My blueberry strawberry shortcake is the perfect layered dessert for the summer! Taking inspiration from the classic English trifle, this family-sized dessert packs in fresh berries, cream and cake. Sure to be an epic accompaniment to a picnic, barbecue, or really any occasion!
What is a Shortcake?
Strawberry shortcake as a dessert can be traced to an English recipe from the 16th century. Despite it's origins, it has long been established as an American dessert, very popular in the South.
Shortcake means different things to different people. Technically speaking, the term is meant to refer to a sweet, crisp and somewhat crumbly cake biscuit (in the American sense of the term) or scone.
Growing up in the US, we always used prepackaged shortcakes. These cakes weren't particularly crisp or dry, but instead soft and spongey. It wasn't until I was in Britain that I tried to find a recipe for a shortcake and discovered that the original intention was for them to be more like a bread than a sponge!
Despite this difference in cake, the main aspect of the dessert is the cake's ability to soak up liquid. It pairs perfectly with strawberry juices and cream.
What is a Trifle? Classic British Desserts
Now, on the other side of the Atlantic in Britain, trifle is an extremely common dessert. It is effectively just an exercise in layering and, in most cases, involves some sort of cake, fruit, custard and cream. Occasionally there is also blancmange or jelly (which in the UK just means flavoured gelatine like Jello, not a spread like jam). The dessert is usually presented in a big glass bowl to show off the layers.
You can find all sorts of types of trifle and most families will have their own recipes or at least their own traditions for layering. You can also find trifle prepackaged for sale in most supermarkets, either as a large family-sized version or in individual portion cups, like pudding cups in the US.
Something about trifle has always reminded me of summery shortcake in America - maybe its the cake, cream and berry combination - so my shortcake trifle was borne!
Making my Blueberry Strawberry Shortcake
How to Macerate Berries
One of the key ingredients to a shortcake is the berries. To make the most of these, it is best to macerate them using sugar. This basically just means adding a bit of sugar to a bowl of berries, tossing and leaving to set for a half hour or so. There are no specific measurements - this is done simply to taste.
Try Different Sugars in Macerating Fruit
Types of Cake for Shortcake
There is no definitive shortcake recipe. In my opinion, the most important aspect is the pairing with fruit and cream, so you want a crumby texture and ability to soak up the liquids of macerated fruit. This means that a shortcake trifle is the perfect opportunity to use up some leftover cake.
My recipe calls for using a loaf of pound cake. This is based on my grandmother's thrifty pound cake recipe, which makes two standard loaves. I used the second loaf, a couple of days old, which would have otherwise gone stale. If you want to make my pound cake for use in this recipe (and not have any leftovers), simply halve my recipe so that you are only making a single loaf.
I have not included the time for making the pound cake in the below recipe card as the intention is for this cake to be leftover. If you have other cake going spare, you can easily substitute this in for the pound cake or use store bought sponge cake. Depending on how much cake you have available you may need to alter your layering a bit to accommodate.
Custard and Cream
A shortcake wouldn't be a shortcake without some cream! To help accentuate the layers in this dessert, I opted for both a layer of custard and a top coating of cream.
For the custard in my recipe I used my vanilla pastry cream recipe and for the cream, I opted for a simple stabilised whipped cream, flavoured with vanilla. If you don't have time to make these or want something different, there are loads of options that would work well in this recipe.
Ideas for Some Cream and Custard Options
- Use store bought or packet mix options.
- Cool Whip instead of the vanilla whipped cream. (Sadly Cool Whip isn't an option in Britain)
- Try different flavours. A coconut custard or lemon flavour would add a nice zest. Alternatively chocolate for the chocoholics among us.
Tips for Layering the Shortcake Trifle
You want a good spread of fruit, creams and cake. For structural integrity in your dessert, I recommend, starting with a base of cake. I've opted for two layers of sliced leftover cake at the bottom of my dish.
On top of the cake, you will want some of your fruit. Be sure to add the fruit along with the juices so that this will soak into your cake layer a bit.
Depending on the size of your bowl, your layering tactics may vary. My bowl is about 10" wide, so provides a large surface area for each layer. This meant that I opted for a sandwich effect - fruit, custard, fruit and then more cake.
You can layer yours however you like - using more or less of any of the elements in this recipe to suit your tastes!
Alternative Shortcake Flavours
As any good shortcake or trifle recipe, the opportunities to experiment are limitless! In this recipe, some quick alternatives that I'd recommend are:
Fun Fruit Combinations for Shortcakes
- Ripe peach and nectarine
- Banana and raspberries
- Tropical fruits like mango and kiwi
- Seasonal berries
FAQ for Blueberry Strawberry Shortcake
The different elements in this recipe (cream, custard, cake and berries) can be made a day or two ahead. I would recommend layering the whole dessert up on the day it is to be consumed, but it can be made and layered a day in advance without issue. Any leftovers can be kept for two days (if the cream and custard were fresh when making the dessert).
Yes, absolutely - I have a personal preference for brown sugar on my strawberries, but you can use caster sugar instead, or mix things up entirely with different fruits. Try some of the suggested combinations above.
Yes, this recipe is easily adaptable to whatever ingredients you have available. A simple vanilla, lemon or plain sponge cake from the store would work in this well.
Looking for some more ideas for summertime treats? Try one of these:
Blueberry Strawberry Shortcake Trifle
- large trifle dish or other glass bowl to show off the layers
- 2 small bowls
- 1 loaf pound cake such as a half batch of my thrifty pound cake recipe
- 2 cups strawberries, quartered
- 2 cups blueberries
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar (muscovado)
- ½ tablespoon granulated sugar or caster sugar
- 1½ cup vanilla pastry cream or custard you can use my vanilla pastry cream recipe here
- 2 cups vanilla stabilized whipped cream one quantity of my stabilised whipped cream recipe will work well or use store bought creams such as Cool Whip
Instructions to Macerate Berries
- Place the strawberries in one bowl and the blueberries in a separate bowl. Add the brown sugar to the strawberries and the caster sugar to the blueberries. Toss each together, cover and set aside in the fridge. It is best to leave these for at least half an hour, but this can be made a day in advance.
Instructions to Layer the Dessert
- Cut your cake into slices and layer these on the bottom of the bowl. Make two layers of cake.
- Add a layer of fruit, including the juices from the macerating process. Reserve some for garnish (optional).
- Next, add a layer of your custard, followed by a layer of berries and another layer or two of cake.
- Top off the whole dessert with the whipped cream and a sprinkling of berries left over to decorate.
- Chill until ready to serve.