Celestial Summer Shortcake

By Susan G. Purdy –

Everyone loves tender buttery shortcakes, including this baker. Quick and easy to put together, you can serve them warm with coffee for breakfast.

Add 1/2 cup of currants or a cup of berries to the batter and call them scones (to whom they’re related), or split and fill them with your favorite seasonal berries and whipped cream to create a celebratory dessert.

Another reason you will love this particular recipe is that it works everywhere…not only at sea level, in Florida for example, but also in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains (3,000 ft.), in Denver, Colorado (5,280 ft.), Santa Fe, New Mexico (7,000 ft.), and Breckenridge Colorado (10,000 ft.), just in case you travel to, or live in, the mountains. As anyone who bakes “at altitude” already knows, recipe adjustments are essential because of changes in air pressure and humidity, among other things; you will find adjustment notes  for this recipe following the ingredients list in my book Pie In The Sky, Successful Baking at High Altitude.

I love to make shortcakes in the summer when ripe berries are plentiful and available at farmers markets. Red, White, and Blue Shortcake is our family Fourth of July special – with raspberries, blueberries and sweetened whipped cream; a blend of strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries is my personal favorite, but sliced ripe peaches or nectarines with blueberries are great and strawberries alone remain a perennial hit.

Author Susan G. Purdy

If your garden lets you down or your favorite berries are out of season, you can always substitute whole frozen berries dry-packed – without added sugar – in bags, sold in the supermarket freezer case. Be creative and try new fruit combinations, look for sweet and tangy mixes, or toss in a splash of liqueur  – in the fruit and/or whipped cream.

These shortcakes are homey, old-fashioned and slightly rustic looking…no prior skills needed. For tender texture, the trick is to handle the dough as little as possible. I like to blend the dough in a food processor because it is so fast, but you can also use a big bowl and a wire pastry blender or a big fork. For the perfect berry sauce, I cook up about half the berries with a little sugar, just to release some juice, then remove the pan from the stove and toss in the remaining whole berries. This gives an ideal blend of textures and the juice looks mouth-watering dripping down the sides of the whipped cream.

Do-Ahead Note: Bake the shortcakes and prepare the fruit several hours (up to one day) in advance of serving so both are cold. Set a metal bowl and beater in the freezer to chill for whipping the cream.

Note: Basic recipe is written for use at sea level to an altitude of approximately 3000 ft. At 3,000 ft. and above, see adjustment notes following ingredients list.



(Yield, 8 shortcakes)

2 cups all-purpose flour (scoop and sweep to measure)

2 1/2  teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut up

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/2 cup buttermilk



2 tablespoons buttermilk

2 tablespoons granulated or large crystal sugar



About 6 cups fresh ripe whole medium-size strawberries (or other berries), stemmed, rinsed, drained on paper towels ( use more if berries are very large)

3 tablespoons water or fruit juice

1/4 cup granulated sugar, or to taste

Generous pinch of nutmeg

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice



1 cup heavy cream, chilled

2 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


High Altitude Adjustments (these work about 1000 feet to either side of listed altitude): Use original recipe above and at:

3,000 ft.  -Add 2 tablespoons buttermilk

5,000 ft. – Add 1 tablespoon butter, add 1/4 cup buttermilk (3/4 cup total), bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden  brown and dry in center.

7,000 ft. – Add 1 tablespoon butter, add  3 to 4 tablespoons buttermilk (up to 3/4 cup total), bake 20 to 22 minutes or until golden brown and dry in center.

10,000 ft. – Preheat oven to 425°F. but reduce heat to 400°F. to bake; Add 3 tablespoons flour, add 1/8 teaspoon baking powder, reduce sugar to 1/4 cup  plus 2 teaspoons,  reduce salt to 3/4 teaspoon, add 2 tablespoons butter, omit egg,  add 1/4 cup buttermilk plus a few drops more if too dry. Bake 22 to 24 minutes or until golden and dry in center.


1.  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 425° F.  Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment or a nonstick baking mat or coat lightly with nonstick vegetable spray.

2. In work bowl of food processor or large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and nutmeg.  Pulse or whisk to blend, then add butter and pulse or work pastry blender in bowl to mix butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the egg (if using) and buttermilk and lightly mix dough just until it clings together and no dry lumps are visible. If using the processor, turn dough out onto wax paper.

3.  With your fingers, work the dough gently into it comes together into a soft ball.  Pull off 8 lumps of dough, each roughly 2 x 2 1/2-inches, and set them about 2-inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. It’s fine for the dough to look rough and irregular.

4.  To glaze, dip a pastry brush into the buttermilk, dab it on the top of each shortcake, and sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake at 425°F. for 15 to 18 minutes (or see time indicated for your altitude) or until shortcakes are golden brown and a toothpick in the center comes out dry. Lift shortcakes with spatula and cool completely on wire rack.

5.  To prepare the fruit: If using strawberries, cut in quarters or slice (leave raspberries or blueberries whole). Combine about half the berries in a saucepan with the water, sugar, nutmeg, and lemon juice. Set on medium heat and cook barely 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, just to release juices. Remove pan from heat and stir in remaining fresh berries. Taste juice and add a little more sugar if needed; if made in advance, refrigerate until ready to serve.

6.  To whip cream, combine cream, sugar, and vanilla in chilled bowl and whip until medium-soft peaks form; cream should not be too stiff.

7.   To assemble, use serrated knife to slice off the top 1/3 of each shortcake. Place bottom portion on dessert plate, spoon on a little fruit sauce, top with a dollop of whipped cream and generous spoon of berry mixture. Stick on  “lid” of shortcake and top with a drop of whipped cream and more berries and sauce. Serve. Pass at table any remaining berries.


Susan G. Purdy is the author of PIE IN THE SKY, SUCCESSFUL BAKING AT HIGH ALTITUDE. W. Morrow/HarperCollins. Available from amazon.com at $19.59. Also see www.highaltitudebaking.com

Scroll to Top