Saturday, June 27, 2009

Strawberry Cream Birfday Cake

Food Pr0n, of course

Hewwo there! I realize that I abandoned this blog almost as soon as I'd created it, but what better time than the beginning of another year of my life to give this another shot? The credit really goes to my awesome boyfriend, who not only lent me his camera so I could document my baking but also inspired me to post the results here. Thanks, love!

While I'm at it, I should also mention how grateful I am for the other friends and family who've made me feel so loved during my birthday week. My beautiful Julia deserves a special shout out both for being born on the (we're birthday twins if you couldn't tell =p) and for overwhelming me with thoughtful gifts. She is simply amazing. There's no other way to describe this girl, and I'm so lucky to have her in my life.

One of the many awesome things I got this year was this wicked Calphalon Nonstick 6-Quart Dutch Oven (no farting jokes!). It's sure to become a fast partner in soup-making crime, and Ima make a real effort to keep posting about any successful concoctions I come up with. A non-foodie but equally exciting gift was DVDs of Season 4.0 of Battlestar and the pilot for its spin off Caprica. I'll definitely be enjoying these as well as the new season of True Blood in the coming months!

Now for the best part...the nomlicious cake. I know most people would call it dorky or even sad to bake your own birthday cake, but it's actually the one day of the year when I really feel free to make what I WANT (damn all y'all and yer taste buds! ;p). Isn't that what we love about birthdays anyway...complete license to be selfish? But without others' preferences to go by, I had a tough time picking out The One. It came down to a gorgeous strawberry cream layer cake I found on the fabulous vegetarian blog eat me, delicious and cupcake project's clever recipe for Ferrero Rocher cupcakes. The stunning presentation and seasonal appeal of the strawberry cake finally won me over, but I'm making the cupcakes soon too so keep an eye out for that.

I'm glad I chose this cake because it was fun to make and pushed me to try several things for the first time. This was my first sponge cake and what a wonderful introduction it was! Coming out of the oven, it smelled very eggy but I assume this is usual for a cake using 5 eggs. This recipe made for a fairly dense but still moist and flavorful cake. I had trouble comparing photos, but I'm hoping that others who've made this cake could tell me if mine may have risen less from using all purpose flour. This was also my first time whipping heavy cream and it thickened up beautifully in my stand mixer. I gotta agree with eat me, delicious that you MUST try this frosting at the very least. I stopped short of licking the bowl but did wipe it very clean with leftover strawberry pieces (which were then disposed my mouth). But I'd really recommend making the entire cake. The number of components may look daunting, but they aren't too complicated when broken down. I shared this with my coworkers and they all loved it. Just make this once and I promise that, like me, you'll just be looking for an excuse to make it again and maybe to make it even prettier using a cake ring!

Strawberry Cream Cake [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated through eat me, delicious and Simply Recipes
Serves 8 to 12.

*My changes in italics

1 1/4 cups cake flour
*I used all purpose & replaced 2 1/2 T with cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
*I only added a pinch since margarine is salted
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
*I was out of butter so I used Earth Balance margarine
2 Tbsp water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
*I added a few drops of almond extract just for kicks

Strawberry Filling
2 pounds fresh strawberries (medium or large, about 2 quarts), washed, dried, and stemmed
*Local is probably tastiest, but I used organic with great results
4-6 Tbsp sugar
2 T Kirsch
*I used dark rum and added about a tsp of finely minced mint
Pinch table salt

Whipped Cream
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
*I used low-fat and it still tasted amazing
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*Again, I added a few drops of almond extract
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 cups heavy cream
*I stabilized the cream with about 3/4 tsp gelatin dissolved in 1-2 T water then microwaved 1 minute on high and cooled

Bake the cake:
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour round 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, by hand, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 Tbsp of the sugar in mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter *or margarine, water, and *extracts. Whisk until smooth.

2. Using a mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. With machine 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 the remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert cake onto greased wire rack; peel off and discard parchment. Invert cake again; cool completely, about 2 hours.

Strawberry filling:
3. Cut in half 24 of best-looking berries and reserve. *Maybe my berries were super large but I only needed about 20. Slice or 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. The sugar will macerate the strawberries, making them soft, and generating liquid. Strain the juices from berries and reserve (you should have about 1/2 cup *or more). Put the strawberries in a bowl and use a potato masher to mash them; *add minced mint and set aside. In small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer reserved juices with rum until syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. *This took me over 10 minutes, but I think I had over 1/2 cup of reserved juices. Pour reduced syrup over macerated berries, add pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until cake is cooled. Whipped cream:

4. When cake has cooled, place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk 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, *add dissolved gelatin and 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).

Assemble the cake:
5. Using large serrated knife, slice cake into three even layers. Place bottom layer on cardboard round or cake plate and arrange ring of 12-20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around perimeter of cake layer. Pour one half of mashed 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 flush with cake edge). Repeat with 12-20 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 immediately, or keep chilled. If the whipped cream warms to room temperature it will be harder to keep stable while cutting. *Stabilizing the whipped cream helps it keep a little longer but still try to keep it cold as much as possible.