There's a Japanese bakery in Hawai'i called Saint Germain that makes, among many sweets, a killer strawberry shortcake. It was the cake my parents ordered for my first birthday, and every birthday since then. In my mind, only Japanese bakeries can create great strawberry shortcakes—delicate and light as a feather—far preferable to the heavy yellow butter cake with sugary frosting found at most American bakeries. In the East Village, where I currently live, we are fortunate to have our pick of strawberry shortcakes—three, to be exact.
The best is at the recently re-opened Panya (at top) where each slice runs $3.75. The 50:50 cake-to-cream ratio was just perfect, with a fair helping of thinly sliced strawberries evenly laid across between generous swaths of cream. The exterior side of the cake, sweet just enough, is lightly dusted in toasted cake crumbs, and the whole cake is tender and light with a moist body.
In second comes ChikaLicious with a perfect looking, cleanly cut slice ($2.75). It's a good, solid, strawberry cake. The crumb is a little too fine—I love the melt-in-your mouth aspect of cakes, but this went too far in that direction. Strawberry slices were on the skimpy side, but aside from that, the whipped cream was fluffy, with just a bit of added sugar, and the cake to cream ratio was spot on.
At $2.75, Cafe Zaiya offers the least tasty of the trio—a shame because most of what they turn out is pretty awesome. There's only one layer of strawberries and cream, and the cake itself has the oddest texture: floury and dusty. It's sloppy (certainly a big no-no for Japanese cakes!), difficult to eat without the entire slice falling over, and unnecessarily dusted in powdered sugar.
As far as strawberry shortcakes go, evidence deems that it is not worth being cheap. Tack on a dollar and head for the best at Panya.
10 Stuyvesant Street, New York NY 10003 (map)