Strawberry Cream Cake

July 8, 2011

Margaux says….

I made this for my Granny’s 86th birthday.  The strawberry season is much too short, and this year it seems even shorter (and even non-existent).  All the strawberries I’ve gotten so far have been pretty flavorless, and when my mom went to get some for this cake, she said that they’re already gone from the farmer’s market in Peoria (IL).
Luckily, Aunt Suzy (not knowing of my strawberry troubles) sent me a text on Tuesday asking if I wanted her to pick up a bucket of strawberries at a farmer’s market in Menomonie, WI that she stopped at on the way down for the party.  YES!  I was seriously considering buying supermarket strawberries because I was determined to make this cake!  I’ve made it a few times over the years, and I was NOT going to let a strawberry season go by without making it.  And the strawberries she got were the biggest, most beautiful and sweetest ones I’ve had this year.  So my strawberry season went out with a bang!

Aunt Suzy says . . . 🙂

This cake isn’t the easiest to make, but it’s also not the most difficult. I think more than anything, it’s just time consuming, because you have to hull and slice all the strawberries. Otherwise, the cake is a cinch to make, and the frosting is just as easy! And it’s really fun to build. Adding the cream layer is a little tricky. I found it was easiest to place dollops on and then gently spread them outward to the edges.
Voila! The cake is light and spongy, so the puree soaks in nicely. And the cream cheese/whipped cream topping is so velvety-smooth! It really is a crowning culinary achievement, and your friends will ooh and ahh when you bring it out!

Best Strawberry Cream Cake

from Cook’s Illustrated 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.

Cake
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tbsp water
2 tsp vanilla extract

Strawberry Filling
2 lbs. medium or large strawberries (about 2 qts), washed, dried and stemmed
4-6 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp kirsch
pinch table salt

Whipped Cream
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp table salt
2 cups heavy cream

1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour round 9 x 2-inch cake pan or 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tbsp sugar in mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter, water and vanilla; whisk until smooth.
2. 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 tbsp 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 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.
3. For the strawberry filling: Halve 24 of best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter remaining berries; toss with 4 to 6 tbsp 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 tbsps, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour reduced syrup over macerated berries, add pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until cake is cooled.
4. 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).
5. 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.

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

October 29, 2010

I’m totally in love with the cookbook Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Every page is filled with gorgeous photos of delicious, rich looking cakes.  This recipe is just that…gorgeous, rich, delicious and heavenly.  It’s a perfect dessert for an autumn dinner party, or a new tradition for the holidays.

Ms. Beranbaum created this cake for Fine Cooking magazine, despite her fears that the spices you usually add with pumpkin recipes would over power the cream cheese flavor.  But she used turbinado sugar instead of regular, which has mild overtones of molasses, instead of the spices, and it works extremely well.  The crust is so delicious also…I almost made a traditional graham cracker crust so that I wouldn’t have to buy gingersnaps and pecans for the recipe, and I am SO glad I changed my mind at the last minute.  It is a perfect complement to the pumpkin, and so good that I may use it in other cheesecake recipes as well.  I also almost didn’t make the caramel glaze.  I ruined the first batch (make sure you keep a close eye on it while it’s cooking!!), and contemplated nixing it all together, but decided to try again, and I am very happy with that decision as well.  It really finishes the cake.  Plus, you can use the extra leftovers for ice cream topping!  🙂

Plan ahead!!!  This must be made one day ahead of time.  (Another reason it’s perfect for the holidays!)

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Coat one 9×2 1/2-3 inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set in a slightly larger silicone pan or wrap with a double layer (I did a triple layer) or heavy-duty aluminum foil to prevent seepage. Then set in a 12×2 inch round cake pan or roasting pan to serve as a water bath. Set oven rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 350.

Gingersnap Crust

1/2 cup pecan halves
1 cup gingersnap crumbs, lightly packed
1 tbsp sugar
2 pinches salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter

Toast pecans by spreading the pecans evenly on a baking sheet and baking for about 7 minutes to enhance their flavor. Stir once or twice to ensure even toasting and avoid overbrowning. Place the gingersnap crumbs in a food processor. Add the pecans, sugar and salt and process until fine crumbs, about 20 seconds. Add the melted butter and pulse ten times just until incorporated. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, begin by pressing the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan and partway up the sides. To keep the crumbs from sticking to your fingers, it helps to place a piece of plastic wrap over the crumbs and to press them through the wrap. With a 6-inch round cake pan or a flat-bottomed straight-sided measuring cup, smooth the crumbs over bottom and at least 1 1/2 inches up the sides. Be sure to press the bottom thoroughly so that the crumbs are evenly distributed.

Pumpkin filling

1 cup unsweetened pumpkin
1 cup turbinado sugar
2 cups heavy cream, cold
1 lb cream cheese, softened and cut into several pieces
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 large egg yolks (2 tbsp), at room temperature

In a small heavy saucepan, stir together the pumpkin and sugar over medium heat and bring the mixture to a sputtering simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes, until thick and shiny. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the mixture into a large food processor and process for 1 minute with the feed tube open.

With the motor of the food processor running, add the cold cream. Add the cream cheese in several pieces and process for 30 seconds, or until smoothly incorporated, scraping down the sides 2 or 3 times. Add the eggs and yolks and process for about 5 seconds, or just until incorporated. Using the silicone spatula, scrape the filling into the prepared pan and smooth the surface evenly with a small offset spatula. Set the pan in the larger pan and surround it with 1 inch of very hot water.

Bake for 45 minutes, turning the pan halfway around in the oven after the first 25 minutes. Turn off the oven without opening the door and let the cake cool for 1 hour.

Remove the pan to a wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cover with a large bowl or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. To unmold, use a small propane torch to heat the outside of the pan or wipe the sides of the pan with a dish towel run under hot water and wrung out.

Caramel Piping Glaze
(makes a full 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tbsp corn syrup
2 tbsp water
1/4 cup heavy cream, heated
1 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla

Have ready a 1-cup heatproof glass measure, coated lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium heavy saucepan, preferably nonstick, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water until all the sugar is moistened. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring completely and allow the mixture to boil undisturbed until the mixture turns a deep amber (360 degrees F/180 degrees C or a few degrees lower because its temperature will continue to rise). Remove it from the heat and as soon as it reaches temperature, slowly and carefully pour the hot cream (I added a pinch of salt to the hot cream before adding to the caramel)  into the caramel. It will bubble up furiously. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to stir the mixture gently, scraping the thicker part that settles on the bottom.

Return the pan to very low heat, continuing to stir gently for 1 minute, until the mixture is uniform in color and the caramel is fully dissolved. Remove it from the heat and gently stir in the butter until incorporated. The mixture will be a little streaky but becomes uniform in color once cooled and stirred.

Pour the caramel into the prepared glass measure and allow it to cool for 3 minutes. Gently stir in the vanilla and allow the caramel to cool until no longer warm to the touch, stirring gently three to four times.

The glaze keeps covered for up to 3 days at room temperature and for at least three months refrigerated. To reheat: If the caramel is in a heatproof glass container at room temperature, microwave it on high for 1 minute, stirring twice. Alternatively, place the container in a pan of simmering water and heat, stirring occasionally, until warm, about 7 minutes.

For a decorative lacing effect, you can pour the caramel glaze from the glass measure, but for the greatest precision, use a pastry bag fitted with a small decorating tip.