Beyond Strawberry Shortcake

By Debra Daniels-Zeller

One of America's favorite desserts, strawberry shortcake, became popular in the mid-1800s. It was originally a rich pastry with fruit baked inside that eventually evolved into a sweet biscuit pastry topped with fresh strawberries and fresh cream. Today, there are countless versions that use various cakes, such as sponge cake, pound cake, angel food cake, and the traditional biscuits. Many of the shortcake biscuit recipes are ultra-rich, calling for up to a stick of butter and then cream added on top of that. And, of course, they all call for the traditional strawberry topping with subtle variations.

The concept of using different toppings once occurred to me when I had an abundance of apricots and cherries a few years ago. I created a lavender-vanilla flavoring base for the fruit and layered the fruit between two halves of sweet maple-orange biscuits. Then, I topped it with my favorite vanilla soy yogurt.

I was soon hooked on the great shortcake experiment, using cooked and raw fruits. Eventually, I moved on and used raw vegetables and finally cooked vegetables as sides and main dishes. Now, I often keep frozen sliced biscuits on hand, ready to thaw for quick dinners or easy desserts.

The biscuits can be sweet or savory, dropped or cut-out. There is no need to make them with excess fat, such as butter or cream, because seasonal fruit or vegetables provide plenty of flavor. To make biscuits sweeter you need only add a Tablespoon or two of maple syrup or fruit juice concentrate, or use part fruit juice in place of the soymilk. You can also add a sweet flavoring to the biscuit mix, like orange zest, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, almond, or nutmeg. For savory biscuits, make them plain, or add a pinch of sage, rosemary, basil, or chipotle chili powder (smoked jalapeño). Or consider adding roasted garlic, chopped onions, sundried tomatoes, or corn.

As for sweet toppings, berries or other raw seasonal fruit can be marinated in liqueurs, fruit juice, or a small amount of frozen fruit juice concentrate. Some fruits, such as peaches, benefit from adding a bit of lemon juice to prevent the fruit from turning a darker shade. Use your imagination for topping creations, like combining Malibu rum or coconut extract with a bit of lemon and with peaches and bananas, or try a raspberry fruit juice concentrate with apricots. Strawberry-rhubarb goes well with ginger, blueberries, and raspberries. Combine well with freshly squeezed orange juice, or marinate them in Grand Marnier (an orange-flavored liqueur). You can easily make a "cream" topping using silken tofu blended with a ripe banana, some maple syrup, and a bit of lemon juice using a hand blender. Ripe seasonal fruit toppings are sweet enough without adding the additional sugar called for in many recipes.

Cold and warm savory toppings are also easy to put together. You can try a salsa topping with onions and chunks of tofu or beans, topped with slices of avocado and a squeeze of lime, or try tomatoes with chopped onions and garlic, basil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. You can get other ideas looking through salad recipes and thinking about how to alter one that appeals to you for a biscuit topping. For warm main or side dish toppings, use a base of tempeh, tofu, or beans with lightly steamed or blanched seasonal vegetables. For garnish and toppings, use toasted nuts or seeds, shredded coconut, chopped parsley, cilantro, or grated carrots mixed with some lemon juice. And avocado or guacamole always makes a rich, decadent-tasting topping.

You will find a number of recipe examples with ideas for variations to get you started. These easy creations are homemade fast food gems that you can enjoy in your kitchen or out on the deck on warm spring days.

Savory Onion Shortcake Biscuits

(Makes 9 biscuits)

Add a generous pinch of your favorite herbs, such as sage, rosemary or basil, to change the flavor of these biscuits.

  • 1 Tablespooon oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped onions
  • ¾ cup plain soy or rice milk
  • ½ Tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 Tablespoons cold nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add oil and onions, and sauté until soft. While onions cook, combine milk with lemon juice or vinegar and set aside. In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine pastry flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda, making sure there are no small lumps before blending in margarine with a fork or a pastry blender.

Combine milk mixture with maple syrup, mixing well. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the milk into it. Mix until a soft dough forms. Gently mix the onions into the dough, adding a bit more flour if necessary for a very stiff dough. Gather the dough into a ball and knead it about 5 times in the bowl; then, turn it out onto a clean, floured counter. Pat the dough into a 7"x 8" inch rectangle. Cut into 9 squares or use a biscuit cutter to shape the dough into circles. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool before slicing for shortcake toppings.

