Strawberry Cake and Scrabble

I absolutely love America’s Test Kitchen and everything related to it.  I love the magazines, the cook books, the shows on public television – all of it.  I love that novice or expert chefs alike can try something new, knowing it has been tested and retested until it is “perfect.”  However, I also love that I can still alter or change the recipes to make them my own.

In my opinion, this strawberry cake was almost perfect.  The problem arose in the frosting department, but we’ll get to that later.

But before that, I’ll tell you what I loved about this cake.  First of all, it was beautiful to look at.  But this cake wasn’t just all beauty and no substance, nosiree.  This cake was a genius on the inside.  The cake itself was light and airy, with a faint pinkish color to indicate that it was, in fact, made from strawberries.  Tucked inside were fresh sliced strawberries to add a pop of freshness and bright color when served and eaten.

But the frosting…

Let’s just get this out of the way.  I’m not a fan of most frostings (gasp!).  I’m just not.  They’re usually overly sweet, too thick, or they taste too much of butter or cream cheese and I end up scraping it off or eating around it.  So often, frosting (or icing; whichever moniker you choose to apply) can totally destroy an otherwise splendid cake.  I can appreciate a perfect ganache, or a dusting of powdered sugar, or even a whipped cream icing like the one I used on my Chocolate and Vanilla Angel Food Cake.  But that is about my limit.  In general, I make desserts to share with people, and most people like frosting…you get it.

As much as I admire and appreciate what America’s Test Kitchen does, I feel they dropped the ball on the frosting for this cake.  For the most part, the flavor was nice, but in my opinion, there was simply too much of it.  Too much cream cheese, too much powdered sugar, too much butter.  A cake should be about the cake!  Not the highly-sugared spackle used to cover up mistakes!  Needless to say, after all was said and done, I could have frosted a second cake with all the leftovers!

From time to time, my dear friend Katie and I get together for a game of Scrabble.  I always enter into the game knowing full well that she will leave me in the dust holding my tray full of Z’s and Q’s.  She’s good.  She’s better than good.  Her competitive nature is masked well by her lovely demeanor, warm smile, and casual laughter.  But I’m not fooled.  Which is why I made dessert.  I figured, hey, if I’m going down in flames, at least I’ll be eating a delightful slice of cake!

Strawberry Cake
Adapted from Cook’s Country (this recipe includes my frosting alteration)

Ingredients:

For Cake:

10 ounces frozen whole strawberries
3/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups (9 ounces) cake flour
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, but into 12 pieces and softened

For Frosting:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
10 ounces cream cheese, cut into 10 pieces and softened
8 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced thin

Method:

For the cake:  Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350ºF.  Spray two 9-inch round pans with Pam for Baking and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds.  Spray parchment, and lightly flour.

Transfer frozen strawberries to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for about 5 minutes, or until the berries start to release their juices.  Place in a fine-mesh strainer set over a small saucepan.  Using a rubber spatula, firmly press fruit dry (juice in saucepan should measure roughly 3/4 cup); reserve the strawberry solids.

Bring juice to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until syrupy and reduced to 1/4 cup, 6 to 8 minutes.  Whisk milk into juice until combined.

Whisk strawberry milk, egg whites, and vanilla in bowl.  Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed until combined.  Add butter, one piece at a time, and mix until only pea-sized pieces remain, about 1 minute.  Add half of milk mixture, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.  Reduce speed to medium-low, add remaining milk mixture, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds.  Give batter final stir by hand.

Scrape equal amounts of batter into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking.  Cool cakes in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and cool completely, about 2 hours.  Cooled cakes can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.

For the frosting:  Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix butter and sugar on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds.  Increase speed to medium-high and beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute.  Add reserved strawberry solids and salt and mix until combined, about 30 seconds.  Place in refrigerator until ready to use, up to 2 days.

Pat strawberries dry with paper towels.  When cakes are cooled, spread 3/4 cup frosting over one cake round.  Press 1 cup sliced strawberries in even layer over frosting.  Top with second cake round and spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake.  Garnish with remaining sliced strawberries.  Serve.  Can be refrigerated for 2 days.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

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