Strawberries and Cream Cake

strawberrycake ...And just like that, Labor Day is behind us. Unreal, right? It's been a busy summer here--lots of coming and going, more book work (final edits, tweaks, design decisions, last-minute recipe makeovers because I can't leave well enough alone, etc.), feeling out new projects, starting those first weeks of a new school year. It's all very exciting and a little bit crazymaking. Something I love about this time of year, though, is celebrating Little C's birthday at the end of August.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, she's turned into the type of child who talks about the approach of her "birthday month" during the entire last week of July, so the weeks leading up to the big day can be somewhat excruciating. Both because she likes to remind us roughly every hour how many days are left until her birthday, and because the reminders give me pause and make me think about how fast she's growing up. I mean, six! SIX. Any trace of baby girl has been left in the dust, blazing a trail of pink and purple glitter and waters-testing sass. It's a little sad, and fantastic, all at the same time.

Something else that's fantastic about six is the certainty with which I was given her request for this year's birthday treats. There was to be no cake at Miss Six's weekend birthday party (we opted for loads of sprinkle-fied Rice Krispie treats instead, which received raves from the crowd--such a nice change for those of us who attend about 50 caked-up kids' birthday parties per year). But on her actual birthday, after dinner at home, she wanted "a very tall strawberry cake with cream". And so we did exactly that. Who can argue with Miss Six?

The resulting cake was a hit, not only with the birthday girl, but with Instagrammers errrwhere, and after a few emails requesting a recipe, I decided to pop in and pass along the method. It's a perfect cake right this very moment--where the last of the best seasonal berries can be found and really showcased in a towering dessert like this one.

It also gives me a chance to tell you about two of my favorite things--my go-to, super easy, perfect-every-time yellow cake for when I want to make a sturdy stacked cake (which I've mentioned before here); and my latest love: whipped cream gently folded together with sweetened cream cheese, which makes for an airy filling or cake topping that's awesome in so many dessert situations. It's basically a super-stable whipped cream/lighter cream cheese frosting option that is a terrific match for sweeter and richer cakes, and of course a slam dunk with fruit. It might just be the most perfect whipped cream filling ever. How very SIX of me to proclaim such a thing, right?


Strawberries and Cream Cake Makes 1 6-inch, 2-layer cake, to serve 6 to 8

I absolutely love my set of 6-inch cake pans, and use them even more often than my 8-or-9-inch ones. It makes treating yourself to a layer cake on the regular a much more doable thing, and I think we should all be doing that a bit more often. All you have to do to make a 6-inch cake is halve a recipe for an 8-or-9-inch, 2 layer round cake, and you've got the right amount of batter. So conversely, if you'd like to turn this cake into an 8-or-9-inch layer cake, just double the amounts of the batter, filling, and fruit here. (The bake time for the cake layers will be about 5 to 7 minutes more for the larger version.)

For the cake:

1 1/4 cups (5 5/8 ounces/160 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour 1/2  teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 8 tablespoons (1 stick/4 ounces/113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 cup (7 ounces/200 grams) granulated sugar or evaporated cane juice 2 large eggs 1/2 cup (4 ounces/113 grams) buttermilk (or 1/2 cup whole milk mixed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice) 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

For the filling:

4 ounces (113 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature 3 tablespoons organic confectioners' sugar (more or less, to taste) 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1/2 cup (4 1/4 ounces/120 grams) heavy whipping cream, chilled

For the fruit and assembly:

1 scant cup (4 1/2 ounces/128 grams) diced fresh strawberries 12 whole fresh strawberries, rinsed and patted dry, with the tops leveled off Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Begin by making the cake: Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Grease 2 6-inch round cake pans with butter or nonstick cooking spray and dust lightly with flour, tapping out the excess.

Into a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium-high speed, , about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Lower the speed to low and alternately stir in the flour mixture and the buttermilk in two batches.

Give the batter a good fold by hand with a large spatula and scrape into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes, swapping the position of the pans about two-thirds the way through the baking time. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the filling, place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the cream cheese is completely smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract and beat again until smooth and slightly aerated, about 1 minute. Scrape the cream cheese mixture into a medium bowl and set aside. Pour the cream into the mixer bowl (no need to clean the bowl!), and fit the mixer with the whisk attachment. On high speed, beat the cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold about one-third of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining cream.

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a small cake stand. Dollop half the cream on the cake layer and smooth evenly, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around the cake. Pile on the diced strawberries. Top with the second cake layer, and smooth on the remaining cream. Place the whole strawberries shoulder to shoulder all around the cake, with their pointy ends up. chill the cake for about 30 minutes before serving to allow the filling to firm up a bit. Dust lightly with confectioners' sugar before serving.

CakeShauna Sever