Total calories per serving: 156 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 23 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 255 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Asparagus-Tempeh Shortcake Topping

(Serves 6)

You can also use green beans or broccoli for this recipe. Blanch your vegetables in the same way you blanch the asparagus before adding them to the sauce.

  • 1-½ pounds asparagus, tough ends removed and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 cup plain soy or rice milk
  • ½ Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 4 ounces tempeh, cut into thin (¼-inch) strips
  • Generous pinch salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • Handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 6 Tablespoons toasted crushed pinenuts for garnish (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch asparagus stalks for about 3 minutes, add tips, and blanch for another minute. Remove from water and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.

Combine milk and lemon juice and set aside. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Stir and cook for a few minutes, then move the onions and garlic mixture to the side and add tempeh strips. Continue to cook until tempeh is lightly browned. Turn and brown the other side. Remove tempeh and drain on a clean paper towel. Add a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper to the onions. Mix in flour, stirring to coat all onions, then add basil and slowly blend in the soy or rice milk. Stir until sauce is thick. Add asparagus and tempeh and continue to stir and cook until asparagus is heated. Serve over either the Savory Onion Shortcake Biscuits, or Spicy Tomato Shortcake Biscuits. Top with a sprinkling of toasted pinenuts, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 190 Fat: 12 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 8 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Apricot-Cherry Shortcake Topping

(Serves 6)

Use a variety of fruit juice concentrates to create different flavoring bases for this shortcake. Don't overlook juice combinations like frozen daiquiri mix combinations. Fresh or dried lavender can be found in natural foods stores.

  • 2 cups pitted sliced ripe apricots
  • 2 cups pitted sweet cherries
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ cup frozen raspberry juice concentrate or mixed berry fruit concentrate
  • 1 teaspoon crushed fresh or dried lavender
  • 6 ounces lemon soy yogurt

Combine apricots, cherries, and lemon juice. Add concentrate and lavender. Refrigerate and let fruit marinate for at least one hour. Serve over sliced Orange-Maple Shortcake Biscuits with a dollop of lemon soy yogurt.

Total calories per serving: 140 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 32 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 15 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Orange-Maple Shortcake Biscuits

(Makes 12 biscuits)

Add a pinch of cinnamon or cardamom for variation here, or use lemon zest with about 1 Tablespoon lemon juice with 1 cup of soymilk for lemon biscuits. A citrus zester or a Microplane Zester is the best way to get the outer peel from citrus fruits to use for baking. Be sure to zest the orange before cutting and juicing it.

  • Juice and zest of 1 orange
  • Plain or vanilla soy or rice milk added to the orange juice to make 1 cup
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1-¾ cups unbleached flour (or use whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 2-½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ cup cold nonhydrogenated vegan margarine

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine juice, milk, and maple syrup. Set aside. Reserve orange zest for dry ingredients. In a medium-size mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda, mixing well to make sure there are no small lumps. Cut in cold margarine with a fork or pastry blender, mixing until it resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in soymilk-orange juice mixture. Stir until a soft dough forms. It should look thick like cookie dough.

Drop by generous spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet, making 12 biscuits. Bake for 12 minutes or until tops and bottoms are lightly browned.

Remove from oven and transfer to cooling rack. Cool before slicing for sweet fillings.

Total calories per serving: 111 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 157 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Spicy Tomato Shortcake Biscuits

(Makes 12 biscuits)

Dried sundried tomatoes can be found in natural foods stores and some supermarkets. The bottled sundried tomatoes are already rehydrated and packed in oil. They don't work as well in this recipe. If the dried tomatoes are in halves, cut them with kitchen scissors into very small pieces. Chipotle chili powder (smoked jalapeño), which lends a smoky flavor, can be found in ethnic or natural foods stores.

  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped dried, sundried tomatoes
  • 1-¾ cups whole wheat pastry or barley flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • Dash of cayenne or chipotle chili powder
  • ¼ cup light olive oil or canola oil
  • 4 ounces (½ cup) firm silken tofu

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and let soak for 20 minutes.

