Thursday, July 14, 2011
The Real Strawberry Cake That Made Me Want to Blog Again
During my quiet months, I felt no real desire to share anything. Much of that time I was depressed. (I'm not really that happy a person, in case no one noticed. Thank God for dinner.) Then I was just out of the habit and feeling sheepish. The closest I came to wanting to sing the praises of anything was when I first made that cake up there. The second time (no need to wait for a third) was the charm. This is too good not to be shared with my little corner of the world.
Here's the story. We had a supper club night with some new friends (more about them later, in a sad way) for which I was to provide dessert. I had my mind set on a strawberry chiffon pie until I found that I had missed a chilling step that I no longer had time for when I finally got myself lurching into gear. A search for other strawberry options, which ate up a little more time, turned up that revivifying cake. One-step-and-done nicely fit the now restrained time available.
I was also curious to find a strawberry cake recipe that actually tasted mightily of the berries. It is an unfortunate fact that the very berries whose aroma during baking prepares you for an ecstacy of flavor tend to almost disappear from the flavor profile once the baking is done if they're in the batter. (I had that disappointment with muffins once.) The solution with which I'm familiar, but which I cannot endorse, is a version made with a white cake mix and strawberry flavored gelatin. Not something I can do with philsophical grace. I knew there must be some way to have a cake that tasted wonderfully of the berries and looked like it contained them, too, without involving pink dye. This seemed the day and the recipe to find out.
Martha Stewart gets credit for the recipe version I used (even Marcus Samuelson gives her the nod on the post sharing his whole wheat version, a must-try someday), but it's really classic American butter cake. You know the drill: whip the butter and sugar till transformed into pale, fluffy wonderment; add eggs, milk, and leavened flour; and voila--cake. Really good cake that didn't tax you too much to produce, no extra box of mix required. With the top covered with halved strawberries and a sprinkle of sugar, it doesn't even need to be iced.
That top dressing with the delicate berries mean that they are magnified, not lost at all, during the oven time. As Deb at Smitten Kitchen pointed out, a delicious jamminess forms around each one, while the sugar forms a crystalline crust on the batter fluffing up around them. Don't those just sound like two good things? Let me assure you that they are.
Yet the cake isn't intensely sweet. It's delightfully berried, but mellow enough to serve as breakfast, especially with whole wheat flour in it (I snuck some in--don't tell), or as a snack, especially with a cup of tea, which I've now happily experienced.
You see, I made the cake that we and our new friends so enjoyed at supper club for the second time because one of those friends, who was quite ill and, we hope, benefited from our visits, left his very interesting life this week. When I decided to take food to his wife, I knew that I would make this cake, for the memories as well as the sustenance. I also made her a blackberry version to use the berries from her yard that are a bit neglected right now. She wanted to try it right away with tea. (I think she'll make a pot of tea at the drop of a hat, as they say, and she often drops the hat.) It was equally good. And surely other berries would work, too. So now we have versatility as well. A true winner.
This extra good cake reminded me, when I wasn't sure why I ever started this thing if isn't going to catapult me to success and fame, that recording the food winners is one of the reasons to blog. It's my record of the repertoire I've longed to create for myself, handily corraled in one ephemeral place. I may not be the next Heidi Swanson, but I can have my virtual cookbook today, for me. I'll know what I did, how to do it again, and maybe share with others, too. Those rewards, like this cake, are simple and deeply satisfying.
Real Strawberry Cake
adapted slightly from Martha's
Makes one 9- or 10-inch cake
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch pie plate, a 9- or 10-inch springform pan, or a 9-inch cake pan. (Do not use a 9-inch pie plate. According to Deb of Smitten Kitchen, the results are overflowing.) The butter wrapper works quite well for this step.
Place butter and the 1 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about three minutes. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. When the butter-sugar mixture is transformed, reduce speed to medium-low and mix in egg, milk, and vanilla.
Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Arrange strawberries on top of batter, cut sides down and as close together as possible. Sprinkle remaining two tablespoons sugar over berries.
Bake cake for ten minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about one hour. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cake can be stored at room temperature, loosely covered, for two days.