learning to bake: strawberry cake #2

Strawberry Cake Done - Little Miss Bent

so pretty! I love the mottled effect of the pureed fresh berries

Strawberry cake is the reason I finally decided to give this baking thing a real go. My sister in law makes a wonderful strawberry cake. It’s to-die-for. Typically, strawberry cake is layer after layer of pink, fruity, sweetness. If you have a sweet tooth, this cake is likely for you. It involves yellow cake mix, strawberry jello mix, and, yes, fresh strawberries. It sounds yummy because it is.

But, I wasn’t brought up on what my mum calls “box cake”. Most of what I ate growing up was made from scratch by my mum or my gran. Nothing wrong with box cake, mind you, I just wanted to try it the way gran might have done. So, like a fool, I decided to attempt a strawberry cake recipe from scratch. And… fail. Epic fail! Okay, maybe not quite epic. It didn’t (quite) turn out like those cakes in the new Cool Whip commercial. Nor like the cakes on King Arthur’s baking disaster blog. But my first attempt at strawberry cake was one of the gummy, wet-but-dry cakes that I mentioned in those earlier posts in my baking journey. Gross. It went into the bin.

Rather than giving up, though, I decided to build up to baking this lovely fruity cake. After easier recipes like biscotti and then a fruit tart and finally lemon tea bread, I decided to go for it. So, when I made dinner for friends this past weekend, I also made a strawberry cake. And as I put the 2 layers in the oven, I crossed my fingers and even prayed a bit. Really. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to serve friends gummy cake. It had to turn out well!

My neighbor, a professional chef, happened to stop by and counseled me with “lots of patience”. So, while the baking progressed I patiently set about making strawberry cream cheese frosting. And, after the cakes had cooled, I crossed my fingers while I patiently frosted the layers. And then the moment of truth was upon us. I sliced some strawberries for garnish. I plated 3 slices of cake. I stared intently at my friends. And… success! Smiles all around!

It was light and fluffy. It was refreshingly fruity without being cloyingly sweet. It was even moist without being wet. It was, well, good. And I was practically doing cartwheels. It’s still not perfect–the frosting wasn’t quite firm enough–but it was delectably edible. Here’s the recipe, taken largely from food.com, along with my notes marked with an asterisk.

Strawberry Cake Process - Little Miss Bent

the varied steps in the process, including the messy state of my kitchen afterward

For the batter

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour (sifted)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, room temp (2 sticks)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons strawberry extract (you can use vanilla if you can’t find strawberry)*
  • 1 cup whole milk, room temp
  • 3 eggs, room temp
  • 3/4 cup pureed fresh strawberries (or frozen, thawed)*
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine sifted flour and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar. *It might not be entirely smooth (you might see some sugar granules), but it shouldn’t be clumpy or flaky either.

Add eggs 1 at a time; mixing well after each addition. Next add pureed strawberries and extract and combine well. *The recipe says you can use frozen strawberries, and I did for my first attempt. I can’t say that this is entirely why that attempt failed, but I would suggest fresh berries or perhaps drained berries if you choose to use frozen. Also, I couldn’t find strawberry extract but did find raspberry extract. Go figure, but it worked out fine.

Gradually add the flour (and baking powder) and the milk alternating between them until completely mixed. Begin and end with flour. Then add lemon zest and juice and mix well. *As with the lemon tea bread, I added the flour and milk by hand, mixing in figure 8s. I was expecting the mixture to look smooth once it was combined, like other cakes I’d made with my gran. It didn’t. It looks a bit odd, but the batter baked up lovely nonetheless. When I make my next attempt, I’ll let you all know whether I’m able to achieve smoothness (feedback welcome, here!).  Also, unlike the jello-style strawberry cake, note that the batter is not very pink. It will likely be creme/yellow with a tinge of pink or with bits of strawberry throughout.

Lightly grease and flour a 13 X 9 pan or two 8″ round pans. Pour batter into pans and bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 min or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. *I did two 8″ pans and it took just a hair over 25 mins. I placed them one on top of the other on the oven racks, and as a result one cake was slightly more dense than the other. You can probably even tell if you look at the photo below. Something else to work on during attempt #3.

Set aside to cool before frosting. *During baking or during cooling, make the strawberry cream cheese frosting.

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temp (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup pureed fresh strawberries (or frozen thawed)*
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temp*
  • 1 teaspoon strawberry extract (or vanilla)*
  • 2 -3 cups confectioners’ sugar (powder sugar)

Using a mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter until nice and smooth. *The final mixture was softer/more drippy than I expected, and I think in future I won’t bring the cream cheese completely to room temperature. Tips are welcome on this front!

Add the extract and pureed strawberries. *Here again, I’m not a big fan of the frozen strawberries. I would suggest you thaw and drain them if you choose to go this route or attempt this cake out-of-season.

Gradually add the powder sugar until it has the consistency and sweetness you desire. You can alter this to your liking. If you make it a bit too sweet, add just a little bit of lemon juice. This will help balance out the sweetness.

Strawberry Cake - Little Miss Bent

moment of truth!

*The instructions didn’t really discuss the frosting process, but I figure it would be helpful to do so. A few tips:

  • Make sure your cakes are completely cooled before you begin frosting.
  • If you want a smooth result, use a frosting spatula and set aside a cup of warm water. After you’ve gone around the cake to level the frosting, dip the spatula in the hot water to warm it and then lightly pass it over the surface.

That’s all for now. If anyone has suggestions or tips re improving the consistency of the frosting, or the smoothness of the batter, just leave me a comment or tweet me at @zabebent. Next time around I’ll work on the frosting particularly, and possibly even try decorating.

–zb

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