3 cups Softasilk cake flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shortening (Crisco is fine)
3 lightly beaten eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
powdered sugar

For Strawberry Shortcake:
2 1/2 pints strawberries
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
sugar to taste

For Peach Shortcake:
5 cups peeled peaches
2 tablespoons peach brandy
2 teaspoons cinnamon
sugar to taste

Hale combines the cake flour, sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of baking powder, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a mixer (you can do it by hand). Then he cuts in shortening (Crisco is fine) to obtain a crumblike texture. Next, he blends in 3 lightly beaten eggs, 1/2 cup of milk, and 2 tablespoons of vanilla. Now comes the crucial step: He refrigerates the batter for at least thirty minutes. Otherwise, the dough will be so wet that it will be a mess when you try to cut it.

When the dough has chilled, Hale turns it out on a floured surface and—handling it gently—pats it out and cuts it with a three-and-a-half-inch biscuit cutter. He brushes the tops with butter, then uses a spatula to transfer the floppy, almost weightless rounds to a greased baking sheet. He bakes them at 350 degrees for twelve minutes—start checking at eight minutes if your oven is less than accurate. “Baking the shortcake at the last minute makes a world of difference,” says Hale.

Meanwhile, Hale has whipped 2 cups of heavy cream with 1/4 cup of sugar. He has sliced 2 1/2 pints of strawberries or 5 cups of peeled peaches. Next, in a food processor, he purees (a) a pint of berries with 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier and sugar to taste or (b) 2 cups of peaches with 2 tablespoons of peach brandy, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, and sugar to taste. (The amount of sugar will depend on the quality of the fruit. Hale, a booster of Texas cottage-industry suppliers, tries to get hydroponic berries from Houston’s Living Greens—”they actually taste like something”—or the Fredericksburg peaches that are coming into season now.) He warns that the sliced fruit and the pureed sauce should not be tossed together until the last possible moment so the fruit will maintain its all-too-transitory freshness.

When the shortcakes are baked, Hale slices them in half, spoons the filling over the bottom half, pipes on a thick crown of whipped cream (you can just spoon it on), sets the top half back on, and sieves some powdered sugar onto the top. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig, and watch your friends swoon. Dolly who?