I made lots of extra cakes in December. In fact, I was a cake-making machine that month! I even made a couple of tried-and-true cakes from earlier this year.
These two cakes were new to me, though. The first, and more complicated of the two, was Strawberry Cream Cake, from my good friends (I wish) at America's Test Kitchen. I took it to a Christmas Eve party, and it was admittedly an odd choice for that type of event, since it seems better suited for a summer picnic. But whatever! I wanted to make it before the year was done, and it was such a fab-u-lous cake that I can't imagine anyone minded.
I have loved looking at strawberry cream cakes in the past, but have not enjoyed eating them very much. They're pretty but not very flavorful. The things that made this cake different were these:
- A strawberry "mash" in addition to the whole strawberries. It really brought out the strawberry flavor,
- A flavorful cream filling (from the addition of cream cheese), and
- A cake sturdy enough to handle the berries and cream, but not so sturdy that it was dry.
Here you can see the way the layers are constructed:
strawberries around the circumference, strawberry mash
in the middle, cream on top of that.
Julia wants to eat it all up!
The second cake was an Italian pine nut cake from the Jamie Oliver cookbook, Jamie's Italy. I made this cake for a dinner party, and it was pretty good. It is a very dense cake and not too sweet, which is VERY Italian. In fact, in my year and a half in Italy, I saw this cake many times in bakery windows, but never ate it. This version mixes like a quick bread, but it has yeast in it. It doesn't sit out to rise or anything, so it felt very odd to mix it up quickly, pour it in a springform pan, and have that strong yeast smell come back at me. It was very dense in the end (was the yeast supposed to have done something? Did my yeast die?) and I got nervous about it. It just seemed that it might be too bland to serve as the finish to a dinner party. I whipped some cream before serving it and mixed cut up strawberries and oranges to spoon on the side of the plate. I thought it was good like that, but not spectacular. I think it would be a more appropriate cake to eat with a cup of tea on a winter day or something like that. A HAND CAKE!
Strawberry Cream Cake, by America's Test Kitchen / Cook's Illustrated Magazine
Serves 8 to 10. Published May 1, 2006.
If using a cake pan, you will need one with straight sides that are at least 2 inches high; otherwise, use a springform pan. The cake portion can be made ahead of time, wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap, and frozen; thaw the frozen cake, unwrapped, at room temperature for about two hours before proceeding with the recipe.
FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour round 9 by 2-inch cake pan or 9-inch 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.
In clean bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. With machine running, gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, 60 to 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 to 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.
FOR THE STRAWBERRY FILLING: Halve 24 of best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter remaining berries; toss with 4 to 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 about 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 to 5 minutes. Pour reduced syrup over macerated berries, add pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until cake is cooled.
FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: 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 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add heavy cream in slow, steady stream; when almost 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).
TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: 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 about one-third of whipped cream (about 1 1/2 cups) over berry layer, leaving 1/2-inch 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.
Pine Nut Cake (La Torta Della Giovane Sara) from Jamie Oliver’s book – Jamie’s Italy
3 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs, preferably organic
2 cups sugar
zest and juice of one lemon
3 & 1/2 ounces pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 12 inch springform pan and line it with a disc of waxed paper. Sprinkle the waxed paper with a little bit of the flour. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then mix the yeast with the melted butter. Add this to the eggs, with the sugar, remaining flour, and the lemon zest and juice. Mix together well and pour into the cake pan. Scatter the pinenuts over the top and bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until golden.