I could be called fanatical, or obsessive, or fixated... But I prefer dedicated, passionate, devoted. Funny how the words mean roughly the same thing; it’s just that on one hand the glass is half empty, on the other it’s half full... but even that is disputable. I will say this: a cake stand half empty is more beautiful than when it is full.
Though the uncut cake may be pristine, untouched, a picture of elegance like children dressed in their white, lace finery, isn’t it much more provoking to see the layered and frosted and sometimes messy interior?
When the children, ashamed but mostly invigorated, race indoors, their lace now dappled with remnants of pirates, deep expeditions, fights to the death? Yes. I prefer the dirty newness of birth, of flowers emerging, struggling at first, into the cool spring air. Of vegetables pulled easily from dark soil dampened by humid July thunderstorms, of green and purple lettuce, speckled brown from freshly composted soil, of jazz riffs, scratchy and dirty, and of flour buttermilk sugar eggs strawberries vanilla and baking powder, split into four layers and daintily built up into a tall pristine tower, only to be sliced away in deftly executed movements, revealing craggy, melting tiers, taking their first breaths of air tinged with laughter and anticipation. So much more interesting.
Old-Fashioned Strawberry Layer Cake
Adapted from Sara Bir’s adaptation from “The Cake Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum; The Oregonian, 10 June 2008
I followed the cake recipe closely, and came out with a perfectly fluffy and flavorful base for the berries. Before committing to this particular recipe, I searched for others for comparison and further inspiration, but could find none that incorporated fresh berries into the cake batter itself. That said, and being overly zealous about the idea of pureed berried IN the batter, I added about twice as much berry purée than called for in the original. I’ve incorporated my adaptations in recipe below.
1 pound whole strawberries
8 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup buttermilk, divided
3 ¾ cups unsifted cake flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. After buttering the sides and bottom of two, round 9-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the bottoms and flour the sides and bottoms. Set aside.
Hull all strawberries. Thinly slice about 1 cup and set aside to use in the filling. Purée the remaining berries in a blender or food processor (or smash berries as you would for jam) until you have medium sized chunks. [Here, the original recipe says that you should have about 1 ¼ cups of purée, I had much more]. Take about half of the purée and set aside.
In a separate container, combine the egg yolks, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/3 cup buttermilk. Set aside.
Combine cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Stir. Add the butter and beat on low speed for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/3 cup buttermilk and beat mixture until moist, scraping down the sides and bottom of bowl. Add the egg yolk mixture in a slow stream with the mixer on low speed. Beat for 1 minute. Add half of the strawberry purée, beat for about 30 seconds. Pour the batter into the two pans, smoothing the tops with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes [mine took at least this long and the center was still a bit gooey].
Cool pans for about 10 minutes, then invert and transfer to cool completely on a wire rack. Be sure to remove the parchment paper after inverting the pans, or the layers may split.
Make the frosting immediately before assembling the cake (recipe follows).
Make the filling: Place about 3 cups of the frosting into a medium bowl. Stir in the 1 cup sliced strawberries, remaining half strawberry purée, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Set aside.
Assemble the cake: Split cake layers so that you have four thin layers. Beginning with one layer cut side up on a cake stand, thickly spread about 1/3 of the filling. Repeat with the following 2 layers. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake with a spatula or knife, in long, swirling strokes.
Store leftover cake in the refrigerator for about 5 days.
Whipped Cream Frosting
From “Caprial’s Desserts” by Caprial Pence and Melissa Carey
For the frosting, I used Caprial Pence’s Whipped Cream Frosting. I highly recommend it. It makes the cake tastes like strawberry shortcake in a more decadent form. I had about 1 ½ cups leftover frosting, which you can store in the refrigerator for a few days, using it for a simple dessert (or breakfast) by stirring in any sort of sweetly ripe berry or granola or both... or just pile it on the cake and toy with gravity.
5 cups heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cream of tarter
Pour the whipping cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Beat on high speed until the cream thickens. Add the sugar, vanilla and cream of tarter. Beat until the cream holds a stiff peak. Use immediately.