Strawberry shortcake is an exemplary summer dessert that also happens to be perfectly acceptable for breakfast (fruit, biscuits, and cream all have a traditional place at the morning table, after all). Its success hinges on really beautiful berries, although even less-than-pristine strawberries can be macerated to perk them up. Besides that, the simple format is another big plus—shortcakes are easy to whip up on short notice (though that has nothing to do with their name), and unfussy yet impressive enough to serve any time, anywhere. So why not bring them, in slightly altered form, to the lunch and dinner table too? Savory shortcakes are just as quick, easy, fun, and most importantly, delicious as the sweet inspiration behind them.
The most common formula for savory shortcakes is fluffy, tender biscuits + flawless, fresh summer tomatoes + creamy whipped cheese. It’s brilliant, but hardly the only possibility there is. The “formula” part is key—there are plenty of variables to plug into the same equation, and nearly infinite combinations that all add up to perfection, meaning if you keep this idea in the back of your mind, you have a whole roster of quick and easy summer meals at the ready. Most of these are great light lunches or dinners on their own, but they also make unexpected sides for grilled meats of all kinds. Just mix and match from the three main component categories to create the savory shortcake of your dreams.
Buttermilk biscuits are a classic choice on which to build your shortcakes, and they obviously work just as beautifully with savory flavors as sweet ones—plus, they’re really pretty simple to make. If you’re nervous about it, just put into practice a few simple tips for perfect biscuits, and you’ll never need to turn to a pressurized tube of dough again. One easy way to change up the flavors for your savory shortcakes is simply to add different mix-ins to the biscuit dough. Fresh herbs, chives, various cheeses, crumbled bacon, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, spices like cumin, pepper, paprika, lemon zest—there are nearly endless options. But you can also go with cornbread or savory scones instead of biscuits, or even English muffins, although they’re not as generously thick or crumbly-soft as the other options. Here are a few specific recipes to get you started:
Crumbled bacon, sour cream, and wheat beer make these biscuits stand out, and using cold bacon fat in place of butter intensifies the flavor. Strewn with a bunch of fresh summer vegetables, you can feel fairly virtuous about eating these, even if there’s also a little green chile whipped goat cheese or sour cream on top. It’s what inside that counts. Get the recipe.
Cheese of any kind is a great addition to biscuits (check out these triple-threat ricotta Parmesan gruyere biscuits too), but pimento cheese is an especially Southern selection. These would be particularly great topped with summer succotash or maque choux, with a dollop of black pepper whipped cream to finish. Get the recipe.
Flaky, tangy sourdough biscuits studded with sweet caramelized onions are great with nothing more than a little butter, but also pair well with nearly anything you can think to pile on top. Get the recipe.
Finely chopped fresh herbs of all sorts are great folded into scone or biscuit dough, but you can also use pesto for an even bigger flavor boost. If your scones turn out a bit flatter than you’d like, bisect them all and use one and a half slices per plate for triple-decker shortcakes. Get the recipe.
Sweet-tart, juicy summer tomatoes are a perfect savory stand in for strawberries, and shortcakes are a really great way to showcase on-point produce—if you choose wisely, you hardly have to do anything to it, which makes for a supremely easy filling. Just rinse, dry, and cut your jewel-like tomatoes, maybe some fresh corn (the sweetest, most tender kernels don’t even need to be cooked, just shaved right off the cob), or cucumbers too, season lightly, and tumble them over top. Or gently cook other produce like zucchini, eggplant, and peppers, and spoon them onto your scones or biscuits. While you may be straying a little farther from shortcake territory if you top your biscuits with shredded meat (think slow cooker pulled pork) or fresh seafood (like lightly sauteed or grilled shrimp), those work too and are a little heartier. So is chili, which doesn’t have to be relegated to the colder months. However, you probably want to keep your filling on the slightly less saucy side, lest it disintegrate your biscuits on first contact. Some filling recipes to spark your inspiration:
Grape and cherry tomatoes at their peak are so good they might not even need salt, but it never hurts to dress them simply. Here, diced fresh tomatoes and cucumbers get the olive oil and balsamic vinegar treatment, plus plenty of fresh herbs. Bonus: another variation on the savory shortcake base, with cornbread evoking the sponge cake style of the original dessert. Get the recipe.
Make this peach salsa with ripe summer fruit and pair it with thinly shaved ham or prosciutto on a warm, split buttermilk biscuit, with a dollop of lightly flavored whipped ricotta, for a dinner shortcake that marries sweet and savory in perfect harmony. Or try it (perhaps with some shrimp for good measure) on split jalapeno-cornbread muffins with sour cream or fluffy guacamole on top. Get the recipe.
These marinated chickpeas are meaty yet light, and packed with sweet-spicy flavor thanks to basil, garlic, roasted red peppers, and honey. Try them over a lemon-oregano biscuit with whipped feta cheese, or over Mediterranean biscuits (with feta, basil, and sundried tomatoes) with herbed Greek yogurt on top. Get the recipe.
The light and creamy crowning glory of traditional strawberry shortcake is fresh whipped cream, which actually works for savory dishes too—just don’t sweeten the whipped cream, but add pinches of salt and pepper instead; you can change the flavor with other ingredients like lemon zest or juice, smoked paprika, fresh herbs, or garlic too. Or, you can swap it out for fresh cheese like ricotta, feta, mascarpone, or cream cheese, which all whip up well. Tangy whipped yogurt or labneh is fantastic too (and can be flavored just like savory whipped cream). Or try an especially airy avocado mousse (aka whipped guacamole), super-smooth hummus, simple sour cream, or even poached eggs as the luscious, fluffy element. For something with a bit more texture and less loft, creamy slaw or sauces like raita and tzatziki work, but since they’re not as light and airy, the shortcake illusion isn’t quite as strong.
This is probably the most popular form of savory shortcake, and it is fantastic: buttermilk biscuit, fresh tomatoes lightly dressed, and whipped goat cheese. If you just play around with different biscuit flavorings, you can happily subsist on these throughout tomato season. As a finishing touch, heavy cream is whipped to soft peaks, and then goat cheese is blended in, for a tangy, simple topping that plays well with practically any vegetables you like. Get the recipe.
Other soft fresh cheeses take well to similar treatment and make brilliant whipped cream replacements in savory shortcakes. Here, cream cheese is beaten until smooth, then mixed with ricotta and a bit of whole milk before being drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with lemon zest, sea salt, and pepper. You could also fold the zest, salt, and pepper into the mixture itself if you’d prefer to have them incorporated. Get the recipe.
Dairy is hardly your only option for topping savory shortcakes. Silky-smooth avocados take on a plush, whipped texture when mashed thoroughly with a fork. You can use a food processor if you want or need to, but old fashioned elbow grease should do it. Spoon some on top of a tomato, tomatillo, and corn salad, which in turn rests atop chipotle cheddar biscuits—or on any other combo your heart desires. Get the recipe.
Header image courtesy of Culinary Hill.