Combine dry ingredients; mix well. Cut in oil with a fork or pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Blend tofu with tomatoes with a blender or hand blender until smooth and creamy. Add tomato-tofu mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix until a soft dough is formed. Drop by spoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove to cooling rack and cool before slicing to use.

Total calories per serving: 107 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 97 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Orange-Berry Shortcake Topping

(Serves 6)

Use different berries or add stone fruits, such as peeled peaches or nectarines, for variation here. One of my favorite versions is to use 2 cups pie cherries (available at farmers' markets) and 2 cups strawberries. Pit and cook the pie cherries with the orange juice, and serve over the strawberries. You could also add about a Tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to the orange juice for a nice variation.

  • 4 cups strawberries, stems removed and sliced, divided
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped orange zest
  • 3 Tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
  • Vanilla nondairy frozen dessert (optional)

In a medium saucepan, place 2 cups of the strawberries, orange juice, zest, and arrowroot or cornstarch. Stir to mix, then bring to a simmer. Simmer mixture for about 10 minutes, or until the color changes from pink to clear and it begins to thicken. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Serve over a sliced Orange-Maple Shortcake Biscuit, with fresh strawberries on the bottom half, topped with the warm berry topping and the remaining biscuit half. Serve with your favorite vanilla nondairy frozen dessert, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 59 Fat: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 14 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 2 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Tomato-Cucumber Shortcake Topping

(Serves 4)

This is a cool, refreshing side dish that goes well with a casual spring dinner with baked beans and grilled spring vegetables. It really makes a difference if you use a good quality, traditionally-aged balsamic vinegar for this recipe. You can usually find good quality balsamic vinegar in grocery stores near the salad dressing.

  • 2 cups peeled, chopped cucumber
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • Generous pinch salt
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon frozen juice berry concentrate (Use mixed berry, raspberry, or a strawberry blend.)
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 small avocado, peeled and thinly sliced

In a small mixing bowl combine cucumber, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeño. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt. In another small bowl combine balsamic vinegar, frozen berry juice concentrate, and garlic. Pour over cucumber mixture and blend in. Let marinate for at least an hour. Serve over sliced warm savory biscuits and top with thin avocado slices.

Total calories per serving: 118 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 12 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Black Bean Salsa Shortcake Topping

(Serves 4)

You can vary this recipe by making a cold version, using thinly sliced green onions, omitting the jalapeño, lightly steaming the corn, and adding peeled, chopped fresh cucumber. Combine the bean and corn mixture with your favorite salsa, and top with sliced avocado or guacamole.

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
  • One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup corn, fresh or frozen, thawed
  • ¼ cup salsa
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Sliced avocado (optional)
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add oil, onions, and jalapeño. Stir, cover, and sweat the onions until they are very soft. Remove cover, add beans, corn, and salsa, and cook until beans and corn are heated. Remove from heat and stir in fresh lime juice. Add salt to taste. Top with sliced avocado, if desired, and chopped cilantro. Serve over any savory biscuit.

Total calories per serving: 186 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 32 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 483 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams

Cabbage and Carrot Shortcake Topping

(Serves 6)

This is one of my favorite recipes because it combines the taste of carrot-raisin salad and coleslaw. For a sweet treat, try it on Orange-Maple Shortcake Biscuits.

  • 3 cups finely shredded and chopped green cabbage
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1 medium apple, such as Granny Smith, cored and grated
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼ cup raisins or currants
  • ½ cup vegan mayonnaise or äioli (garlic) spread (found in natural foods stores)
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 finely chopped bottled hot pepper, such as Pepperoncini

Combine cabbage, carrots, apple, lemon juice, and raisins or currants. Let mixture sit while you prepare the dressing. Combine vegan mayonnaise or spread, vinegar, ketchup, and pepper. Mix well, then stir into the cabbage and carrot mixture. Let mixture sit for 1 hour, refrigerated, before topping your shortcakes. Use any savory or sweet biscuit.

Total calories per serving: 146 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 122 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Debra Daniels-Zeller is a frequent contributor to the Vegetarian Journal.