My most-requested cake.  My Strawberry Letter 22.  My best hope for the Nobel Prize in Baking.

As you may have guessed by the fact that this picture, so clearly out of the league of my usual, was taken by a pro photographer.  My friend Angie Garbot.  Call her if you want an absolutely beautiful and memorable portrait of you, your family, your pet, your feet, your cake, whatever.

I have made this when strawberries are at their peak and straight from the farmers’ market and I’ve used the suspiciously perfect-looking ones you find at the grocery store in the dead of winter — it’s a crowd pleaser either way.  The whipped cream is stabilized with cream cheese which means it won’t get all weepy on you if you make it ahead and it also adds a pleasant tang.  There is a little bit of a problem with this recipe that has annoyed for 10 years and I finally have a public forum in which to bitch about it.  Buckle your seat belts.

Here it is:  while the recipe calls for 2 lbs. of strawberries it then tells you to select the 24 best looking ones (for the pretty outside edge) and make a jam out of the rest.  Even poor old math-challenged me knows that mixing measuring units — from weight to number — will only result in tears and tragedy.  It’s as nonsensical as the lyrics to the song I mentioned above.*  You will not have enough berries left to make the jam.   Because I know my way around this cake I know to get more than 2 lbs. of strawberries, but I still have to guess how many extra I need. The simple solution would be to say “select 24 berries and be sure you have at least 1 lb. (or whatever the right amount is) remaining for the jam.”   I will try to do this next time I make it and report back but don’t hold your breath.  I’m busy and forgetful.

You can make this ahead.  Wrap the baked cake in a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze.  How long?  Oh please, they’re not going to do this for you!  They don’t say anything about the filling but I’m pretty sure you can make that ahead too.  You can also complete the entire recipe and chill for 4 hours.

Strawberry Cream Cake

Strawberry Cream Cake

Photo: Angela Garbot Photography

Ingredients

  • FOR CAKE
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • FOR STRAWBERRY FILLING
  • 2 lbs fresh strawberries, washed, dried and stemmed (I usually get 3 lbs. to be safe)
  • 4-6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch (I use whatever fruity liqueur I have on hand)
  • pinch table salt
  • FOR WHIPPED CREAM
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream

Instructions

  1. FOR THE CAKE
  2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour round 9" x 2" cake pan or 9" springform pan and line with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tablespoons sugar in mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter, water and vanilla; whisk until smooth.
  3. In a clean bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1-2 minutes. With machine running, gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, 60-90 seconds. Stir one-third of whites into batter to lighten; add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 30-40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert cake onto greased wire rack; peel off and discard parchment. Invert cake again; cool completely, about 2 hours.
  4. FOR THE STRAWBERRY FILLING
  5. Halve 24 of the best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter remaining berries; toss with 4-6 tablespoons sugar (depending on sweetness of berries) in medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain juices from berries and reserve (you should have about 1/2 cup). In workbowl of food processor fitted with metal blade, give macerated berries five 1-second pulses (you should have 1-1/2 cups). In small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer reserved juices and Kirsch until syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3-5 minutes. Pour reduced syrup over macerated berries, add pinch of ssalt, and toss to combine. Set aside until cake is cooled.
  6. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM
  7. When cake has cooled, place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add heavy cream in slow, steady stream; when amost fully combined, increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2-1/2 minutes more, scraping bowl as needed (you should have about 4-1/2 cups).
  8. TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
  9. Using large serrated knife, slice cake into three even layers. Place bottom layer on cardboard round or cake plate and arrange ring of 20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around perimeter of cake layer. Pour one half of pureed berry mixture (about 3/4 cup) in center, then spread to cover any exposed cake. Gently spread aobut 1/3 of whipped cream (about 1-1/2 cups) over berry layer, leaving 1/2" border from edge. Place middle cake layer on top and press down gently (whipped cream layer should become flush with cake edge). Repeat with 20 additional strawberry halves, remaining berry mixture, and half of remaining whipped cream; gently press last cake layer on top. Spread remaining whipped cream over top; decorate with remaining cut strawberries. Serve, or chill for up to 4 hours.

Notes

*Hello, my love
I heard a kiss from you
Red magic satin playing near, too
All through the morning rain
I gaze – the sun doesn’t shine
Rainbows and waterfalls run through my mind
In the garden – I see west
Purple shower, bells and tea
Orange birds and river cousins dressed in green
Pretty music I hear
So happy and loud
Blue flowers echo from a cherry cloud
Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue
Playgrounds will laugh you try to ask
Or is it cool? is it cool?
If you arrive and don’t see me
I’m going to be with my baby
I am free – flying in her arms, over the sea
Stained window, yellow candy screen
See speakers of kites – with velvet roses diggin’ freedom flight
A present from you – Strawberry letter 22
The music plays, I sit in for a few
Ooh…ooh…ooh…ooh…ooh…
A present from you – Strawberry letter 22
The music plays, I sit in for a few
Ooh…ooh…ooh…ooh…ooh…
Songwriters: SHUGGIE OTIS
Strawberry Letter 23 lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC