Dressed up desserts—awww, sweet!

Oh, no. There’s that word again, that five-letter word that I NEVER want to see linked with my favorite pastime, baking.


Fancy baking. Think shaping perfect roses out of sugar fondant. Applying meringue to the top of a pie in masterful swirls, then creating equidistant, droop-top peaks. Or how about a six-strand challah whose shape leaves ASOLUTELY NOTHING to be desired?

I don’t have the skill, the patience, nor the time for fancy baking. In my book, “How does it look?” is way, WAY down the list from “How does it taste?”

But there comes a time in every baker’s life when fancy is demanded. Just as we change out of jeans and put on black slacks for holiday dinner, so do our cakes, pies, and even cookies need to dress up for special occasions. Think wedding cakes. A golden pumpkin pie, edged with rosettes of whipped cream. And decorated Christmas cookies, of course.

Valentine’s Day is such a time. I’d no more make my favorite oatmeal cookies for Valentine’s Day than I’d wear my bathing suit to a job interview. It’s just not fitting (double entendre intended).

Special days require FANCY treats.

Which doesn’t mean I spend hours on the path to Fancy. There are those (scrapbookers, quilters, creators of faux-Fabergé eggs) who enjoy the journey, probably more so than the destination. Not I. I prefer the balance of a short, brisk workout followed by a quick reward (e.g., brownies), to a marathon (the aforementioned wedding cake) whose result might be barely so-so.

When it’s time for fancy, I’m the Queen of Quick, a veritable Sovereign of Shortcuts. And this trifle is a great example.

Strawberry shortcake is a universal favorite, and with fresh strawberries available pretty much year-round, always a possibility. So how do you make this plebeian dish fancy?

Turn it into strawberry trifle. Tiny little biscuits, layered in pretty barware with pastry cream, topped with carved-heart strawberries. Fancy—and EASY.

Trust me; I’d never lead you astray. I know the path to Easy WAY too well to lose my way amid cake combs, piping tips, and fondant pins.

Read our Easy Strawberry Shortcake Trifle recipe as you follow along with these pictures.


First, the biscuits. Mix flour, cornstarch (for tenderness), sugar, salt, and baking powder, then add cold heavy or whipping cream. Stir to combine. That’s it. Easy so far, right?


Scoop the dough into a 9” x 9” square pan lined with greased parchment. You can skip the parchment and just grease the pan, but parchment ensures easy release.


Pat the dough into the pan.


Keep patting till it reaches the edges of the pan.


While not strictly necessary, it’s a nice touch to sprinkle the dough with coarse white sparkling sugar. The sugar gives the biscuits flavor and subtle crunch. This is your first step towards fancy.


Pat or roll the dough as level as you can, for best-looking biscuits.


Bake the biscuits till the edges are beginning to brown; the top might show some faint signs of browning, too.




Turn out of the pan, onto a giant spatula, if you have one.


The spatula makes it easy to flip it right-side up again.


Use a tiny biscuit cutter to cut out circles.


I used a 1 1/8” cutter, and was able to cut out 35 tiny biscuits. Second step towards fancy.


Munch on the leftover scraps, or make some not-so-fancy trifles that can hide in the back of the fridge till you’re ready to enjoy them in private.


Buy some medium-sized, well-shaped strawberries (third step towards fancy). Cut off the stems as close to the top as possible.


Halve them vertically. If they’re rather flat shaped, position the knife so that when you halve them vertically, you’ll end up with two wide halves, rather than two narrower ones.


Now, notch out a “V” at the top of each one.


FANCY that! You’ve made strawberry hearts. Fourth step.


Next, pastry cream. Instant pastry cream, my favorite kind. I learned this trick long ago, and now all of us in the test kitchen use it. Combine 2 boxes of vanilla instant pudding mix with 3 1/2 to 4 cups cream (light, heavy, or whipping); half and half; or any other milk, right down to skim. The richer the dairy product, obviously, the richer the pastry cream. Add 1 tablespoon vanilla. Whisk till thickened; the less liquid (and the higher in fat it is), the thicker the cream will be. Fifth step towards fancy.


