Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Ultimate Strawberry Cake

I realized recently that strawberry season was quickly drawing to a close and I wanted to try just one more time to find a recipe that could replace my boxed birthday cake.

After making the one for my birthday I decided my cake needed the following aspects to make it better:
1) The texture needed to be fluffier
2) More strawberry flavor

So I set out first to find a fluffy cake recipe, then I would deal with how to get strawberries in it.  I found this recipe and based on the amount of testing she did and the description of the texture, I felt fairly confident this would be a good cake to start with.

Then I set out to research using purees in cake.  And just like everything else on the internet, you can find a lot of opinion on this.  There were a few things that caught my attention while searching though - some people said that heating up the fruit beforehand made the flavor more intense and several people said strawberries lose their flavor when baked in the cake.  So I started thinking about what intensifies the flavor of strawberries and balsamic vinegar came to mind.  I decided to make a puree by cooking some strawberries with some balsamic and honey.
I went back to the recipe to see how I could add this into the cake and, conveniently, there was a perfect spot.  The milk is split up into 2 parts and it was simple enough for me to replace some of the milk with the puree.

I was nervous because I’d be messing with how things interact and you never know how that will turn out.  I started by making the puree, so it would have a little cooling time.  I used ½ pint of strawberries, 1 tbsp balsamic, and 1 tbsp honey and cooked it on medium until it became a bit jammy.  Then I made the cake according to the recipe, but when it came time to add the ½ cup milk to the batter, I replaced it with the puree.  It looked good, but wasn’t quite as pink as I wanted, so I added a drop and a ½ of red food coloring.  I finished up the mixing, poured it in the pans and then also added diced strawberries to the top - they were a pretty small dice.  I also baked off a couple of mini-cupcakes so I could taste it without messing up the cake.  I baked the cake for about 35-40 mins - I find the cakes with fruit take a little longer.

Finally they were done and cooled and we tasted our cupcakes and they were good but too small and you mostly tasted the “crust” of the cupcake.  I decided to just cut a piece of cake and deal with it later when I assembled it.  Again - it was good, but I was so focused on what it was “supposed” to taste like that I couldn’t really judge it on its own.  Then I realized that after all this tasting, I really wasn’t sure what I was trying to achieve anymore.  So the next night, I stopped at the grocery and bought the boxed strawberry cake mix.  I whipped it up when I got home, cut a slice of both and tasted them.  The homemade one won - hands down!  The boxed mix tasted fake and was way too airy.  Mine was moist and the strawberry flavor was so good and natural.  It’s still not super fluffy, but it was lighter than the recipe I used for my birthday version and the texture was much more moist.  And after comparing it to the boxed mix, I prefer the texture of my cake.  Another interesting bit it that it gets better as it sits.  This cake definitely needs to be made a few days ahead of time.  I am super happy with this recipe and this will now be my new birthday cake!

Strawberry Balsamic Cake
Serves 8-10

Strawberry Puree:
1/2 pint strawberries, diced
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

5 large Egg Whites, (5 ounces/150 grams) at room temperature
1/4 cup Whole Milk, (180 mL/6 liquid ounces), at room temperature
2 1/4 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract, (9 grams)
2 3/4 cups Cake Flour, sifted (11 ounces/315 grams)
1 3/4 cups Sugar, (12 ounces/350 grams)
1 Tbsp Baking Powder, + 1 teaspoon, (19.5 grams)
3/4 tsp Salt, (5 grams)
12 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, (6 ounces/170 grams), at room temperature and cut into cubes
1/2 cup strawberry puree
1 1/2 drops red food coloring (optional)

First of all - Make this cake at least a day before needed.  2 days would be better.  Do not frost until ready to eat.

Make strawberry puree.  Add diced strawberries, vinegar and honey to a saucepan over medium heat.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until nice and "jammy" - about 7 mins.
Take off heat and set aside.  (I actually put mine through a sieve as well, just to get some of the seeds out)

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease two round 8-inch pans.

In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, ¼ cup of milk, and the vanilla. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed for 30 seconds.

Add the butter and strawberry puree, and mix on low speed until just moistened.  Add food coloring if using. Increase to medium speed and mix for 1 ½ minutes.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.

Divide the batter in two, spreading it evenly with a small offset palette knife.

Bake 20 minutes and check with a cake tester.  If not done, check every 2 to 5 mins, being careful not to over bake.  Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before inverting onto wire racks. It's recommended you turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.

Store in airtight container until ready to eat.  Frost with pastry cream and mascarpone whipped cream.  Recipes here.

Side note: I used the boxed cake mix to make cake balls.  I mixed it with store bought cream cheese frosting and coated them in dark chocolate chips and let me tell ya, that’s the way to eat a boxed mix.  Those things are tasty!!!  And so incredibly easy!  If you need something quick for a party, try whipping up these things - everyone will love you.

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