Friday, June 10, 2011

Strawberry Cream Cake

This cake was a good decision. The fact that I was going to have a fab dinner with friends the week after picking a gallon of strawberries inspired me to go in the direction of, well, something that used two pounds of berries. This is a Cooks Illustrated recipe, and let me just tell you it's legit. Cook's Illustrated, when followed completely, is a no-fail source for recipes. When they say this is the best way to make a strawberry cream cake, I believe them. If you make this, prepare to do it exactly as the recipe directs. I promise you'll come out with a cake that is, in the words of my friend Christopher, "good enough to be sold in a high-end restaurant."
(Cake is displayed on the Cake Pedestal.)

Strawberry Cream Cake

1 1/4 cups cake flour (5 oz.)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tbsp. water
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Strawberry Filling
2 pounds fresh strawberries, washed, dried, and stemmed
4-6 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. Kirsch
Pinch salt

Whipped Cream
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups heavy cream

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, and heat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease and flour Springform Pan, and line with parchment paper.

Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tbsp. sugar in mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter, water, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.

In a clean bowl, beat remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, about two minutes. Gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, and increase mixer speed to medium-high. Beat until soft peaks form, 60 to 90 seconds. Stir one-third of whites into batter to lighten; add remaining whites, and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 30 - 40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, and release cake onto a wire rack to cool completely. Peel off and discard parchment paper, and cool completely (about 2 hours), top side up.

For Strawberry Filling:
Half 24 of the best-looking berries, and reserve. Quarter remaining berries, and toss with 4-6 tbsp. sugar (depending on berries' sweetness) in medium bowl, and let sit one hour, stirring occasionally. Strain juices from berries, and reserve (should yield about 1/2 cup). In food processor, pulse macerated berries to give about 1 1/2 cups. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer reserved juices and Kirsch until syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3-5 minutes. Pour reduced syrup over macerated berries, add pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until cake has cooled.

For Whipped Cream:
When cake has cooled, place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a clean bowl, and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minute, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low, and add heavy cream in slow, steady stream; when almost fully combined, increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes more, scraping bowl as needed. This should yield about 4 1/2 cups.

To Assemble:
Using a large serrated knife, slice cake into three even layers. Place bottom layer on cake plate, and arrange ring of 20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around perimeter of cake layer. Pour one half of pureed berry mixture (about 3/4 cup) in center, and spread to cover any exposed cake. Gently spread about 1/3 of whipped cream (about 1 1/2 cups) over berry layer, leaving 1/2-inch border from edge. Place middle layer on top, and press down gently (whipped cream underneath should become flush with cake layer). Repeat with 20 additional strawberry halves, remaining berry mixture, and half of remaining whipped cream. Gently press last cake layer on top, and spread with remaining whipped cream. Decorate with remaining cut strawberries. Serve, or chill up to 4 hours.

As I said, I got this recipe from Cooks Illustrated, thanks to the subscription my brother and sister-in-law gave me for my birthday. Excellent gift idea, by the way!

I didn't use the Kirsch in my strawberry syrup because I didn't have it. From what I read, it wasn't going to make a significant enough difference to justify the expense.

Know going in that two pounds of strawberries is a lot. Get comfortable, because it will take a while to stem, slice, dice, etc. all of them. Do this while the cake bakes, and you won't feel like you're spending an entire day in the kitchen. My station: Strawberries in the Colander & Bowl Set, Large Cutting Board over the sink, Dots Small Bowl with my "24 best-looking berries," and Classic Batter Bowl for everything else. The 3 1/2" Paring Knife is my favorite for working with strawberries, so I've become best friends with it for the summer. If it wasn't for an efficient knife, I'd have spent forever cutting strawberries.

To prep a pan for cake, don't take shortcuts. I rub mine with Crisco and use the Flour/Sugar Shaker to add the flour layer. This is the Springform Pan, and you'll see in a bit what great results it delivers. See the glass base? How about that for nice cheesecake presentation? If you don't have a springform pan, you can use a cake pan, but make sure it's at least 2 inches deep, or you'll have this time-consuming cake batter running all over your oven. How sad would that be?

I should have put the cake together and then worked on strawberries, but I didn't realize the eggs needed to be room temperature. Hi, I'm Jenny, and sometimes I break the common sense rule of reading an entire recipe before starting anything. My eggs are in a Dots Pasta Bowl, and ingredients are measured into Measuring Spoons, Adjustable Measuring Spoons, Stainless Mixing Bowls, Measuring Cups, and an Easy Read Mini Measuring Cup. I'm using Madagascar Double-Strength Vanilla, and the butter is in the 1.5-Qt. Saucepan from the Executive Cookware Collection. I've got the Mini Mix 'n Scraper in that, and the Stainless Whisk is in the flour mixture. Again, strawberries are in the Classic Batter Bowl. Most ingredients are on the Large Cutting Board.

