It’s summer berry season, friends, and I could not be more excited about that! You know how sometimes it doesn’t feel like Fall until you taste that first bite of pumpkin, or gingerbread and peppermint in December? Spring and summer in California sort of blend into each other, with magnificent berries and cherries and tomatoes bursting into the farmers’ markets in May. This is one of those times that I am especially happy and grateful to live here– the fruits of the season are simply glorious. And while I am usually more inclined to crave chocolate, in May I cannot stop thinking about juicy berries… which is why this Strawberry Supreme Cake from Baked Occasions is utterly perfect to usher in berry season! I bought a half-flat of gorgeous strawberries and snacked on them all weekend while I worked on the cake.
Actually, the recipe celebrates May Day on May 1, but Baked Sunday Mornings is getting to it a little later, which ends up working out even better due to the abundance and quality of the aforementioned summer fruit. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know much about the origins or meaning of May Day… okay, I knew basically nothing; what I found out was very pleasing to my soul. Like many modern holidays, May Day has gone through many incarnations over the centuries, originating in pre-Christian times. Back then, it was a Pagan religious tradition celebrating summer and fertility, which later morphed into the Roman festival of Floralia, and then into a secular festival, with some religious interventions along the way (a brief ban in England during Puritan rule, as well as Christian associations woven in). Nowadays, it is has been reinvigorated in Europe as a festival celebrating spring, but sadly it is not especially prominent in the United States. In places that do partake, the festivities often including dancing around the maypole, singing, and lots of spring flowers. Celebrations in honor of the earth and nature resonate so much more deeply for me than anything “religious”. I particularly like the ancient Gaelic/Druid version, wherein the occasion called Beltane was one of four seasonal festivals, marking the beginning of summer, opposite Samhain around November 1, marking the beginning of winter– the latter eventually became Halloween/All Saints Day. MIND BLOWN. (Excuse me while I go geek out on Celtic history.)
But hey, we were talking about cake! As I said, this cake is an unabashed display of reverence for summer fruit, which is completely warranted. It consists of strawberry-laced cake layers sandwiching layers of strawberry whipped cream and strawberry preserves, all covered in light pink vanilla frosting– it is quite a sight to behold. I could eat a bowl of the strawberry whipped cream by itself! Now, like BAKED’s other layer cakes, this is not a quick project, what with making cake batter, prepping strawberries, whipping cream, beating egg whites, making that infamous frosting… but I assure you that it is a very worthwhile weekend endeavor.
To make the strawberry cake layers, you’ll start by creaming the butter and shortening, then adding the sugar, vanilla, and an egg. Next you’ll alternate additions of the dry ingredients (all-purpose and cake flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt) with a milk/buttermilk/ice water mixture.
As is typical with BAKED’s chiffon-style white cakes, you’ll now beat egg whites to soft peaks and gently fold them into the batter, and lastly you’ll add puréed strawberries– all the better if you have a few small fruit chunks!
My cakes baked in 42 minutes, but they came out a little wonky. This was my first time using our new oven for layer cakes, so I don’t know if maybe I need to rotate the pans more often or in a different way? They were short and also shrank on the top (where the parchment paper was not holding the cake in place), so each layer was weirdly shaped. It wasn’t catastrophic or anything, just not as pretty as I’d hoped. However, the cakes were a dream to work with– flexible, yet sturdy, and no breakage while unmolding from the pans or stacking the layers.
Next comes the frosting… I haven’t made this frosting in ages, and it used to positively haunt me. I was holding my breath and expecting some kind of complication, but… nothing. For the first time, I think ever, the frosting came out perfectly the first time with no issues. Is the curse broken?? (Did I just jinx myself??)
It is made by whipping up a roux-like mixture on the stovetop consisting of flour, sugar, milk, and cream, which you’ll cook until it boils and thickens. (I usually strain it through a sieve into my mixer bowl, but this step wasn’t necessary at all this time.) You’ll beat the hot mixture for about 7 minutes in a stand mixer to cool it down, then start adding pieces of butter. This is where it can get tricky– it can separate, particularly if the butter is not the right temperature or if you add it too quickly. Once the butter has all been added, you’ll keep beating until the frosting magically transforms into a fluffy buttercream cloud. It needed much longer than the prescribed 1-2 minutes to achieve the right texture (more like 8 or 10?), but it did so without incident. The final touch was 4 drops of Americolor Deep Pink food gel for the perfect shade of pastel pink, and of course the vanilla– I subbed vanilla bean paste because I like the visible vanilla flecks. The only tiny thing was that my frosting was a touch soft, so I simply stuck it in the fridge for a bit.
If you do find that your frosting has “broken”, you can try a couple of things to troubleshoot: 1) just keep beating the hell out of it– it might just need more time; or 2) put the mixer bowl over a pot of gently simmering water (not touching the bottom of the bowl) and let the curdled bits melt down. This may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve had to do it before, and it worked like a charm.
The final element is the strawberry whipped cream. You’ll whip the cream and sugar (I used a hand mixer), then add vanilla, and fold in chopped strawberries. Be careful not to over-whip, as you will continue to whip the cream while folding in the fruit.
To assemble the cake, you’ll pipe a perimeter of frosting around the top edge of the first layer, then spread strawberry jam inside the frosting ring to cover the cake, then top this with strawberry whipped cream. Stack another cake and repeat the fillings. Stack the top cake and cover the whole thing with a thin crumb coat, followed by a thicker frosting layer. I thought for sure there wasn’t enough frosting– this has happened occasionally with BAKED layer cakes. I was especially worried because I would have to fill in lots of gaps due to the uneven cake layers, but there was actually some left over.
The beauty of BAKED’s layer cake style is its simplicity– a clean frosting swirl with minimal decoration. The downside of the farmers’ market strawberries is that they go bad really quickly, so I didn’t want to put a bunch of whole berries on top. Instead, I garnished it with tiny pink pearls and Strawberry Sugar that I found at Le District (the new-ish French food hall in Lower Manhattan), on my NYC visit last month! I think a small pile of tiny wild strawberries would look amazing on top of the cake, but since I don’t have any, I used a single giant one in the center.
I tried to “hot-knife” the frosting swirl, but it didn’t work very well– gotta practice that! This technique involves heating your offset spatula so that it slightly melts the frosting in order to create a smooth swirl. I absolutely loved watching the cake decorators in action at BAKED Tribeca a few weeks ago– I could watch for hours! Needless to say, mine doesn’t look quite as professional, but I was still very pleased, especially considering that I haven’t made a layer cake since last summer.
The cake cut surprisingly cleanly, given that I only chilled it for an hour and that it contains a chunky filling. I wondered whether the strawberry flavor would be very pronounced, and I would say that it’s just right. As opposed to strawberry-flavored things, this cake does not hit you over the head with strawberry; however, the flavor of the berries in both the cake and the whipped cream filling, as well as the preserves, are bright and fresh, and they perfectly complement the vanilla. The cake is tender and moist, and I wouldn’t change a thing, other than I might hold back ½ stick butter in the frosting next time. Love, love, love! This is the ideal fancy spring/summer dessert.
Don’t mind me, I’m just here falling all over myself celebrating strawberries; if you wish to do the same, visit Baked Sunday Mornings for the Strawberry Supreme Cake recipe– you’ll be glad you did! Check out my fellow bakers’ gorgeous cakes as well! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.