Shortcake, like all quick breads, is more American than apple pie, since chemical leavening was developed in the U.S. in the late18th century, and people began making apple pies in central Asia shortly after wheat was domesticated.
The shortcake you’re likely to find sold in supermarkets strategically placed near a display of strawberries is actually a concave sponge cake, which is far different from the big, sweet biscuit that a real shortcake actually is. While shortcake is most often served with macerated strawberries, any fruit or berry in season works just as well.
Any good cookbook will give you a simple recipe for shortcake with flour, leavening, butter, sugar, and whole milk or cream. But if you google shortcake, you’re going to find a recipe involving sieved boiled egg yolks that purportedly came from James Beard’s mother. Now, I ask you: can there be a more authoritative source for a recipe than one from the mother of the “Dean of American Cookery?”
No, but I’m calling bullshit on this one, because eggs in any form are superfluous in a shortbread recipe, and sieved yolks are an even more suspicious inclusion. This recipe, used by a St. Louis restaurant, states that it was never printed in one of Beard’s cookbooks (he wrote dozens), and for good reason; because it SUCKS! Here is Beard’s recipe for shortcake from his enduring 1972 classic, American Cooking.
Sift a tablespoon of baking powder and a half teaspoon salt into two cups all-purpose flour, cut in a half stick cold butter, add about three-quarters cup of (cold!) milk, a quarter cup of sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Work quickly into a sticky dough.
Spoon or spread the dough on a well-buttered cookie sheet. I always use buttered parchment paper as well. Place in an oven preheated to 400. Bake for about fifteen-twenty minutes until golden. Cool before serving.