Strawberry Patch Cake
A couple of years ago, after James and I had gotten back from a good day of strawberry picking, I set out to find a good recipe for a strawberry cake or shortcake. I thought my search would be easy, but soon found out that I would be looking for quite a while.
For starters, some people consider strawberry cake and strawberry shortcake to be one and the same. For other people, including myself, they are two different things (thus their having two different names). Call me a stickler if you must, but a cake is a cake and a shortcake is some kind of sweet biscuit.
On this particular day of searching, I was looking for a strawberry cake. My search was turning up two to three variations on essentially the same recipe. All of the cake recipes used ingredients that I didn’t really want to use. These ingredients were over-processed, artificial, or just downright unhealthy. I didn’t want a recipe that propped up the strawberry flavor with strawberry-flavored jell-o (which, by the way, tastes NOTHING like strawberries). I didn’t want a cake recipe that began, “open one box of white cake mix…” because that’s a story with a very predictable and often sad ending. Finally, I didn’t want a recipe with a cloyingly sweet frosting, red #40, or anything involving high fructose corn syrup or corn syrup solids. I was a little frustrated, at this point: “What did people do before jell-o and cool-whip??! Not have strawberry cake??!”
With all of my knit-picking, I’d pretty much eliminated all of my search results on the internet and none of my cookbooks offered me anything better. I was really at a loss for where to go next. So, like any dedicated home cook, I crawled up inside my own head and began to conceive of my own strawberry cake creation.
When you’ve spent the better part of a day picking the best strawberries you can find, you want everything you “invest” those strawberries in to go the extra mile. I wanted my cake to — more than anything — highlight the flavor of strawberries. For inspiration, I thought back on memories of strawberry cakes I had growing up. My favorites came from my mom and my paternal grandmother, Maw Maw Patsy. (Admittedly, they both called theirs a shortcake, but let’s not focus on that.)
Mom’s cake used a white cake mix that was baked in a 13×9 cake pan. While it was still warm, she poked holes in it with toothpicks, covered it with mashed strawberries, and topped it with cool whip. I remember watching with amazement as she so perfectly covered the cake with the brilliant white cool-whip with not a trace of red showing. Mom taught me to have an eye for details, for sure. I can still recall the taste of that strawberry-moistened cake. Mmm… my cake needed to have that moistened cake thing going on!
Maw Maw’s cake was messy. She used a butter recipe cake mix (and she used extra butter because that’s how she liked it) baked in a 13×9 cake pan. She always stood back and let me mix the cake batter because she knew I loved to cook (and lick the spoon). She said nobody could whip a cake like little Jason… bless my lil’ heart…
Rather than topping the cake with mashed strawberries, Maw Maw would first cut the cake into serving pieces. On each plate, she would dump the strawberries on top of the cake, add a giant dollop of cool-whip, and then (if it was my grandpa’s slice), pour on about 1/4 cup of evaporated milk. At the time, that seemed strange to me, but I eventually came to love that extra bit of rich dairy added to the mix. YES… my cake needed to have that buttery kick and that almost ice creamy kind of twist.
I took a risk, that day. I rarely take off on the road less travelled and completely abandon recipes. But, I had a clear vision in my mind, had nothing better to do with my time, and figured even a bad strawberry cake was better than no strawberry cake at all. What I came up with, exceeded my expectations. I’ll go so far as to say that if this is my only contribution to humanity, I will leave the world feeling accomplished! And Maw Maw would be so proud!
I scoured my recipe library for a trusty, basic cake recipe. I made a few changes to make sure the taste and texture were what I was looking for. Another major change to the cake was the addition of what I’d call “drama”. A 13×9 cake is cool and all, but how impressive would it be to stack two 9-inch cake layers drenched with strawberry goodness?!
I already knew how to mash strawberries, of course, but it took some figuring to determine how much would be enough to impart maximum flavor without overwhelming the cake’s ability to hold the strawberry juice. The key to the equation was not only getting the right amount of strawberries but also the method used to apply the strawberries to the cake. Patience!
The good news is that you can make this recipe using fresh or frozen strawberries, you just have to stick with the correct measurements and you may want to use more sugar or lemon juice to adjust the taste for frozen berries. I defy you to find a strawberry cake recipe that uses this many REAL strawberries — and not just as a garnish!
Finally, the frosting was an idea that occurred to me the summer before while making homemade ice cream. The result is like cheesecake married whipped cream and they had a baby. I gave it a try and will never buy cool-whip again.
