Just the idea of a fresh, ripe strawberry still seems so far away, but some friends of mine spent the weekend in Palmer buying up baskets of the red fruit to hang in the long sun-filled days we have here in Alaska.
Over a glass of chilled rosé and inspired by the color of the wine, we started listing our favorite ways to indulge in strawberries. When the first ones start to ripen, we agreed that our first choice is to eat them sun-warmed and out of hand. Other favorites mentioned include a classic pie teamed with rhubarb, pavlova with fresh strawberries and a classic French tart. And when berries need a little help, a crack of black pepper and a drizzle of thick, syrupy balsamic vinegar seem to do the trick to revive them.
But when there are enough to share, I love to make (and eat) this cake. The recipe, adapted from Cook's Country (I reduced the amount of sugar originally called for; it's still sweet but not cloyingly so) and aptly named Strawberry Dream Cake, is indeed dreamy and has become one of my most-requested summertime confections.
Whether for fundraisers, holidays or birthday parties, it's a cake that delivers fresh strawberry with every bite.
10 ounces frozen whole strawberries
3/4 cup whole milk
6 large egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, softened
Strawberry cream cheese frosting
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
12 ounces cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces and softened
Pinch of salt
8 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, grease parchment and lightly dust with flour. Set aside.
Place strawberries in a microwavable bowl, cover and microwave about 5 minutes or until strawberries are soft and have released their juices. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a small saucepan and transfer strawberries to strainer. Press down on fruit to extract all the juice (it should measure to about 3/4 cup); reserve strawberry solids for the frosting. Bring juice to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until syrupy and reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Whisk milk into juice.
Whisk strawberry milk, egg whites and vanilla in a bowl. Add flour, sugar, baking powder and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle and mix on low speed until combined. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, and mix until only pea-size pieces remain. Add half of milk mixture, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low, add remaining milk mixture, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Give batter a final stir by hand, using a flexible silicone spatula.
Divide batter evenly among prepared cake pans and bake, rotating pans halfway, 20 to 25 minutes or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cakes from oven and place on a wire/cooling rack 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and cool completely. (NOTE: Cooled cakes can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.)
Make frosting: Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add reserved strawberry solids and salt and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Refrigerate until ready to use, and up to 2 days. Let sit out on counter to soften up a bit before frosting the cake layers.
Assemble the cake: Pat strawberries dry. When cakes are cooled, spread 3/4 cup frosting over 1 cake round. Press 1 cup strawberry slices in an even layer over frosting. Top with second cake round and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Garnish with remaining strawberries. (Cake can be refrigerated up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.