My birthday was last week and I made myself a birthday cake. I wanted to experiment a little – I know, what a surprise! I started with a basic white cake but when it came time to put the batter in the pans I divided it in half. I wanted to flavor half the batter with strawberry. I’d tried this before with my layered angel food cake experiments and was disappointed with how it came out but shortly after that I read a blog post somewhere that suggested using dried strawberries. Not the gummy dried strawberries, but rather freeze dried like what you find for camping.
I found them on Amazon and was just waiting for an opportunity to use them. When I decided to make my cake I figured this was the perfect project. So follow along – I think next time I’ll add just a bit more to the batter but the flavor came through and I was happy with the final result.
Vanilla and Strawberry Layer Cake with Lemon Curd and Italian Meringue
For the Cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature. More for the pans
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self rising). More for the pans
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
1 vanilla bean
1 cup milk, at room temperature
8 large egg whites (save the yolks for the lemon curd)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup freeze dried strawberries
For the Lemon Curd:
4 large eggs and 6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
Finely ground zest of two lemons and 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 5 or 6 lemons)
6 TBS cold, unsalted butter cut into chunks
For the Italian Meringue:
1 cup plus 3 TBS sugar
1/3 cup water
4 large egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
1 TBS pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°
Prepare two 9″ cake pans; butter, layer with parchment, butter and dust with flour. Set aside.
Make the cake:
Add the salt and baking powder to the sifted flour and whisk to combine. set aside.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment cream the butter and 1 1/4 cups of the sugar until light and fluffy – about 4 minutes. Scrape the vanilla seeds in to the batter and mix to combine.
1. Set the mixer on low alternating back and forth add the dry ingredients and the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
2. Add the egg whites and the pinch of cream of tartar to a clean bowl. Using the whisk attachment on medium whip the whites until they are foamy. Turn the machine up to high and slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Whip the whites until they reach stiff peaks but are not dry.
3. Take the 1 cup of freeze dried strawberries and pulverize them in the food processor.
4. Add 1/4 of the whites to the cake batter and fold in carefully. Fold in the remaining whites – being sure to do so with care to maintain the air in the meringue so the cake will rise.
5. Divide the batter in half and mix the strawberry dust into one half.
6. Add the different batters to the prepared pans.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes until the cakes are browned are are starting to pull away from the sides. Cool on racks for 10 minutes and remove from the pans to cool completely.
While the cake is baking make the lemon curd:
Add the sugar, lemon juice, eggs, egg yolks, and lemon zest to a small, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Whisk until well combined. Stir constantly until the curd thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and add the butter, continuing to stir constantly until it is all melted. Strain the curd and put it into the refrigerator for later use.
Make the Italian Meringue:
Add the sugar and water to a small heavy bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil. If crystal start to form use a pastry brush and water to brush them down. While the syrup is boiling add the egg whites and cream of tartar to a stand mixer with the whisk attached. Making this frosting is a bit of a balancing act. The egg whites have to be at soft peaks when the syrup hits 238° so you just need to watch and time. If the eggs get ahead of the syrup lower the speed but keep the eggs moving. If the syrup is heating up more quickly whip those eggs!
When the syrup hits 238° CAREFULLY pour it into the egg whites while the mixer is on high. YOU NEED TO POUR THE HOT SYRUP DOWN THE SIDE OF THE BOWL SO THE WHISK DOESN’T SEND BOILING HOT SYRUP FLYING EVERYWHERE.
Be careful. Hot sugar is no fun when it hits skin.
Let the mixture beat for about 4 – 5 minutes or until it cools just before you turn it off add the vanilla extract.
The frosting is ready to use.
Assemble the cake:
Carefully cut each layer in half. Place a strawberry layer on your plate. ( I like to rip either wax paper or parchment paper into pieces to protect the plate from frosting drippings. That way it looks nice when I’m done with the cake.) Spread 1/3rd of the lemon curd on the layer. Top with a vanilla layer, then 1/3rd more of the lemon curd, a strawberry layer, the rest of the curd and the final vanilla layer. Generously frost with the Italian meringue.
It turned out to be a really delicious cake. The strawberry flavor came through nicely but not overly strongly, the lemon curd was delightfully tart and I adore Italian meringue as a frosting; it’s light, marshmallowy and not overly sweet.
It makes a great celebration cake and it was worth all of the effort. The cake was moist and even tasted good a week later. There are not many scratch recipes that don’t taste dry a day or two later. This is definitely a keeper. I found the basic cake recipe in the Martha Stewart Cooking School cookbook. The curd and Italian meringue are standard recipes.