Okay, we went a little wild at the grocery store this week, picking up four pounds of strawberries for two people, with no plans for how we were going to use them. We guess that’s what’s termed an impulse buy. At least strawberries are better for us than, say, a whole bag of candy bars. Because of our excesses in strawberry acquisitions, you’ll be seeing multiple strawberry recipes in the coming days. We figure they might give you some ideas if you, too, succumb to an impulse purchase.
First up in the newly-formed strawberry recipe collection is strawberry cake. When we got home with our strawberries, we immediately hit the books, looking for recipes; fortunately, we’d just checked out Dessert for Two, by Christina Lane, from which this recipe hails (we did change it to use buttermilk, so as to make the cake lighter and more tender). When we saw this book in the Public Library’s collection, we knew that it was destiny. We’re just two people, and we like dessert, so we figured, perfect. Besides, we can always double the recipe.
We especially like to use home-scratched buttermilk. It allows us to make salt- and seaweed-free (read those ingredient labels, folks, and when you see carrageenan, look it up), organic buttermilk easily and quickly for all our baking projects. Unsalted butter should be your go- to choice for all baking. After all, you’re the best judge of how salty your cake should be, not someone miles away in a butter factory. Eggs should, if possible, come from truly free-ranging hens; they’re just better. And, as always, 100% real vanilla is the only acceptable choice.
Procedure in detail:
Mise en place. One of the keys to baking light, fluffy, tasty cakes is to have all your ingredients at room temperature before starting. Since you have to get stuff from the fridge to warm, you might as well measure and prepare everything else while the butter, eggs, and buttermilk warm. So, measure the flour into a small bowl, add the baking powder, and whisk together. Next, measure out the sugar. Follow up by dicing those strawberries into small pieces (about 1/4-inch on a side). Eat any extra pieces, just to taste-test, naturally.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place a rack in the center of the oven. That’s another key part of baking cakes: bake them in the center of the oven.
Prepare pan. Butter an 8×8-inch baking pan. Be generous with the butter; after all, it’ll just add flavor. Cut a piece of baking parchment and line the bottom of the pan. If you don’t have baking parchment (something we highly recommend), sprinkle flour into the pan and shake it about until all the butter is coated with flour. Set aside.
Cream butter. Place the now-softened butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and with the paddle attachment, and start creaming the butter on medium-low. We like to start with the butter so that we can gauge if it’s warm enough to cream properly. If the butter becomes smooth and shiny in a minute or so, you’re good to go. If not, let the butter warm a bit more.
Add sugar. With the mixer on medium, slowly add the sugar. Continue beating, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is light and fluffy and a pale yellow color. This can take from 3 to 5 minutes of beating. Another key: fluffy butter and sugar result in a light, airy cake.
Add eggs. Stop the mixer, add one egg and beat it in on medium-low until it’s incorporated. Add the other egg and do the same. Scrape down the bowl, and mix just a bit more, about 15 seconds, to make sure eggs are thoroughly mixed into the batter.
Add vanilla. Add that delicious, aromatic, vanilla extract, which is, perhaps, the best flavoring on the planet. Turn the mixer to low and beat until the batter is uniform, about 30 seconds.
Add flour and buttermilk. Do this in four steps, by hand: add half the flour mixture, fold in with a spatula, add half the buttermilk, fold in, add remaining flour mixture, fold, add remaining buttermilk, fold. With each addition, fold just enough to incorporate the ingredients, no more. And, while folding, scrape the bottom of the bowl, because flour likes to hide there.
Add strawberries. One more folding step: fold the strawberries into the batter.
Fill pan. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and level it. In fact, make the center just slightly lower than the edges, because the center rises more than the edges.
Bake. Bake the cake until golden brown on the top and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
Cool. Place the cake, still in the pan, on a cooling rack and let cool completely before removing it from the pan.
This recipe included a strawberry frosting recipe, but we didn’t make it, as we happen to like cake plain, too. Also, we had plans of making a strawberry sauce for a topping. Sort of like a strawberry shortcake, but with cake instead of biscuits, making for a lighter dessert (the frosting recipe seemed as if it would be heavy, something we definitely do not like). Overall, this is a very nice cake, easy to make, and quite light, tender, and delicious. One thing we would suggest is to dust the strawberries with a tablespoon of flour before folding them into the batter (we’ll try it next time) to keep them from sinking to the bottom. Four stars.