When I was growing up, we lived next door to a family that kept a small garden just on the other side of a small picket fence behind our house. I’m sure there was a variety of things growing in that garden, but I only remember one. Strawberries. I watched them grow from tiny green berries into large, red lusciousness warmed by the afternoon sun and oh so fragrant. There was no question that I’d inevitably pick a few whether invited to or not. I couldn’t help myself. Had my mother known, it would have been a problem because she’d say it was stealing. Then she’d tell my father and that wasn’t a pleasant thought. But somehow, when I leaned over that little fence and picked the first berry of the season, brushing off the damp soil before sinking my teeth into it, nothing else mattered. I loved strawberries that much.
Fortunately, strawberries are available year round here, and although their flavor will never compare to those I enjoyed as a kid, I still love them. So it was quite the coincidence when I was asked recently about a strawberry cake. Not strawberry short cake, or cake with strawberries nestled between its layers. A strawberry flavored cake.
Hmmm…what about cupcakes instead, topped with a swirl of strawberry buttercream. Or maybe a little bit of white cake, and a little bit of strawberry cake…the possibilities are endless. Regardless, it did give me the opportunity to use a new cookbook, The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. And since I had the entire day to myself, I decided to compare two recipes for strawberry puree: one would go in a buttercream frosting, and the other would flavor one of the cakes. The other would remain white. Why the comparison? Because surprisingly, Beranbaum suggests that frozen berries are much better to use than fresh berries, even when they’re at peak season. Who knew?
Strawberry Dream Cupcakes
Strawberry Puree #1
(for strawberry cake batter)
2 c. fresh strawberries, hulled
2 T. granulated sugar
1. Cut strawberries in half and place in a small sauce pan. Sprinkle with 2 T sugar and let sit for about 15 minutes and juice begins to flow.
2. Place a lid on the sauce pan and heat over a medium flame.
3. Cook the strawberries until soft and saucy — about 15 minutes.
4. Taste to adjust sweetness to your liking. Cool slightly.
5. Pour contents of pan into food processor fitted with a metal blade. Puree until you achieve the consistency you like — chunky or smooth both work.
6. Pour into a flat bottomed container to cool completely before adding to the cake batter.
Strawberry Puree #2
(for white cake batter)
20 oz. whole strawberries, frozen unsweetened
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1. On a clean jellyroll pan, spread out frozen strawberries making sure none touch. Set aside until berries begin to thaw, and juice collects in the pan. The strawberries will need to thaw completely which will take at least an hour depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
2. At some point any time during the thawing, transfer berries to a strainer, carefully pour all the juice into a container large enough to set the strainer over so that the berries can continue to drip. Occasionally mash the berries with a rubber spatula, forcing more juice from them. You will need 1-1/4 c. of juice.
3. Once you’ve collected that amount of juice, pour remaining berry pulp into the food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree until smooth.
4. Pour strawberry juice into a deep saucepan and heat to boiling. Continue to boil, reducing to 1/4 cup. Watch the pan, as the juice will bubble up if the heat is too high.
5. When the juice is reduced to 1/4 c. pour it into the processor bowl with the strawberry puree and add the 2 tsp. lemon juice.
6. Run the processor until mixture is smooth.
7 . Pour into a container and set aside to cool.
White Velvet Butter Cupcakes
(makes 24 regular sized cupcakes)
4-1/2 large egg whites (4 oz.) (save the yolks for the buttercream below)
1 c. whole milk
2-1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
3 c. cake flour (Swan’s Down) sifted, then measured
1-1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 T + 1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
12 T. unsalted butter, softened, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Insert paper liners into cupcake pans. Pre-measure all ingredients before beginning.
1. Lightly combine egg whites, 1/4 c. of the milk and vanilla in a bowl and set aside.
2. In the large bowl of a stand mixer combine all dry ingredients and run the mixer on low to combine them well. Add the butter and the rest of the milk to the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until blended. Increase to medium speed and beat for 1-1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides.
3. Add the egg white mixture by thirds, beating about 20 seconds between each addition. Scrape down the sides and spoon batter into cupcake papers, filling about 2/3 full.
4. Bake in the center of the oven for 25 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of a cupcake is clean when removed.
5. Cool briefly in pans, then remove cupcakes to cool fully on wire racks.
(makes about 15 regular sized cupcakes)
7 T unsalted butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
2 lg. eggs
1-1/3 c. all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 c. whole milk
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium high until light in color and fluffy — about 3 minutes.
2. Add the eggs one at a time, beating about 30 seconds after each addition.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients to blend well.
