Strawberry Cake with Chocolate Fudge Icing
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and my brain
I’m a little late in getting this post up, since my birthday was three weeks ago, but the important thing is that it’s up. Because oh man, you guys. You have got to try this cake. I kind of invented the combination by picking and choosing from recipes I’ve been wanting to try. Strawberries were cheap at the market, so I decided I would make strawberry cake. I looked and looked for what I thought would be the best recipe, and I ended up trying Smitten Kitchen’s Pink Lady Cake. And it’s pound-cake-rich and pink and it smells oh-so-good while it’s baking. Also, the batter tastes like strawberry ice cream. And the chocolate frosting? Holy shnikies. This is my new favorite frosting.
When I told people I was making my own birthday cake, I was met with numerous pitying looks and “Aww, you’re making your own cake?” I explained that I loved to bake and that I had started a food blog, and then the doubters nodded slowly as if this were still a rather strange notion. (I should note, though, that my awesome friend Lauren was going to try to surprise me with a cake by enlisting Terwilliger to help with the subterfuge. I stepped on my own surprise by saying to Lauren “Are you coming to my birthday party? I’m making a layer cake!” Lauren, if you’re reading, you are the best.)
But really, I had been looking forward to this excuse to make a cake for some time. I don’t think I’ve ever made a layer cake entirely from scratch before; I’ve always used a mix. I dipped my toe into making cupcakes from scratch for St. Patrick’s Day, and those were delicious but an awful lot of work. This cake was actually super easy to whip up, and my only regret is that I didn’t have a third 9-inch round pan to make a towering three-layer cake. Instead I used my two 9-inch rounds, and I had enough batter left over for 18 cupcakes. The cake layers were thin-ish (I probably could have filled the pans higher with batter), but that ended up being a good thing, since the frosting was rather rich, and thicker cake layers may have resulted in dessert overload. (I can’t believe I just typed that.)
I will admit, though, that on my birthday, as I was frosting the cake, I was thinking “Maybe I didn’t really want to spend my birthday in the kitchen…” But oh well. That’s what I did, and now I know that I can make an edible layer cake. I made the cake layers the night before — and apparently this one-day do-ahead method works well for cakes; just wrap them tightly in plastic wrap — and brushed them with a sugar syrup of 2 parts water to 1 part sugar to make sure they were extra moist. (I kind of went light on the brushing, for fear of too much sugar, so I’m not sure how much the syrup contributed to the moistness.)
I was taking a stab in the dark by pairing the strawberry cake with chocolate icing – I figured it would be delicious, because duh, chocolate-covered strawberries are delicious. And, um, yes. It was good. I highly recommend this particular cake combination. Read on for ingredients and a step-by-step for frosting a cake, if you’re new to it like I was. If you’re already an old pro, you are awesome and I like you.
4 1/2 C. cake flour*
3 C. sugar
5 1/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 C. pureed strawberries** (plus another 1/2 c. of chopped berries, for later)
8 egg whites
2/3 C. milk
*If you can, get your hands on some cake flour. From what I can tell, using cake flour made my cake smoother and lighter. The crumb was tighter, almost dense, but the bites of cake were soft and delicate instead of chewy and substantial. Cake flour = win.
**I used a combination of frozen and fresh strawberries — if your strawberries are lovely, ripe, and sweet, go with those. I blended about a pint of hulled strawberries, then pressed the mix through a sieve (stirring with a spoon to upset the seeds and keep the puree flowing through) until I had 1 & 1/2 cups of puree.
To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350. Butter three 8-inch (or 9-inch) round cake pans. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of the pan and butter the paper.
Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter in a large mixing bowl and blend blend blend (on medium speed if you’re using a mixer). Stir in the strawberry puree and marvel at how your batter turns pink and tastes like strawberry shortcake on a spoon. Now blend on medium speed for about three minutes, until the batter is very light pink and smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk together egg whites and milk. Slowly add to the batter in three batches, stirring just enough to combine with each addition. Divide batter equally among the three prepared cake pans.* Cook for 30 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
*If, like me, you only have two cake pans, fill the pans about 2/3 full, then divide the rest of your batter among cupcake tins. Cook the cupcakes at 350 for about 30 minutes, just like the cake. Then frost them with lemon cream cheese icing for nirvana.
Fudgy Chocolate Frosting
Makes about 5 cups, enough to frost & fill a three-layer cake
(amount adjustments for two-layer cake in parentheses)
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (4 oz)
4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift) (3 cups)
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk (4 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (2 teaspoons)
If you have a food processor, just put all the ingredients in the bowl and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth. So super easy, it’s ridiculous. And amazing. If you don’t have a food processor, no matter. Just use a hand mixer or a strong arm and a wooden spoon and mix together the butter, chocolate, milk, and vanilla and add in the powdered sugar to your desired consistency. (This frosting will be pretty soft even with the full amount of sugar.)
To assemble and frost the cake: Now I’m going to morph into instructions for a two-layer cake, since that’s what I did. To neatly frost and assemble, first, put one layer on a serving plate or cake stand. (I actually used a foil-covered piece of cardboard.) Tuck a few pieces of parchment or waxed paper under the bottom layer, so that when you frost the cake, you don’t schmutz frosting all over the plate.
Take a nice gob of frosting, plop it in the middle of the bottom layer, and smooth it around the circle. Now take your extra 1/2 cup of chopped strawberries (remember? from the list of ingredients for the cake?) and toss them over the frosted circle. Now place your second cake layer on top of the strawberries.
(before I remembered to put waxed paper underneath the bottom layer)
Now comes the fun part. First, spread a thin layer of icing all over the whole cake, then refrigerate for about 30 minutes to set. This is your crumb coat, which is supposed to seal in all the stray crumbs and make it all the easier to frost the cake beautifully. After your crumb coat is set, pile a whole bunch of icing on top of your cake and have at it. I used a big frosting knife, which made the whole process incredibly easy. Start by swirling the frosting all around the outside of the cake until you have a nice, lustrous coating. Then swirl the remaining icing over the top of the cake until you’re satisfied with how it looks.
And there you have it. Five sticks of butter later (six if you make the three-layer), you’ll have yourself an awfully pretty, amazingly delicious birthday cake.