Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mixed Berry Shortcakes with Soft, Fluffy Vegan Biscuits

This is a nice light, summery dessert; it's not overly rich or sweet and it comes together fairly quickly. It works beautifully sugar-free, too.

A shortcake is basically a sweet biscuit or similar baked good that is covered with juicy fruit and/or other toppings and absorbs them to become soft and flavorful. You could say it's a dessert version of biscuits and gravy. 

This biscuit recipe would work well in other applications; if you want to use it in a less sweet context, decrease the sugar or sweetener to 1 Tbsp.

Mixed Berry Shortcake

Mixed Berry Shortcakes
with Soft, Fluffy Vegan Biscuits

Dry ingredients:
1 7/8 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tbsp cornmeal
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cream of tarter
½ to 1 tsp salt (depending on personal taste)
3 Tbsp sugar or sweetener
¼ tsp cinnamon (optional)
dash of nutmeg

3 Tbsp oil
1 ½ cup soymilk
1 tsp vanilla

½ cup more flour for rolling (you won’t use it all)

5–8 cups fresh or frozen berries
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp vanilla
sweetener to taste, varies bases on type and ripeness of berries

Whipped cream substitute of your choice (see note)


For the biscuits:
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Place the ½ cup of flour for rolling in the bottom of a pie plate.

Whisk together remaining dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add oil and toss with a fork until it looks like clumpy wet sand. Pour in the soymilk and vanilla and stir until just combined.

Soft Whole-Wheat Biscuits
Take a spoonful of batter (about 1/10th of total) and drop it onto the pie plate with the flour. Roll it around until it is well coated on all sides. Pick it up and place it in a greased 9-inch cake pan. Take another spoonful of similar size and coat it with flour the same way; repeat until all the batter is used up and the cake pan is full. Spray the tops of the biscuits with cooking spray or brush lightly with oil.
Fresh from the oven

Bake for 5 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees F and bake for 15 minutes more. Let cool in the pan for 2-3 minutes, then turn them out and pull them apart (be careful not to burn yourself).

For the berries: If you are using frozen berries, merely thaw them and toss them undrained with the sweetener, cinnamon and vanilla, and heat until warm.

If you’re using fresh, you’ll want to encourage them to form a sauce either by macerating—tossing them with sugar and letting them sit for half an hour until juices are released due to osmosis—or by mashing a fraction of the berries with a little water or juice and using that as a sauce for the remaining berries. Either way, mix with other ingredients and heat before serving.

Biscuit with Berries
To assemble: Place a biscuit into each individual bowl, and spoon some berries and juice over it. Top with a dollop (1-2 tablespoons) of vegan whipped topping substitute.

Makes about 10 servings.

One of the reasons I made this recipe is to try out a new vegan whipped topping I found at the store called Smackin’ Whip. I like it; it is a very close facsimile to Cool Whip in both flavor and texture. It doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of nutritional value, but it’s fine as an occasional treat. I'm eager to try it in other classic Cool Whip family recipes.

Store-bought Vegan Whipped Topping

If you don’t have any access to store-bought vegan whipped cream substitutes, there are a variety of different options for homemade vegan whipped topping recipes. Recipes based on ground soaked cashews, whipped coconut milk, pureed tofu, or some combination thereof are typical approaches. You may develop a preference based on taste or nutrition. For example, I tend to prefer the heart-healthy fats in certain nuts to the saturated fat of coconut. People who need a very low fat recipe might even try a custard-like topping of cooked, thickened non-dairy milk, sweetened and flavored to their liking.

 My favorite homemade whipped cream substitute is my Hazelnut or Almond Mousse, which also works as a pudding or pie filling when the higher amount of sweetener is used.

Hazelnut Mousse as a Pie filling
Hazelnut Mousse (vegan whipped topping substitute)

1 12 oz package firm silken tofu
2/3 cup chopped hazelnuts or almonds
¼ to 2/3 cup sugar or sweetener (based on personal taste)
1 ¼ tsp vanilla
2-3 Tbsp soy milk (enough to blend easily)
dash or two of cinnamon (or other flavorings* as desired)

Blend all ingredients together in a blender or food processor. Taste and adjust sweetness and flavorings to your liking. You can chill it for a couple hours to firm up if you like, and stir briefly with a spoon before serving to fluff up.

You can decide whether or not to toast the nuts beforehand depending on whether you would like a strong nutty flavor or a subtler one.

*Extracts such as maple or coconut would be good additions, and so would spices such a cardamom or ginger or even a little espresso powder. 


I’ve used blueberries and blackberries here, but other fruits would work well too. Strawberries and peaches are fairly traditional, but anything from pears to mangoes will work too as long as the sweetener is adjusted. Even canned fruit can work in a pinch.

The preparation method on the fruit can be changed as well. A variation in which the fruit is grilled is great as barbecues. The biscuits and toppings could be prepared ahead of time and brought along. The fruit could also be chilled instead of heated on hot days too.

If vanilla vegan ice cream is easier to find in your area, you could use it in place of the vegan whipped topping for an a la mode variation.

Other desserts, such as cake, could be used as a base in place of the biscuit. This may be a particularly good way to re-purpose a dessert that turned out dry or bland on its own.

For a sugar-free version, simply replace all sugar with an equivalent amount of a sweetener such as stevia or splenda, making sure to do so in all of the elements (biscuits, fruit, cream).

Gooey, creamy shortcake

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