That robust moment of back-patting behind us, a word or two about this recipe:
1. There are a few steps — especially in the assembly — that are just so “scary”.
- It’s very easy to break a cake layer, so you have to be both patient and quick. A very large offset spatula is useful in this endeavor, but not a requirement. Honestly, I get nervous every time I do this, so maybe I’m just over-dramatizing, here. I’m sure you’ll do just fine.
2. If you’re a recipe tinkerer, please tinker at your own peril.
- Baking is such a game of chemistry and ratios. If you make this cake, but don’t follow the recipe, and it turns out to be terrible, don’t blame me! (“No, cake flour and all-purpose flour are
- the same thing!”)
3. You will need to clear significant space in your refrigerator for the making of this cake
- . In our fridge, this is always a challenge, so I always assign this task to my husband. At one point, you’ll need to have room for two sheet pans to cool undisturbed for 2-3 hours. Once the cake is completely assembled, it’ll have to be able to go back into the fridge because it must remain refrigerated at all times. I recommend a covered cake pan, otherwise the cake will be messed up by plastic wrap or will dry out if left uncovered…
unless, of course, you’re going to completely devour it in one day
4. Don’t make this cake on a busy day.
- It’s a fun recipe; you will enjoy yourself, but you’ll need at least 3 hours of quality time set aside for the making of it. Consider it an investment for all the folks you’ll enjoy sharing this with.
Strawberry Patch Cake
A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
- White Cake:
- 3 cups unbleached cake flour, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs, divided (see recipe)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 3/4 cup low fat buttermilk
2 pounds fresh or frozen strawberries, rinsed & hulled (enough to make 4 cups mashed)
2 tablespoons-1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
8 ounces neufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese), softened
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350º. Using the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan as a stencil, trace rounds on two sheets of parchment paper; cut out rounds along the lines. Spray bottoms of two 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray. Place a parchment round in each pan; spray parchment lightly with additional cooking spray.
To prepare the cake, combine the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; whisk until combined. In a medium bowl, separate two egg whites (keep yolks). Whip the two egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
Place the sugar and unsalted butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended and fluffy (3-5 minutes). Add remaining whole egg and the two egg yolks; beat well to incorporate. Add vanilla and almond extracts; mix well. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix well after each addition.
Using a spatula, gently blend in 1/3 of the whipped egg whites. Fold in the remaining egg whites, being careful not to deflate the batter. Divide the batter between the two cake pans; spread batter to the edges. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and cake springs back when gently touched in the center.
Cool in pans for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove cake from pans; carefully peel off parchment paper and place on wire rack to cool for another 20 minutes. Meanwhile, while layers are continuing to cool, mash strawberries to equal four cups. Stir in granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Stir well to dissolve.
Once the layers have nearly cooled (they can still be a little warm), place each on a sheet pan covered with 3-4 sheets of parchment paper (fanned out for easy removal, later). Using toothpicks, puncture the top of both cake layers; don’t go too close to the edges. Cover each layer 1/2 cup at a time with the strawberry mixture dividing it evenly between the layers; spread mixture to cover the tops but not over the sides (leave a 1/4-inch border around each layer). Chill coated layers for 2-3 hours. The layers are ready when the strawberry mixture is no longer runny and the top is no longer shiny.
For the whipped frosting, in a large bowl, beat together the neufchatel cheese, sugar, and vanilla with a mixer on medium speed until smooth. While mixer continues to run, slowly add heavy cream; increase mixer speed and continue whipping until stiff peaks form (at least 2-4 minutes). Store topping in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the cake.
To assemble, place a chilled cake layer onto the cake plate or serving platter (strawberry side up). Cover the with a thin coating of the whipped frosting (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups). Place the second chilled cake layer atop the bottom layer (strawberry side down). Using the remaining whipped frosting, frost the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with additional sliced or whole strawberries, if desired. Serve chilled. Keep covered and refrigerated.
In case anyone is interested, a slice of this cake is about 460 calories and 22g of fat. Any way you slice it, that pushes this recipe into the “naughty desserts” category. But, with all-natural ingredients, tons of fruit, and love baked into every morsel, each of those calories is worth it in the long-run. It’s not like you’ll have this cake every day! Strawberry season comes but once each year (unless you’re like us and you make this cake in February, too, to use up some frozen strawberries).