Dessert First on the Fourth – Why Not?

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Chocolate Shortcakes

Except for apple pie, no dessert is more American and more appropriate for the Fourth of July than shortcake, dressed up with red and blue berries and a billow of cream.

No matter that (according to Wikipedia) an early recipe strawberry shortcake was found in an English cookbook dating back to 1588.  Shortcake is American. And the best shortcake is just that –a rich, crumbly biscuit dough that soaks up berry juices.  Sponge cake is not shortcake – especially those cup-shaped cake-lets found in supermarket produce departments

I’ve been making shortcake since childhood with my great, great Aunt Mary’s simple biscuit dough. When my cousin’s wife Andrea served us strawberry shortcake for breakfast on a summer visit, I adopted the tradition of making shortcake for special occasion brunches.

It gets better. My father introduced my family to strawberry shortcake drenched with eggnog – a breakfast he enjoyed to sustain his work on a watermelon farm in Riverside, California. While I’ve since dropped that tradition, gilding the shortcake lily with eggnog is delicious, and possible strategy for those looking to add a few pounds.

This year I created a chocolate shortcake with the Fourth of July in mind. You get a double punch of chocolate – the dough includes chopped chocolate and unsweetened cocoa replaces some of the flour. You don’t need a big portion because the cakes are rich and satisfying. Do include a big portion of nutrient-rich fruit. And try the yogurt cream, which is reminiscent of French crème fraiche but a little lighter than straight cream.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Another “berry-good” dessert for the Fourth of July is my Strawberry, Raspberry and Blackberry Tart .

I created the chocolate shortcake recipe for the Valley Fig Growers July Fig Focus Newsletter where you’ll find my how-to photos.

Don’t wait. Bake the shortcakes (or tart) now, or very first thing in the morning, so they’re ready for breakfast. It’s going to be a busy day and  you just might want dessert first.

Happy Fourth of July!

Chocolate Shortcakes with Fig-Raspberry Compote

Serves 9

Fig-Raspberry Compote:

2 cups 100% berry juice such as cranberry-raspberry or cranberry-pomegranate

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon sugar, more to taste

1 package (7-ounce) Blue Ribbon® Orchard Choice® or Sun-Maid® California Figs, stemmed and halved

3 cups fresh raspberries

2 tablespoons raspberry liqueur such as framboise, or orange liqueur, optional



¾ cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate or mini chocolate chips

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


Topping (optional):

1 egg white, lightly beaten

1 ½ teaspoons coarse sugar or granulated sugar


Yogurt Cream:

1/3 cup plain low-fat (2%) Greek yogurt

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon vanilla


  1. To make Fig-Raspberry Compote, in a saucepan, whisk together juice, cornstarch and 1 tablespoon sugar. Bring to a simmer, whisking often, and simmer for 30 seconds or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in Figs and liqueur. Add additional sugar, to taste. Cool to room temperature. Chill 2 hours or until serving time.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or oiled foil.
  3. To make shortcakes, in medium bowl whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in chocolate.
  4. Place cream and vanilla in small bowl. Beat with electric mixer to soft peaks. Stir into dry ingredients. (Chill bowl and beaters for making topping – step 7.)
  5. Turn dough out onto a piece of parchment or wax paper. With lightly oiled hands, knead about 10 times, just to form a ball. (Dough will be sticky.) Place dough on parchment-lined sheet. Pat to a 5-inch square. With oiled knife, cut into 9 squares. Separate squares allowing about 1-inch between each. If desired, brushed tops with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.
  6. Bake cakes for 10 minutes or until pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on rack.
  7. While shortcakes bake, make Yogurt Cream. In chilled bowl, combine yogurt, 1/3 cup whipping cream, 1 ½ tablespoons sugar and 1/8 teaspoon vanilla. Beat with electric mixer to soft peaks.  Cover and chill until serving time.
  8. To serve, shortcakes, stir raspberries into Compote. Spoon a little Compote on bottom of serving dishes. Split shortcakes in half lengthwise. Place bottom half over Compote. Top with a small spoonful of Compote and Yogurt Cream. Cover with top half of cakes and a small dab of the Cream. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.


© Lorelle Del Matto 2017

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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