A fine challenge
Posted on July 20, 2013
Sometimes going to a new restaurant or reading food blogs can offer plenty of negative reinforcement for the mantra “less is more.” To me, sophistication does not equal complexity or overwrought combinations of hard to find ingredients.
Although, some places seem to make combining strange ingredients into a sort of art form. For the most part, I frown upon this. Maybe it’s my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, since I am pretty sure I am not the only cook in my family who feels this way.
This is not to say I do not have an open mind, seek out diverse foods, or am afraid to try new things. (My people did apparently invent this, so don’t think we aren’t fun!) I am not an unfussy cook, after all. I just appreciate efforts to do tried and true foods expertly, or with a little finesse, so as to make them particularly excellent and like a new thing again. I mean, when we think we are just eating something we have had before, and then it is really impressive and we taste it for the first time all over again– those are the recipes worth hunting down and hanging onto. It seems to me a fine challenge to make simple things with slightly different approaches or techniques. It can be far more worth while than adding crazy stuff.
So here’s a classic combo: strawberries and cream. Fruit and cream is really not a bad idea, in general. Particularly on shortcake– which you might recall from my post last summer, in which I set the record straight on that tradition as best I could. The irony here today, is that I am going to share with you a sponge cake recipe. But this cake is not going to be called shortcake, so we won’t need to do any re-education down the line.
But what makes this recipe special? Well, a couple things. For one, it has this pretty amazing whipped cream beaten with cream cheese, so it is light and fluffy like whipped cream, but rich and a little tangy like cream cheese. Not as unstable as whipped cream, and not overly rich like cream cheese frosting can sometimes be– this version is less sweet, but still knock your socks off yummy.
Also, it makes a impressive cake as tall as a layer cake, but it is really only one cake cut into three. So you are eating less cake, more fruit and cream– almost like a parfait. It looks really fancy, and tastes like you should be at a wedding on the Cape drinking champagne with it, but it is actually pretty easy to make. (My favorite kind of recipe!)
The cake does require a bit of finesse– you have to cut one layer into three. But even if your layers are a little uneven, it will still look pretty and delicious. Also, you have to arrange a lot of berries, and carefully spoon on the right amount of puree, and gently dollop the whipped cream mixture. A light touch, and a firm hand to gently build the layers without smooshing it all out the sides.
If it’s very hot out, assemble this right before eating. If transporting to a summer fête, assemble about an hour before, and thoroughly chill in a cake carrier. It will likely all get eaten in a few minutes at a party, as mine did, but beware the cake does get soggy after about a day.
Strawberry Cream Cake
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
- 1 ¼ cups cake flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 pounds fresh strawberries (medium or large, about 2 quarts), washed, dried, and stemmed
- 4 – 6 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons Kirsch
- Pinch table salt
- 8 ounces cream cheese , room temperature
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon table salt
- 2 cups heavy cream
FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour round 9 by 2-inch cake pan or 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tablespoons sugar. Use a hand mixer to mix in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter, water, and vanilla until smooth. Remove beaters and clean.
In a clean bowl, use the hand mixer to beat remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. With mixer running, gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, increase speed to medium-high, and 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. To fold, I use a large rubber spatula, and continually move the batter from the bottom of the bowl onto the top of the mixture, rotating the bowl. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert cake onto a wire rack; peel off and discard parchment. Invert cake again; cool completely, about 2 hours.
FOR THE STRAWBERRY FILLING: Halve 24 of best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter remaining berries; toss with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar (depending on sweetness of berries) in medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain juices from berries and reserve (you should have about 1/4 cup). In workbowl of food processor fitted with metal blade, give macerated berries five 1-second pulses (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). In small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer reserved juices and Kirsch or other liquor until syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour reduced syrup over macerated berries, add pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until cake is cooled.
FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: When cake has cooled, place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl. Beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, 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 (you should have about 4 1/2 cups).
TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Using large serrated or sharp chef’s knife, slice cake into three even layers. Place bottom layer on cardboard round or 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, then spread to cover any exposed cake. Gently spread about one-third of whipped cream (about 1 1/2 cups) over berry layer, leaving 1/2-inch border from edge. Place middle cake layer on top and press down gently (whipped cream layer should become almost flush with cake edge). Repeat with 20 additional strawberry halves, remaining berry mixture, and half of remaining whipped cream; gently press last cake layer on top. Spread remaining whipped cream over top; decorate with remaining cut strawberries. Serve, or chill for up to 4 hours.