My youngest turned 4 over the weekend, and she requested a strawberry cake for her birthday.
This turned out to be a little more of a challenge than originally intended. Probably influenced by our viewings of the Great British Baking Show, she wanted a giant layer cake, frosted white and topped with fresh strawberries. The cake itself also needed to be strawberry flavored and pink.
Since we were taking the cake to a family birthday party at which some family members with food allergies would be present, I needed to make it from scratch, and I needed to ensure no corn, soy, or cottonseed oil products would be included in the baking. That meant no powdered sugar, which contains cornstarch to prevent caking. It also meant a deep dive into the world of strawberry cake to find a solution.
Most strawberry cake recipes include strawberry gelatin for flavoring and color. That was a no-go for this occasion. Some recipes included pureed strawberries, cooked down for flavoring–something I didn’t really want to do, given the temperature and the humidity on baking day. Two mentioned the concept of pulverizing freeze-dried strawberries, and that the texture of the finished cake was good and flavorful, if not as moist as the kind with the pureed strawberries.
In the end, I went with a vanilla cake recipe, substituting pulverized freeze-dried strawberries for part of the flour. I baked the batter in three eight-inch layers and left them to cool while I contemplated icing.
So, buttercream would be ideal, but it contained powdered sugar, making it off-limits.
I settled on Seven-Minute Frosting, using Paula Deen’s recipe from the Food Network website.
Seven-Minute Frosting is plain white sugar, egg whites, water, and cream of tartar beaten over boiling water for seven minutes to create a thick, glossy icing that holds its shape and acts like candy when it sets. The day I was making this cake, the humidity was ridiculous, so the icing didn’t set up well at all. I persevered, however. And in doing so, I made a rather tasty mistake.
As I stacked my layers of strawberry cake, I added a layer of icing and fresh sliced strawberries between each cake, forgetting that fresh strawberries and sugar together produce syrup. It got very sloppy for a bit. I spread the icing over the top, letting it drip down the sides, and my preschoolers “helped” put the fresh cut whole strawberries, cut side down, on the top. The icing kept melting down the sides with the humidity and the chemistry, so I set it, uncovered, in the refrigerator for what amounted to about eighteen hours.
I quietly scooped frosting and strawberries off the cake plate every so often all evening, spreading them back up over the sides of the cake.
The next day, the icing had set. The cake looked pretty. And when we started to serve it, lots of wonderful things became apparent. First, the icing layers crackled as I sliced through the cake, sounding like rich candy. They weren’t too dry to cut, but provided a delicious texture with the soft berries and the rich cake. The cake itself, far from being dry, had soaked up the strawberry syrup created by my mistake. As one guest said, it tasted like old-fashioned shortcake when it had been soaked in the juices of the strawberry syrup.
We ate it all up. And the birthday girl loved it.
If you try it, I used the vanilla cake recipe found here. I used an entire 0.8 oz bag of freeze dried strawberries, blending them until they resembled flour. I spooned the strawberry dust into a one-cup measure, then added enough all-purpose flour to the cup to fill it up, incorporating it into the flour quota for the recipe.