Sunday, May 20, 2012

Snowy Strawberry Fields

As they aged, they grew more avid of beauty, the royal sea in their eyes in town, the dunes' scimitar shadows, the ever-perishing skies. The two were storing all this--for what? -Annie Dillard (The Maytrees)

This past week, I've felt a little like pinching myself. Between the birthday wishes I got from some of my favorite people and the fact that, on Thursday, when my blog traffic was a little out of control, I discovered that my blog had been mentioned by the New York Times Diner's Journal, it really hasn't seemed like my life. My inner nerd has wondered if I somehow managed to find and inadvertently drink a bottle of "Felix Felicis." My fatalistic side--the one that drew me to Russian literature many years ago--has wondered if my 29th year is perhaps peaking a bit early (the only way from here, after all, must be down). Fortunately however, my reasonable side has trumped the others and I'm now of the mind that I'm just going to enjoy the good things that come my way,  try my best not to over-analyze them and just keep on doing what I'm doing.  And part of that plan involved baking a beautiful Finnish-style strawberry cake for a dinner we were hosting on Friday evening.


I wish I could tell you that the idea for this cake-a cross between an angel food cake and a shortcake, both covered and filled with puffy whipped cream dotted with strawberries-- had come to me in a dream, but that would be a lie. As dreamlike a creation as it is, it actually came from Tessa Kiros' gorgeous cookbook/family album, Falling Cloudberries, which I was inspired to buy when I was in Finland and extremely curious about the secrets of the Finnish kitchen. The book more than delivers on that front, celebrating berries, smoked fish, pickled cucumbers and cream-simmered vegetables. While the savory dishes sounded appealing, I simply wouldn't be me had I not be drawn to the strawberry cake that looked a little wild and magical--something like stumbling upon a field of strawberries in the snow.



It's a fun cake to watch take shape, too. The batter is rather simple and comes together in no time, although I will confess that any time I have to whip egg whites and then fold them into the batter, I get a little nervous; it's such a delicate process and one that will determine the shape and texture of the cake. But with three teaspoons of baking powder, two of which are first added to the whipped egg whites before being incorporated into the batter, it's a forgiving recipe even if your egg whites don't appear to be as fluffy as they might otherwise be. Once baked, the cake itself is golden and crispy; all you then have to do is slice it in half and, while it's cooling, whip the cream and hull some of the strawberries. Believe me when I say that there's nothing more satisfying than piling mound upon mound of whipped cream onto a cake and then speckling the pure white background with red bits of juicy fruit. If you, like me, happen to be on a strawberry kick these days or if you're looking a recipe that does justice to the strawberries that are taking over the markets, bake this cake--for yourself or for friends. It really is a beauty.


Sipi's Strawberry Cake

Yields about 8 generous slices
Adapted from Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries

Recipe notes: I used a little less whipped cream than was called for (2 3/4 cup as compared to 3 cups) and was perhaps stingy with it since I ended up with more cream than seemed to fit on the cake. This also meant I used less strawberries (1 pound, which was 3/4 of a pound short of the recommended amount), but the good news is that there were enough leftovers for a Strawberry Fool. No matter how you go, since strawberries and whipped cream are involved, this is a win-win scenario.

For the cake:
1 3/4 all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
3/4 cup warm milk
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the strawberries:
1 lb. strawberries, hulled and halved
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. sugar

For the whipped cream:
3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
2 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream

-Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease and flour a 9-inch springform cake pan.
-Put flour, sugar and 1 teaspoon of the baking powder in a large bowl and whisk together (N.B. I was using my stand mixer to make the cake)
-Mix in the butter and then, with a wooden spoon, stir in the milk.
-Add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat until well incorporated.
-Whisk the eggs whites to soft peaks, incorporating the remaining two teaspoons of baking powder when the eggs seem fluffy.
-Gently fold the egg white/baking powder combination (don't be alarmed if it foams!) into the batter.
-Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
-Remove from the oven and let cool for about 15 minutes; then, release the cake from the springform pan and turn it onto a rack (the cake's bottom will become the top).
-Once fully cool, slice the cake in half horizontally and put the bottom half on a serving plate or cake stand.
-Clean, hull and half the strawberries.
-Dice about a third of the berries and sprinkle them with the teaspoon of lemon juice and granulated sugar.
-Whip the cream with the powdered sugar until it forms stiff peaks.
-Take a third of the whipped cream and mix it with the diced berries. Spoon this mixture over the bottom of the cake.
-Place the other half of the cake on top of the bottom half and spoon the remaining (or almost all of the remaining) whipped cream over the top and sides of the cake.
-Decorate the cake with the rest of the halved strawberries.
-Refrigerate the cake until serving time. This cake is best enjoyed within a day since the whipped cream loses some of its fluffy pizzazz as time passes.

6 comments:

  1. Even though I of course respect the Finns for claiming this strawberry cake as "theirs" (and it might very well be), I must inform you that in Sweden it is considered THE traditional summer dessert! My mother would always make this cake for my birthday every summer on the 16th of July. But maybe that's what Finnish mothers do for their daughters who were born in the summer as well... You're making me nostalgic!

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    1. Hmmm, maybe I should update the tags to include Scandinavian, so that the Swedes don't feel that the Finns have wrongfully claimed "their" cake and vice versa. I do think that there's something pretty universal about strawberries, whipped cream and cake, but this one is extra pretty. Sorry for making you nostalgic, but I bet you can squeeze this into your summer eating schedule! Perhaps it's something you could even make in Serbia to showcase your (Ingrid's) culture? :)

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  2. A field of strawberries in the snow.... I like. About as much as I like strawberries, which is saying something:).

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! It's a winning cake. Maybe even worth becoming a birthday staple. You know, all for the sake of the strawberries! :)

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  3. I love strawberries! Delicious looking cake!

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    1. Thank you, Erica! I'm definitely taking advantage of this strawberry season!

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