you do some of it.
6: Have kids line up and assemble their own shortcakes.
7: Make enough extra shortcakes to feed teachers.
This prep list is for 12. Scale up or down depending on the group size.
Dough cutter (2-inch round for minis)
2 big bowls
2 small bowls for prep and serving
2 small baking sheets for biscuits
Big rimmed baking sheet for organization
Parchment paper for cooking biscuits
Pastry brush for brushing biscuits with cream
2 big spoons for serving
Sealable plastic container (at least 1 quart) for making whipped cream
Cloth and bucket for cleaning
Dish soap for cleaning
Spoons, bowls or plates, and napkins for eating
For the berries:
1 quart berries, hulled and sliced (the night before)
1/4 cup sugar
For the biscuits (can be measured ahead of time):
2 cups flour, plus more flour for the work surface
3 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cream, plus more for brushing
Zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
For the whipped cream:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Fresh mint, for optional garnish
Strawberry Shortcake Class
Makes 12 mini shortcakes
*Little kids can mix the sugar with the berries, whisk the dry ingredients together, cut out and arrange the biscuits, shake the cream and build shortcakes. Bigger kids can do all parts of this recipe, except putting the cakes into and removing them from the oven.
Make the strawberries first: Mix the sliced strawberries with the sugar and a squeeze of lemon in a large bowl. Set them aside, stirring a few times, until they are nice and juicy, about 30 minutes.
Make the biscuits: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the cream. Add the lemon zest and juice. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it just forms a dough.
Gather the dough into a ball and transfer it to a flour-sprinkled surface. Pat it into a 1/2-inch-thick circle. Cut as many mini biscuits as you can with a 2-inch biscuit cutter. Gently press the scraps together and repeat.
Arrange the rounds 1 inch apart on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush them with more cream and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake them in the middle of the oven until they are just golden, about 12 minutes. Cool the biscuits while you make the whipped cream.
Make the whipped cream: Combine the cream with 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla in a sealable container. Whisk or shake with the lid on until soft peaks form.
To serve: Split the biscuits with a fork, and spoon some juicy strawberries and whipped cream on the bottom halves of the biscuits. Place the top halves on top. Add more whipped cream and a mint leaf, if using.