4. In another bowl, mix milk and completely cooled strawberry puree #2
5. Alternating between the dry ingredients and the strawberry mixture, add a little of each to the butter/sugar mixture, beating well between each addition, making sure to end with the addition of flour. (flour, berries, flour, berries, flour, berries, flour)
6. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and spoon batter into cupcake papers, filling about 2/3 full.
7. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of a cupcake is clean when removed.
6 lg. egg yolks (reserved 5 from white cake recipe above plus one more)
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
2 c. unsalted butter, softened
optional: 1 tsp. banana liqueur
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat egg yolks until light in color. Let the mixer run on medium while you are working on the next step.
2. In a small deep sauce pan, combine sugar and corn syrup. Before heating, lightly oil a 1 c. glass heat resistant measuring cup and place it near the pan with the sugar mixture.
3. Heat the sugar over medium heat stirring constantly with a silicone spatula until sugar is dissolved and large bubbles cover the surface — about 8-10 minutes.
4. Immediately pour mixture into the glass measuring cup to stop the cooking (or it will begin to caramelize). Be very careful not to touch the mixture as it is extremely hot!
5. Pour a small amount of the sugar mixture into the eggs and immediately turn on high, beating for 5 seconds. Repeat process quickly, beating each time for 5 minutes on high until all the sugar mixture is incorporated. Be careful not to get the sugar mixture on the whip because it will spin the sugar against the side of the bowl.
6. After all the sugar mixture is incorporated into the eggs, continue to mix on medium until the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl are cool to the touch. This takes a very long time!
7. Once the egg/sugar mixture is completely cool, add the butter in gradually, mixing well to incorporate before each addition.
8. Add a splash of the banana liqueur if desired but be careful to only add no more than 1 tsp.
9. Add 1/2 c. strawberry puree # 1 and mix well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
10. Fill piping bag and frost all cupcakes. Decorate if you wish.
- Since I decided to make two purees to see if there was a noticeable difference between the two (one with fresh berries, and the other with frozen) I’ll begin there. The fresh berries did have added sugar, so obviously they were sweeter. They were, however more tart, and the flavor less intense that the puree made with frozen berries. The reduction of the juice to an intensely strawberry flavored sauce must have been the ticket. For the amount of work that went into thawing, and mashing, and reducing…I’m not sure that the added flavor was worth it. So food for thought — use frozen berries in the easier method. The only problem there is that if you wish to leave your berries chunky, frozen won’t work. They’re mushy. Both recipes make enough for leftovers that can be frozen and enjoyed in another recipe. That’s the perk for the work, right?
- Ingredients in General: It’s important to have all ingredients measured and set aside before you begin.It’s just good practice. In both cake recipes, all ingredients are at room temperature (about 65-70 degrees today). Sift the flour. It makes a difference in the quantity. I usually measure out the required amount, sift it, then measure it again. There can be a surprising about of the original quantity of unsifted flour that doesn’t belong in your batter messing up your cake. The bowl on the top is the amount left over! Even using Swan’s Down cake flour, sifting is necessary.
- Buttercream: This is truly excellent frosting that tastes like fresh strawberries. It’s difficult to believe that there is quite a bit of butter in it. It’s light, fluffy, and easy to work with. The strawberry puree blends right in with no problem of separation. I did add it gradually to make sure, however.
- Sugar and Corn Syrup: This was quite interesting. I expected to see the eggs react to the very hot sugar mixture as I poured it in, but that never happened. Because the sugar began to cool, however, strands of sugar from the pouring were whisked into the whip and spun around it and against the side of the bowl. You are supposed to try and avoid doing that! If you are using a hand mixer, then the mixer has to run while you’re pouring the hot sugar in a steady stream so the same thing doesn’t happen. Good luck juggling that. Thank goodness for Kitchen Aid.
- White and Strawberry Cake: Both batters come together nicely, and end up looking very similar with respect to consistency. After they are finished beating, both look as if they want to separate. They never did, however, and went right into the cups just fine. The crumb on the white cake is lovely and light. Unfortunately, I haven’t tasted the strawberry cake. Nor have I tasted either cake with the frosting as I made these for someone else. Hopefully, they’ll be enjoyed!
- Since I have quite a bit of the puree left, I’m going to experiment with the strawberry cake and try a different frosting. Although the strawberry buttercream is to die for, it is time consuming to make. Because it can be frozen, perhaps I’ll make just the buttercream, then pack it away for a special cake that I’ll not share with anyone.
I can dream, can’t I?