Strawberry Cream Cake
This cake required two pounds of strawberries, eight ounces of cream cheese, a pretty good dose of whipping cream, and cake flour. Believe it or not, I did not just mention that to try and openly display that this cake is not of the most healthy or wholesome sorts. No, I listed out those ingredients—none of which were in my pantry or fridge before the making of this thing—to show that I am somewhat failing at my whole frugal use-up-what-I-have mission.
But! There was a birthday. And not just anyone’s birthday, but the birthday of one of my very best friends, Abbey. I’m kind of big on birthdays, or any sort of holiday really that gives me an excuse to prepare sweets, treats and dishes and to be extra happy for a day. But especially birthdays. I actually have a little spot reserved in one of my notebooks titled “Treats for Occasions & Birthdays,” where I have written out the favorite treats of family members and close friends so I can remember to surprise them with it on their birthday. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out.
For example, did I make my brother creme brulee a few months ago on his birthday, December 28th? No, of course not, I was still reveling in Christmas and preparing for New Year’s! (Sorry, Jimmy.) Will I make the two treats I have planned for my mom and twin sister, both of whose birthdays are right next to each other next week? Probably not, seeing as I will be stuck in the trenches of finals here in Oregon—not to mention that little fact that it is my birthday too (in case you didn’t catch the “twin sister” part!) in which case I get terribly ego-centric and attention-grabbing. But I still like to plan for them at least, and sometimes my birthday-treat plans actually do work out. Case and point: next to Abbey’s name I had written, Strawberry Cream Cake. So strawberry cream cake there will be, I thought, even if it interrupted my attempts at avoiding the grocery store.
I really ended up liking this cake, and I hope Abbey did too. It’s kind of like strawberry shortcake, only fancied up a little bit in order to be event-worthy. But with the whipped cream piled like clouds on top of the layers of cake and strawberry filling while the sides are left untouched, it still has something of a casual edge to it so that the cake doesn’t seem intimidating or too fancy. A couple of years ago I made this for the Fourth of July, which I think is a perfect event for it.
In terms of how it tastes, it really is like strawberry shortcake…but better. Rather than shortcakes, it’s a chiffon-style vanilla cake that is light and tender, but sturdy enough to handle the aforementioned clouds of cream and strawberries in a cake form. And I have to say this–when these cakes were baking in the oven it seriously sent me into a whirlwind of nostalgia into my childhood when I would smell those vanilla funfetti birthday cakes. That may be a turn off to some people, but oh gosh it smelled heavenly. Anyway, the strawberry component of this part is really parallel to its shortcake counterpart, save the fact that some are left un-macerated for pretty presentation, and the fact that the macerated berry juices are reduced down with Kirsch liqueur to further the strawberry-ness flavor of the filling. I found this part helpful, seeing as the strawberries I was using were not quite peak-of-season quality yet (errmm insert foodie-guilt from not having shelled out the $3 a pint for farmer’s market strawberries). And finally, the whipped cream. Cook’s took whipped cream and fortified it with cream cheese to make the best of both worlds: a strong enough whipped cream so that it can be used on a cake and hold without disintegrating, while still retaining a lightness that can’t be found in traditional cream cheese frosting. It’s awesome and addicting, and I’m not even a “frosting” person.
So yeah, if you couldn’t tell from my heavily praising description above, I think it’s a lovely cake. A lovely cake for a lovely girl. Happy Birthday, Abbey! xx
Strawberry Cream Cake
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 8 to 10
I varied a little bit from the assembly of the cake. The cake is suppose to be a three-tiered layer cake, all the layers of which come from the slices of a cake baked in a 9-inch springform pan. I don’t have one of those, so I opted to simply divide it between two 9-inch cake pans, and end up with a two layer cake. I think I like this way better, actually: it allowed me to really pile on the strawberry filling and whipped cream without the fear of running out. That being said, if you have a 9-inch springform pan, by all means whip this up into a three layer cake–it really is beautiful that way too. Also, Cook’s Illustrated notes that the cake part of this can be made ahead of time, wrapped tightly in plastic, and frozen. Simply thaw at room temperature, unwrapped, for about two hours before continuing with the recipe.
1 1/4 cups (ounces) cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted a slightly cooled
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 pounds (about 2 quarts) fresh strawberries, washed, dried, and stemmed
4-6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsch (optional–don’t use if you have peak-of-season beautiful strawberries)
pinch of kosher salt
8 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened (soft enough to beat and make fluffy)
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of kosher salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream
For the cake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position. Butter and flour 2 round 9-inch cake pans (or one 9-inch springform pan, see note above), and line with parchment or wax paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and about 1 cup + 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a medium-large bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and three yolks (reserve the whites!), the melted butter, water, and vanilla. Whisk until the batter is smooth and thick.
In a clean bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the reserved three egg whites at medium-low speed so that they get frothy and broken up a bit, about 1 or 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and gradually add the remaining three tablespoons of sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes more. Take one-third of the beaten egg whites and fold it into the batter, to lighten it. Add the remaining beaten whites and gently fold until there aren’t any more white streaks and it’s pretty much evenly mixed. Pour the batter between the two prepared cake pans, dividing it evenly, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert cake onto a wire rack to cool completely (it’s necessary!), about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the strawberry filling. Halve 24 of the best-looking strawberries in your bunch and reserve. These will be used to border the layers and decorate the top. In a medium bowl, quarter the remaining berries you have and toss with 4 to 6 tablespoons of sugar, depending on the sweetness and ripeness of your berries. You should have a mixture of a little more than 1 1/2 to 2 cups worth. Let this mixture sit for one hour, stirring occasionally.
Strain the juice from the macerated berries (should be about 1/2 cup) and heat over medium high heat in a small saucepan with the addition of the Kirsch, if using, until syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, about 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put the macerated berries in a food processor and whir them for about 5 one second pulses. Alternatively, like I did, you could simply chop them up best you can with your knife–you’re just looking for a mushy strawberry filling mixture. Pour the reduced syrup over the chopped berries, add a pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside.
When the cake has cooled, place the softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and the pinch of salt in a bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until fluffy and somewhat light, 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure to scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula a few times throughout this process. Reduce speed to low and add heavy cream in a slow, steady stream. When it’s almost all the way combined, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, about 1 to 2 minutes more, scraping the bowl as you go. You should have around 4 to 5 cups–a lot!–and if you’re only making a 2 layer cake like me, you will probably have extra. I’m sure you can find a use for that.
To assemble the cake, Place one layer of the cake on a cake plate and arrange a ring of the reserved strawberry halves, cut side down and stems facing out, around the border of the cake. Pour about 1 cup of the berry mixture in the center (once again, if only doing two layers like me you’ll probably have extra–I’m not saying anything but it is delicious with leftover whipped cream). Spread mixture to cover any exposed cake, but be careful not to extend the mixture out too far so that it will spill over when you add the cream and other cake layer. Next, gently spread about 1 1/2 to 2 cups (or more to your liking) of the whipped cream over berry layer. This is a little difficult, because you want to be sure not to create an incorporated mush of the two parts. Leave a 1/2-inch border from the perimeter of the cake. Place next cake layer down and press gently (!)–so that the whipped cream layer should become “flush” with the cake edge. Add another 1 1/2 to 2 cups of whipped cream and spread to make an even layer on top. (Note: if you’re making the three layered cake, here is when you want to repeat the process of the first cake layer before moving on.) Decorate with remaining cut strawberries. Serve, or chill. This cake is best served the day of, but it’s doing fine holding up in our fridge at the moment, too.