Pour or dollop the cream/pudding into a pretty cocktail or wine glass. (Sixth step). Dessert shot glasses make VERY cute little desserts.


Set a biscuit atop the cream…


…then add more cream, and another biscuit. A strawberry too, if you like. Continue layering till you reach the top of the glass. Final step: garnish with a heart strawberry, and partially submerge one final sugar-topped biscuit.

Still not satisfied? Add a dab of whipped cream, which you’ve made by whipping heavy cream and a touch of sugar with a cappuccino frother, as one of our readers recently suggested.


FANCY that!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Easy Strawberry Shortcake Trifle.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Sorry, I couldn’t fine an equivalent for comparison.

Bake at home: To make 12 to 16 medium-sized trifles, each using about 2 to 3 biscuits and 1/3 cup pastry cream, $1.14 each.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. Courtney

    Hi PJ,

    Thanks so much for doing a trifle. ILOVETRIFLE!!!!! It is so much fun getting creative with the layers. I love your “instant” idea . I’m with Julia on the chocolate version. Chocolate pudding, Angel food cake cut into hearts and Strawberries injected with Grand Marnier !! Wow! Thanks for the idea. I just found this blog. I’ll be back. Happy Valentine”s Day! Have a Good one.

  2. Christian

    These look amazing, but I have no idea how I would try to eat one of these!

    I may just have to try this for V-Day!

  3. Julia

    Using the tip of a knife to cut a little cone around the base
    of the stem to de-stem the strawberries (instead of
    cutting the berry flat across the stem) might save the
    step of cutting the notch to make the strawberry heart
    shape. Then just slice to halve the strawberry.

    PJ, how about a chocolate shortcake version?? Maybe
    some cocoa to replace part of the flour? Yum!

    True, Julia – you’re a better fancy baker than I! Chocolate shortcake, with some cocoa – or perhaps the recipe as written with chocolate jimmies added for a speckled shortcake. Hmmm… PJH

  4. Kathleen

    I love your idea of cutting strawberry hearts and Bridgett’s idea of using heart cutters on the biscuits. I’m with you, fancy is towards the bottom of my list to, taste comes first. This looks so yummy and it doesn’t seem to hard to do, i’ll have to give it a try. I’m in Florida and it’s strawberry season here. Our local berries are so much sweeter, juicyer and bigger than the ones that are shipped from other places. Do you know that we even have a Strawberry Festival in Plant City, Fl. The festival has become quite big, they even have well know singers scheduled each year.

    Kathleen, I just got the BEST strawberries from Plant City at our supermarket here – and only $3.49/qt. NICE. Hey, what’s up with Florida – I was just there, it was 16°F. Heck, I might as well have stayed in NH! Hope your strawberries and tomatoes made it through OK… PJH

  5. Jackie

    I especially like this recipe because we are having a Valentine’s Day family day, and I think my little girls will think this is plenty fancy for them!

    Maybe they could even help you put them together – it’s cool making the layers, and I’m sure they’d have fun licking pudding off their fingers… PJH

  6. Bridgett

    I think I gained weight just looking at the pictures. Yum! I am wondering if the biscuits could be cut with a heart cutter (at least for the top)? And I absolutely love the strawberry hearts and plan to use those for some other desserts. Thanks for the continued inspiration 🙂

    Bridgett, you could totally cut the biscuits with a tiny heart cutter (or a bigger one, if you want to use the hearts as a base, rather than making this into a trifle). Good idea – thanks for YOUR inspiration! – PJH

  7. One Particular Kitchen

    WOW! I’m with you — I don’t usually care so much if it’s pretty (my apple crisp being a case in point), but those are worth the extra effort. How adorable!

    And the nice thing is, it really isn’t a lot of effort – just slabbing the biscuit dough into a pan and cutting it, plus instant pudding, makes it all pretty darned approachable for us “non-fancy” folks. Thanks for connecting – PJH


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