I have to say that it’s good to be in charge. Sure, I’m awfully busy—waking up at the crack of dawn and cooking until the sun sets. But as the boss I get to do anything I want, including making executive decisions. And when faced with the question recently of either pie or cake, I chose cake—strawberry cake to be exact.
Last week, the first local strawberries appeared at the farmer’s market and I went nuts. We have one farmer who sells strawberries that are jewels—each one loaded with juice with a deep red coloring that goes all the way to the core. These berries aren’t sprayed and don’t need any adornment; I can eat my way through a pint in about 10 minutes.
My preference for fresh in-season fruit is to eat it simply—with perhaps a light sprinkle of sugar to bring out some of the juice and flavor. And I find myself making a lot of strawberry shortcake this time of year as it’s a wonderful way to showcase my favorite spring berry. But sometimes you want to change things up a bit, which is how I found myself wondering how to make that Southern classic—strawberry cake.
When researching strawberry cake recipes, however, I noticed that most of them were made with boxed cake mix along with strawberry gelatin. I didn’t want to make my cake that way so I called my grandma to see how she made hers. Yep, she confirmed that her recipe was the same as well.
“This is an outrage!” I thought. And so after much hand wringing over the sad state of strawberry cakes made from scratch, I decided to just come up with my own recipe instead.
I took my grandma’s chocolate sheet cake recipe and swapped the strawberries for the cocoa and reduced the amount of liquid. For the frosting (or do you say icing?), I added some cream cheese and threw in a bit of lime juice as well. Now, while the frosting is a lovely shade of pink I realize that the cake is not. I believe this is why so many recipes call for strawberry gelatin and/or food coloring—so the color will be what the mind expects.
But even if this cake isn’t pink, it’s still tender and moist with a delicate strawberry flavor that’s just sweet enough. And at the end of the day, what more could you want?
Strawberry sheet cake
12 oz .fresh strawberries, stems removed and chopped (about 3 cups)
2 cups of sugar plus 2 teaspoons
2 cups of flour
2 sticks of butter (1 cup)
2 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup of buttermilk
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Over the chopped strawberries, sprinkle 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1/4 cup of water. Let them sit for an hour at room temperature so they can release some of their juices. The berries should reduce to about 1 1/2 cups. In a blender of food processor, crush the berries on a low speed for a few seconds—you want them juicy but still with some texture. Take 1/2 cup of the strawberry mixture for the frosting and leave the remaining crushed strawberries for the cake.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Sift the sugar and flour together in a bowl.
Melt the butter on low in a saucepan and then whisk it with the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and baking soda. Add the liquid to the flour and then stir in one cup of the crushed strawberries.
Pour batter into greased 9x13 inch pan and bake for 20-25 minutes. Cake is done when a knife comes out clean from the center. Let it cool and then frost with the strawberry cream cheese frosting (recipe below).
Note: The cake will be a little brown. This, I hear, is because of the alkaline reaction of the ingredients. Do not be alarmed!
Strawberry cream cheese frosting
1/4 pound of butter (1 stick) at room temperature
8 ounces of cream cheese at room temperature
3 cups of powdered sugar
1/2 cup crushed strawberries
2 teaspoons of lime juice (about half a lime)
1/4 teaspoon lime zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whip together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar until blended. Add the strawberries, lime juice, lime zest and vanilla. Spread over cooled cake.
Note: Depending on how juicy your berries are, your icing may be runnier than usual. If this is the case, I'd add more cream cheese to thicken it up.