The term "soft peaks" used to confuse me when it came to frothing egg whites. Here's the deal: A soft peak will remain standing when you pull the beaters back, but it will fall back into the bowl if given a little shake. A stiff peak, however, will remain standing when given a little shake. (That's what you would use to top a pie or banana pudding.) Egg whites are tricky to work with, but they're worth the effort. Make sure they're room temperature, and avoid rainy days. Weird, right? Apparently you'll never get them to form peaks on a rainy day, but I haven't put that to the test. I'm using the Stainless Mixing Bowls here along with the Stainless Whisk.

This is why you don't take shortcuts when baking. It's a lot more scientific than people realize, but you can get amazing results if you're patient and follow directions. Look at how beautifully this cake baked! A beautifully golden cake, and a perfect release from the Springform Pan. It's going to cool on a Cooling Rack for a while, and I'm going to either work on the next step or sit on the couch a while. Most likely the latter because I just spent forever and a day slicing strawberries and baking a cake.

I love the Colander & Bowl Set. The small colander nests inside the small bowl, so I can just pour my strawberries in there and turn my attention to other things while they drain. Plus, this guarantees that I reserve the juice instead of pouring it down the sink. This set also comes with a large colander, a large bowl, and lids. All of the bowls nest together for easy storage. That's the Small Mix 'n Scraper lying there.

The Manual Food Processor is seriously one of the best inventions of all time. It's so simple to use, and it has measurements on the side! Oh, spoil me!

A good test to make sure your reserved strawberry juice is syrupy is to see if it sticks to the bottom of the pan without a little help. If it runs easily, it's not quite ready to use. The Skinny Scraper and 1.5 Qt. Saucepan are a killer combination for strawberry juice reduction.

Slicing cake layers intimidates a lot of people, so here's how you do it. Get a long, serrated knife. This is the Color-Coated Bread Knife before it became color-coated, or you can use the 9" Bread Knife from the Forged Cutlery Collection. For slicing one cake into three layers, which is rare, mark the width of each layer before starting. Then slice each layer towards the middle a little ways. Rotate the cake, and slice again. Rotate, slice, repeat, until you've sliced all the way around. Trying to to straight across instead of following the rotation method is a recipe for disaster. Disaster = slanted layers, especially on a cake when the sides aren't covered by icing. This is on the Cake Pedestal, which makes it easy to rotate for slicing.

Strawberry halves around the outside, compote mixture in the middle and spread to cover crevices between berries, and then cream to top. I'm using the Classic Scraper to spread the cream. This picture reminds me just how good this was. The cream mixture is worth making by itself as a fruit dip.

See how this was worth the time and effort? The pictures don't explain how rich and decadent this cake was, but just know you won't be left wanting after eating it. My sweet friends Christopher and Elizabeth treated me to a dinner of grilled pork tenderloin, fried green tomatoes, and roasted vegetables (I know - they spoil me), and I was happy to share a special dessert with them afterwards. You know when you have friends who understand food and enjoy discussing what makes a good recipe? That's so fun for me! Cooks Illustrated Strawberry Cream Cake equals summer dessert bliss.

Here are a few little tips to save you some blood, sweat, and tears:

Don't substitute another cake. This requires a cake that's dense enough to stand up to the strawberry compote. If you throw in a typical recipe, you're going to end up with a big, soggy mess.

Allow time. The eggs need to be room temperature. The cream cheese needs to soften. The cake needs to bake close to 40 minutes and then cool about two hours. The strawberries need to be prepared and then left to marinate in sugar about an hour. In other words, this isn't a recipe you can just throw together in a couple of hours.

Don't make this too far ahead of serving time. There's a certain "soggy factor" that comes with any type of shortcake recipe. Given how much work goes into this recipe, don't allow time for it to fall victim to the sog. If you'd like (what I did), bake the cake and prepare the strawberry compote ahead of time, and then finish the cream and put the cake together a couple of hours before it's being served.


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1 comment:

  1. Hi Jenny! Your comment on the blog cracked me up. Seriously. Thanks for stopping by. Funny, I just made a strawberry cake with compote that I'm posting tomorrow. This one looks off the hook!