I wanted something simple for Little Miss Piggy's first birthday. No giant party. No pinatas, no invitations, no goody bags. She was turning one, for pity's sake, and wasn't the least bit aware of the significance of this day. We still have plenty of birthdays ahead of us in which we can go completely overboard and buy a lot of stuff she doesn't really need and fill her little head with unrealistic expectations that will need to be surpassed in each successive year.
Simple was what I was after. A little cake. Something that The Big Boy and I could put together with any old recipe. No computations whereby we would need to recalculate recipes to fit larger pans. No decorations, not even a single piped rose. Single batches of batter. Less than one box of butter.
Isn't that really what life is all about anyhow? Limiting oneself to less than one box of butter? Somebody call Paula Deen. I might be on to something here.
Of course, being myself, I still waited until the last minute to search for a cake recipe. It wasn't like I didn't know this day was coming, but procrastinating I was. I just, oh I don't know, I guess maybe I think it best not to plan desserts too far in advance. The anticipation probably would have killed me for one thing, because truly when a girl craves something sweet, she doesn't exactly want to wait a couple weeks to satisfy the yen. And I'm fickle. I could have planned to my stony little heart's content, but you know I would have changed my mind 7.9 times between then and now.
And so it was that two days ago, as I was making my grocery list no more than 15 minutes before heading to the market, I scratched that little stress point behind my ear as I rolled my eyes up in dismay at the realization that I still needed a cake recipe. Ack. To a normal person, this might not have been such a big deal. After all, how hard is it to reach up and pull down your trusty little cookbook and choose a recipe from the three or four options listed under 'cake?' Not hard, you say? Try being me sometime, and you'll see. I have more than one cookbook. More, even, than two.
I have an embarassing quantity of cookbooks. I don't really want to count them. Please don't ask me to.
And that doesn't even take the internet into consideration. Do you have any idea how many cake recipes there are on the web? I had FIFTEEN MINUTES, I'm telling you, 15 little old minutes to make my list and go to the store. Just thinking about it now is making me scratch that little stress point again. I am feeling traumatized, and it was only a few paragraphs prior that I said, and I quote, "Gone, apparently, are the days of traumatic cakes."
Anyway. Lucky for me, I keep a 'To Be Cooked' binder of clipped recipes, categorized by type, and I remembered there were at least a handful of cake recipes that I had put in there as possibilities for the kids' future birthdays. So I paged past the Chocolate-Espresso Roulade (which I will obviously make for my own birthday) and something involving Kahlua (which didn't seem entirely appropriate either) and then I came upon this one. A recipe I had clipped more than a year ago from an issue of Redbook, of all unlikely places, for Strawberry Cream Cake. The best cake recipe for a 12 month-old dimpled, curly-headed, always-dressed-in-pink little girl? Check. Simple like I had planned? Not so much.
Multiple trips to the grocery store ensued, along with more than a handful of phone calls to my sister-in-law and mother-in-law who know much more about cakes than I do. Did you know using cake flour is imperative in a recipe that calls for such? Were you aware that cake flour is not the same thing as pastry flour? Had you ever noticed that cake flour is in a box near the cake mixes instead of in a bag next to all the other bloody flours?
This cake isn't for the faint of heart. It isn't June on this side of the country, and strawberries and raspberries are most assuredly NOT in season anywhere in this state. Cake flour is probably not a staple in most people's kitchens. But the recipe is not at all complex, and really doesn't take that long to put together. I made it a day ahead of time (because I have a painful fear of being late) and stored the cake in the refrigerator overnight which, as it turns out, was an unplanned stroke of genius for which I will take credit anyway since it allowed the macerated berries' juices to seep down into the bottom layer of cake, infusing it with flavor and giving it that wondrous soggy texture that you get with a Tres Leches cake. It was like an upscale strawberry shortcake, with real whipped cream instead of that frightening whipped topping that comes in a tub, and cake that tastes like cake, not like a box.
Cakes don't usually do very much for me, but I'm already planning to make this again next week. If the proper occasion doesn't present itself, I'll just make something up.
STRAWBERRY CREAM CAKE (from Redbook, serves 12 to 16)
- 2 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising - look for the stuff in the red box by the cake mixes)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 lb strawberries, hulled and sliced
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 6 oz raspberries
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup strawberry jam (I liked Dickinson's Organic Fruit Spread), divided
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and then line the bottoms with waxed paper. Grease the paper as well, and then flour the pans, tapping out excess flour.
- Sift cake flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl.
- Combine milk and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract in a glass measuring cup.
- In an electric mixer on low speed, beat butter until creamy.
- Gradually beat in 1 1/2 cups sugar.
- Increase mixer speed to medium and beat the mixture for four minutes.
- Beat in eggs, 1 at a tiime, until well blended, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
- With mixer on low speed, beat in flour mixture in thirds, alternating with milk mixture, just until blended.
- Spoon batter equally into prepared pans and spread evenly.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick or knife comes out clean when inserted into the center.
- Remove pans from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes (do not wait much longer than 10 minutes though, or it will be more difficult to remove cakes from their pans).
- Run a knife around sides of pans and invert cakes onto wire rack (or parchment paper-covered baking pans) to cool completely.
- Combine strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and juices form. Gently stir in raspberries.
- In an electric mixer on high speed, beat heavy cream, sour cream, confectioner's sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract until stiff peaks form when beater is lifted.
- Peel waxed paper off cake layers and place one cake round on serving platter (this is what those fine little cake stands are for).
- Spread bottom cake layer with 1/4 cup of the strawberry jam.
- Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the berry mixture (using most of the juices) over jam, spreading evenly. Do not worry about liquid seeping off the cake and pooling around the edges. This is a good thing. I'm getting all hot and bothered again just thinking about it. Set remaining berry mixture aside until cake is served.
- Top berry mixture with 3/4 cup of the frosting.
- Top with second cake layer.
- Spread top cake layer with remaining 1/4 cup of jam.
- Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.
- Refrigerate for at least a few hours to allow juices to seep into cake.
- Serve cold, topping the slices with remaining berry mixture.