Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Strawberry Birthday Cake

The Duncan Hines Strawberry cake.  Duncan Hines Strawberry cake mix, baked, poked with holes and drizzled with strawberry jello.  Then covered in a mix of vanilla pudding (from a powder) and Dream Whip (from a powder).  And then covered with HUGE strawberries.  Every year, for as long as I can remember, my Maw Maw made me that cake.  And when Hillary came along, it became our cake.  Here a “lovely” photo of us with said cake(s):

Me-16, Hill-9

It’s a good cake.  Ridiculously moist and strawberry-ee.  We love that cake.  And I have made it on numerous occasions and in various forms - when I was vegetarian I used melted strawberry jam or a strawberry sauce or vegetarian jello; when I needed to travel with it, I made it into a trifle; and last year, when I actually purchased my birthday cake, we attempted to make it into a cocktail (that didn’t work all that well, but we didn’t have Cake Vodka at the time... maybe I need to try that again).

So this year, since I really want to move away from preservative laden foods, I tried making it from scratch.  I had a lot of trouble finding a “from scratch” recipe to start with, but eventually I found this one.  I thought it looked like a good start, but I knew I wanted chunks of strawberries in the cake and I wanted to make sure it was really moist.  So, as I mentioned in last week’s post, I tried 2 versions: one with strawberries and one in a “tres leches” style.

I decided I like both, so I ended up doing tres leches on the bottom layer and fresh strawberries on the top.  In the end though, I think I preferred the one with the fresh strawberries and when I make this again, I will just do that.  I think you really needed a sponge cake to make tres leches work correctly and this wasn’t a sponge cake recipe.

Also, I made it with egg whites this time and that worked better.  It was slightly fluffier.  And allowed for some of the strawberries to stay suspended, which was nice.  I would still like it to be lighter and more airy, but I’m not a good enough baker to start messing with ratios.

Once the cake was done, I covered it in a homemade pastry cream.  This batch came out even better than the first.  LOVE it!!  I want to make pastry cream all the time to just eat.  However, I needed more for this cake.   I used it for the layer filling and I wanted a light coating over the whole cake, but couldn’t quite get it to go that far.  Next time, I’ll do a batch and a half or double batch.

Then I covered the whole thing in a mascarpone whipped cream.  This was super fantastic.  It makes the whipped cream slightly denser than a regular whipped cream, which is perfect for icing.  And it was SO creamy and rich.  And of course, finished it off with humongous strawberries!

Overall I did love this cake.  It’s not Maw Maw’s, but it was very good.  And I look forward to continuing to tweak it.  Below is the recipe for only the fresh strawberry version.

Fresh Strawberry Cake with Pastry Cream and Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Yield: 12-16
Cake: (adapted from Confessions of a Foodie Bride)
2 ½ pints very ripe fresh strawberries, diced
1-2 tsp Sugar, only needed if using fresh strawberries
¼ cup Milk, at room temperature
6 large Egg Whites, room temperature
1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
2 ¼ cups Cake Flour, sifted (+ 1 Tbsp for dusting strawberries)
1 ¾ cups Sugar
4 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
12 Tbsp Unsalted Butter (1 ½ Sticks), softened (not melted)

Pastry Cream: (adapted from The Kitchn)
2 1/4 cups Half And Half
3/4 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Flour
1/3 tsp Salt
6 large Egg Yolks, room temp
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract, or vanilla paste or almond paste

Mascarpone Whipped Cream:
1 pint whipping cream, cold
6 oz mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
4 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For cake:
Dice 1/2 pint of strawberries and toss with a teaspoon of sugar and cover. Let them sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, until nice and juicy. Place strawberries in a food processor or blender and puree.

Reserve ¾ cup puree for the cake.  Save the rest for yogurt or ice cream.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 8 inch pans with butter and flour.

In small bowl, combine puree, milk, egg whites (save yolks for pastry cream), vanilla and mix with fork until well blended. In bowl of stand mixer, add sifted flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and mix to combine. Continue beating at slow speed and add butter. Mix until combined and resembling moist crumbs.

Add liquids and beat at medium speed for about 1 minute or until combined. Stop mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl and hand beat for 30 more seconds. Divide the batter evenly among the pans.

Dice a pint and a half of strawberries and toss using spoon (not hands) with 1 Tbsp of flour.  Lightly lay on top of cake batter.

Wrap cake pans in an aluminum foil collar to prevent the center from sinking.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (time will vary). Let cakes rest in pan for about 20 minutes and turn out onto wire racks. Let cakes cool completely before icing.

Make Pastry Cream:
Warm half and half in a saucepan until you start to see wisps of steam. It should not actually be boiling.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the egg yolks and whisk them into the dry ingredients. This will form a thick paste. It may look a bit crumbly, but keep whisking and it will come together

Pour a little of the half and half into the eggs and whisk to combine. Continue pouring the cream slowly into the eggs, whisking continuously.

When all the half and half has been added to the eggs, pour everything back into the saucepan.

Set the pan back over medium heat. Whisk constantly. It will start to thicken after a few minutes. It’s done when you see large bubbles popping on the surface.

Stir the vanilla (or almond extract or paste) into the pastry cream and then pour the cream into the strainer set over the bowl. Stir to push it through the strainer. This will catch any bits of cooked egg that may be in your pastry cream.

Cover the pastry cream with a piece of plastic wrap pressed right up against the surface of the cream and chill completely.

Assemble Cake:
Put bottom layer of cake on cake plate.  Cover with thick layer of pastry cream.  Cover with last ½ pint of diced strawberries.

Put second layer on top.  Cover entire cake with layer of pastry cream.  Not too thick, but enough to cover whole cake.

Put in fridge to chill.

Make Mascarpone whipped cream:
Put pint of whipping cream into bowl of an electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment.  Beat on medium speed until it starts to get thick.  Stop mixer, add mascarpone cheese and powdered sugar.  Continue mixing until you get stiff peaks, probably another minute or 2.  Add vanilla and mix with spatula.

Remove cake from fridge and frost with whipped cream.  Pile cream high on top and work frosting carefully down sides until cake is fully frosted.

Top with the biggest strawberries you can find!

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