Monday, June 22, 2009
Over the weekend I made a birthday cake for my friend Kimberley (whose birthday is today). She's a summer solstice baby, born on the cusp, just at the peak of strawberry picking time, so I had a pretty good idea of the direction I'd be going with this one.
I decided to experiment with this cake as a tribute to Kimmie since Kimmie has always been something of an "experimental" cook herself. She's been known to make New Years' omelets, tossing raw chicken into the egg scramble, if fond of corn and will eat bowls and bowls of it, alone, for dinner. She likes canned tuna on her pizza and corn in her green salads. She is, for lack of a better word, unique, in her tastes and ambitions. This is exactly why I love her.
I started with a recipe for White Cake that I've made for Jo's birthday, and for mine. The trick to this recipe is sifting, lots of sifting, plus the omission of eggs in favor of a meringue made with egg whites and sugar. I made just a few minor alterations to the recipe, upping the amount of salt (by 1/4 teaspoon) and, inadvertently, the amount of butter (by 1/4 cup) and decreased the almond extract to 1/4 teaspoon. Then I spilled the almond extract all over the counter. It smelled gooooood. To compensate for the extra butter, I added 1/4 cup of extra milk, which made the batter look cake-y once again.
When I asked Kimmie what kind of cake she'd like for her birthday, she gave me a list that included items as disparate as cheesecake and angel food cake. Fresh fruit was also on the list. Since Kimmie is on of my most long-standing drinking buddies, I knew she'd appreciate the crux of my "experiment": adding a layer of strawberries macerated in apricot jam, lemon juice and zest, and a cocktail called a "beautiful"--equal parts cognac and grand marnier. It just seemed fitting. For she is one of the most beautiful people I know.
The result was, well, experimental. The cake part was not as light and airy as I'd wanted it to be, and had the slightly bitter hint of the baking powder I'd used in the batter. The icing was also meringue, and reminded me a little of light marshmallow cream. Not ideal for this cake, but pretty to behold. And the macerated strawberries in "beautiful"? VERY juicy, and when in contact with the icing, I quickly discovered, created a lovely pink oozy mess.
But I persevered, frosting and glopping and piling and fixing, and finally draining off much of the liquor-y liquid into a bowl to use for later. I used sliced strawberries to create a crown and hide my mistakes. Then I made a strawberry cream (macerated strawberry juice, a pint of whipping cream and a good dose of powdered sugar) in the blender to drizzle over after slicing.
If you'd like to duplicate my experiment, by all means, go ahead and try. It's not likely to happen, but here are the recipes. I, for one, will go on perfecting my cake-baking skills, and go on loving the birthday girl just the way she is.
Beautiful Strawberry Cake a la Kimberley (based on this recipe)
White Cake Layers
2 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter
1 1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1. Measure sifted flour, baking powder, and salt; sift together three times.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add 1/2 cup sugar gradually, and continue beating only until meringue will hold up in soft peaks.
3. Cream butter or margarine. Gradually add remaining 1 cup sugar, and cream together until light and fluffy. Add sifted ingredients alternately with milk a small amount at a time, beating after each addition until smooth. Mix in flavorings. Add meringue, and beat thoroughly into batter. Spread batter in a 15 x 10 x 1 inch pan which has been lined on the bottom with parchment paper.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes, then remove from pan and transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. This cake may also be baked in two 9 inch round pans for 30 to 35 minutes, or in three 8 inch round pans for 25 to 30 minutes.
Macerated Strawberry Layer
2 cups sliced strawberries
3 tablespoons apricot preserves
sugar (optional, to taste, depending on sweetness of berries)
1 teaspon lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce grand marnier
1/2 ounce cogac
Mix together and refrigerate, covered, for at least an hour and up to 8 hours.
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Place cream of tartar and egg whites in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form.
Combine 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves, stirring mixture frequently, and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, for 2 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 238°. Pour hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over egg whites, beating at high speed until stiff peaks form. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.
Place a dollop of icing on a plate and place first cake layer atop. Spread cake layer with 2 cups icing. Arrange Macerated Strawberries in an even layer on top off icing. Top with the remaining cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.Garnish with fresh sliced strawberries.