I could have also called this one “the process of recipe development.” It’s one of the most frequent questions I get; how do I come up with recipes? Well this one was a doozy and it was also a great way to explain how ideas move from my brain to my plate, which is not always a smooth process. At the end of this maybe you’ll be inspired to start making your own recipes or maybe you’ll decide that it’s too much work. Either way, I promise there will be cake.
This particular idea started with Looking At Pictures On The Internet which is where at least half of my ideas come from. I found a particularly enticing one for strawberry cake which is where the problem began. The recipe had boxed cake mix and strawberry gelatin. I’m all for a boxed mix when you’re on a time crunch – because let’s face it, they are easy and delicious – but if I’m going to learn to make a strawberry cake I want to learn how to make it, and then take shortcuts later if I choose. Unfortunately, it appeared that this was, in fact, how strawberry cake is made. The recipes I looked at all included strawberry gelatin and at that point, even a homemade cake recipe with gelatin would not do. No, I needed to figure out how to make strawberry cake with real strawberries.
That meant learning how cakes work. Yes, really. After some wonderful help from Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio I figured out some general proportions and then started playing around. I tried different forms of strawberry, milk and no milk, flour combinations, and finally settled on something similar to a regular yellow cake but with strawberry puree instead of milk and some extra fun additions to make a jammy pink cake that was somewhere between a pound cake and a traditional yellow cake in texture. Success? Well, I made two cakes on Friday and had no cakes left on Sunday. You be the judge.
One of these beauties graced a crawfish boil and only a quarter of it survived which is especially impressive given the 70 pounds of crawfish that were consumed during the day. The other got a thick layer of meringue frosting and barely survived a birthday party. The leftovers were demolished at a picnic. Was it worth all the time I spent figuring it out? I personally never got sick of watching the surprise on people’s faces when the cake actually tasted like strawberry. But if that’s not your cup of tea, well, here’s the recipe.
With help from Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio
Makes one 2-inch high and 10-inch round cake or one 9 by 13 pan of 1-inch high cake
Ok, a few words about this cake. There are three things that lift this cake: creaming the butter and sugar, beating the eggs, and adding baking powder. It’s what allows this strawberry-full batter to get a little rise although it’s not necessarily fluffy. Also, if your batter looks sort of like a melted strawberry shortcake ice cream bar when you’re done mixing, you’ve done something right. Awesome.
You might also notice that I baked this at 325 while most cake recipes call for 350. The hotter your oven, the quicker the cake will rise but if it rises before the batter begins to solidify you’ll end up with a sunken cake or you might also end up with a domed one if the middle rises faster than the edges. Many recipes suggest you can avoid that by lowering the oven temperature and baking for longer. I usually just start with a lower oven so I get a nice flat cake.
1 lb strawberries
1/4 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cake flour*
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup powdered strawberry (from 1 cup of freeze-dried strawberries)**
2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
6 eggs (at room temperature, this is important for adding lift)
Wash and stem the strawberries and then puree them in a food processor or blender until smooth – you could strain out the seeds but I generally leave them. Then add the milk to the strawberry puree and set it aside. You could also just buy strawberry puree but if you do, make sure it’s the kind that is only strawberry, nothing else added.
Preheat the oven to 325F and line a 10-inch cake pan or a 9 by 13 baking dish with foil of parchment paper to make it easier to get the cake out of the pan. Then grease the foil/paper well with butter. In a medium bowl combine the flours, baking powder, salt, and strawberry powder. Stir well and then set the bowl aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you’re using a hand mixer) cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, until it’s really light and airy. If your butter isn’t room temperature it will take a few minutes extra to combine. You may need to scrape the bowl and beater one just to make sure all the butter is evenly incorporated.
Once the butter and sugar are fully combined, add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium high until fully incorporated. Once the eggs are all in, turn the speed down to low. Pour in about a third of the flour mixture and beat until just combined, then add a third of the strawberry and milk mix. Continue to alternate until both are gone, then mix on low until everything is just incorporated. Don’t overmix and if you’re worried about doing that, stir the last addition of strawberry in using a spatula rather than the machine.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake it for 35-45 minutes, or until the top has golden brown spots and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove it from the oven and let it cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Then take it out and let it cool to room temperature on a rack.
If you plan to frost it, make sure it is completely cool before you start. But a thin layer of strawberry jam is just as good as a pile of frosting; at least, in my experience. Refrigerate any leftovers since this is a moist cake and could spoil. It’s best eaten within a few days of baking but you could also wrap a cake up and stick it in the freezer. Just keep in mind that once it defrosts it will be a bit denser.
* No cake flour? It does add some lightness to the cake but if you don’t have any just use 1/2 cup of all purpose flour instead. No problem.
** I powdered the strawberries using my spice grinder but they fall apart pretty easily. A plastic bag and a rolling pin should also get the pieces small enough. Keep in mind that the powder will clump a bit because of the sweetness in the strawberries. Just stir it into the flour to avoid clumping.