I was once asked to be in charge of organizing an all-appetizer spread for a large gathering. I needed at least 15 people to sign up to bring appetizers for this event. For me personally, I absolutely love appetizers and mini desserts. The options are endless and so fun to create. But I realized that not too many people were as excited as I was to come up with ideas for an appetizer. Too often we just think of the basics for appetizers, a veggie tray, a fruit platter and cookies or brownies for the desserts. Which are all great to have but I like to think outside the box and try to create something simple but delicious at the same time. When I’m throwing a party where appetizers and mini desserts are the choice of food, I try to come up with new ideas each time. I pore over my cookbooks and look online for ideas. Then when I see something that I like, I recreate it and try to come up with my own version. So I created these Mini Strawberry Lemon Shortcakes.
The original idea I saw had a simple vanilla shortcake. But in taking the dessert to a new level, I knew a lemon cake would pair well with the strawberries and whipped cream, of course! Everyone needs a great lemon cake in their recipe collection and this is that cake. It’s adapted by my all-time favorite tv food host and cookbook author, Ina Garten from her “Barefoot Contessa Parties” cookbook. The cake is buttery, bright, and dense – which I love. But not too dense, it still has a good tender crumb. It’s also not too cloyingly sweet. The lemon is for sure the star of this cake but trust me, it’s counterbalanced with the right amount of sugar to make the perfect balance. I also halved the recipe with the mini dessert in mind. It can be doubled for two loaf cakes, or one bundt cake. This recipe is simple, and will for sure be a hit at any party.
For the cake, have all of your ingredients measured out and ready to go. Make sure to also read through your recipe before you begin. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You’ll need a jelly roll pan measuring 9 1/2 x 14 1/2 x 1 1/2. Prepare the pan by greasing it first with butter, then line it with parchment paper, grease the top of the parchment again with butter then sprinkle flour on top. Tap out any excess flour. Cream the butter and 1 cup of sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium, add eggs one at a time, and the lemon zest. Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 2 T of freshly squeezed lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour alternating with the buttermilk mixture to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Pour the batter into the jelly roll pan and smooth out with a spatula.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden brown. While the cake is baking, combine the 1/4 cup granulated sugar with 4 T of lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let stand. When the cake is done, let it cool for 10 minutes. Poke small holes in the cake with a skewer, and spoon the lemon syrup over the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely. For the glaze, mix 1 cup confectioners sugar and 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice with 1 Tablespoon melted butter. (I love the addition of butter because the flavor and consistency is so much nicer). Whisk together until combined adding more lemon juice if needed until smooth. Using a pastry brush, brush it over the cake and allow to dry. At this point, if you need to make the cake in advance, it can be frozen overnight. Double-wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Once you are ready to make the rounds, remove from the freezer and let the cake sit out at least one hour.
Using a 1 3/4 – 2 inch round shaped cutter, cut out the cake into small rounds. You should be able to cut about 24 tiny round cakes.
To make the whipped cream, use a metal mixing bowl that has been in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. This helps the whipping cream to whip up quicker. Mix the heavy whipping cream, 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 tsp vanilla in the metal mixing bowl. Using a handheld mixer, start out on the lowest speed, and gradually increase the speed until you reach stiff peaks. Using a frosting/piping bag with a large star tip, pipe the frosting onto each little cake round. Top with strawberries and enjoy!