Sunday, July 13, 2008

Strawberries and Cream

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A few weeks ago, I was complaining about the dreary, rainy weather we got throughout June, ruining my plans to go strawberry-picking. Thankfully, Mother Nature has been a bit more co-operative this month, with more sunny, hot weather. Unfortunately, I haven't had the time to go strawberry-picking myself this month, but I was still able to pick up a basket of beautiful local strawberries the other day when I dropped by the Byward Market. Large and bright red, these strawberries certainly caught my eye!

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A classic accompaniment to fresh strawberries is cream, and I decided to combine both in Strawberry Cream Cake, a classic favourite. Who wouldn't love the combination of juicy, slightly tart strawberries with sweet cream sandwiched between layers of soft, moist sponge cake? Classic, American strawberry shortcake relies on a biscuit as its base, while classic French uses the génoise cake, a sponge cake that relies on the egg whites rather than chemical leavenings to give the cake lift and volume. However, génoise cakes can be tricky at times; over-folding the batter will deflate the egg whites, leaving your cake flat, dense and what is worse, completely dried out, when it is baked. I myself like to use a chiffon cake as my base. The addition of vegetable oil and leavening agent ensures that you'll have a super fluffy and super moist cake. Furthermore, it is very simple to make, and any beginner baker who has little experience with baking cakes will find this recipe easy to follow.

The chiffon cake recipe below is great on its own. You can certainly bake them in either two cake pans or one large, 10-inch chiffon cake pan and serve it plain for tea time. For special occasions though, this cake makes a great base for seasonal fresh fruits and sweetened whipped cream.

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Strawberry Cream Cake
Serves 10 to 12

For chiffon cake:
252 g cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
252 g superfine sugar
5 egg yolks
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup egg white (from about 6 large eggs)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

For the filling:
3 cups whipping cream
4 tbsp superfine sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
About 2 cups strawberries, sliced
Strawberries, for decorating

Preheat the oven to 250°F.

In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt; repeat twice more. Stir in all but 2 tablespoons sugar and mix thoroughly. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar aside.

Make a well in the centre of flour to add in oil, water, egg yolks and vanilla extract. Using the paddle attachment of a stand-mixer, or with a wooden spoon, gradually blend in flour and beat for about 1 minute.

In a separate, clean bowl, whisk egg white until foamy. Add in cream of tartar and beat once more. Gradually add in the 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold a bit of the egg-white into the batter to lighten up the batter, and then fold the batter into the the egg-white until evenly mixed (be careful to not deflate the egg whites!). Pour the batter into two lined and greased 8-inch springform pans and bake for 1/2 hour at 250°F. Increase heat to 300°F and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cakes comes out clean.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes before removing from the pans to cool completely on cooling racks.

When the cakes have completely cooled, beat the whipping cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a cold mixing bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.

Using a sharp, serrated knife, trim the top of each cake so that they are even. If desired, you can cut each cake in half horizontally to make a 4-layer cake, rather than a 2-layer cake.

Using an offset spatula, spread a layer of the whipped cream onto one layer of the cake. Place a a layer or two of the sliced strawberries and spread another of cream on top. Place the second cake layer on top, trimmed-side down, and cover the entire cake with a thin layer of cream. Spread more cream to so as to cover the cake in an even layer. Decorate the side of the cake with sliced strawberries, if desired, and top with halved strawberries. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


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