Strawberry-Saffron Shortcake

Lemon syrup and saffron lends this strawberry shortcake a floral aroma and gorgeous rich color.

Strawberry-Saffron Shortcake

Greg Dupree / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

Active Time:
40 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 20 mins
12 servings

Lemon syrup and mascarpone whipped cream — both scented with saffron — give a sweet, floral dimension to the season’s most familiar dessert. To get the most out of the saffron, Vasavada crushes and soaks the threads in hot liquid, a process known as blooming, to bring out the spice's subtle flavor and signature yellow hue. The berries pair well with warm spices as the two come together to create a strong aroma and color. Vasavada tints the whipped cream a pale yellow by incorporating this saffron into the lemon syrup that soaks the vanilla cake and whipped cream that tops it.


Vanilla cake

  • Cooking spray

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1 3/4 cups (about 7 1/2 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Lemon-saffron syrup

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

  • 2 tablespoons water

  • 10 saffron threads (see Note)

Macerated strawberries

  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Saffron-mascarpone whipped cream

  • 1 tablespoon boiling water

  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed

  • 4 ounces mascarpone cheese

  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream


Make the vanilla cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 13- x 9-inch baking sheet with cooking spray; set aside.

  2. Whisk together milk and lemon juice in a glass measuring cup; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Beat granulated sugar and butter with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl halfway through beating time. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating for 30 seconds between additions. Add vanilla, and beat until combined, about 15 seconds. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating gently on low speed between additions until just combined. Pour batter into prepared baking sheet. Using a spatula, spread batter in an even layer; tap baking sheet 2 to 3 times on countertop to get rid of any air bubbles and to even out cake batter.

  3. Bake in preheated oven until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 26 to 30 minutes.

Make the lemon-saffron syrup

  1. Stir together granulated sugar, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water, and saffron threads in a small saucepan over medium-low. Cook, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium, and bring to a simmer. Simmer, undisturbed, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.

  2. Remove cake from oven; immediately brush lemon-saffron syrup generously over surface of cake using a pastry brush. Let cake cool completely in cake pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Macerate the strawberries

  1. Stir together strawberries, granulated sugar, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until strawberries release their juices, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Make the saffron-mascarpone whipped cream

  1. Stir together 1 tablespoon boiling water and saffron in a small heatproof bowl. Let stand 15 minutes. Beat mascarpone, powdered sugar, and saffron mixture in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. With mixer running on medium speed, gradually add cream. Increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.

  2. Dollop saffron-mascarpone whipped cream onto cooled cake, and spread in an even layer. Top with macerated strawberries; drizzle cake evenly with any juices remaining in bowl. Serve immediately.

To make ahead

Cake may be stored, tightly covered, in refrigerator up to 2 days.


Saffron is available at most specialty grocery stores or online at

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