When she asked for strawberry cake with strawberry frosting, I didn’t even try to convince my kindergartener to consider pumpkin cake for her fall birthday. It’s been unseasonably hot here in California, there are still plenty of local strawberries at the markets, and strawberry cake is pink. You don’t have to be missing your front teeth to see the logic in it.
For many years my standby for every harried birthday season was this blissfully easy chocolate cake. But my youngest doesn’t let me off so easy. Last year she mixed it up with lemon cake and lemon buttercream, but usually it’s strawberry all the way.
This year I’ve finally hit on a cake-frosting combo simple and good enough to keep. Fresh strawberry puree adds natural strawberry flavor to both the batter and the cream cheese frosting. And I knew the cake, based on the ultimate vanilla cupcake recipe from The Cupcake Project, was a winner when kids at the party didn’t just lick off the sweet stuff.
With some guidance, I made this cake twice, once with fresh puree and once with cooked. The color and flavor are stronger with the cooked, reduced puree, but though it’s not hard, it adds a lot of time. So in my 80/20 approach to cooking, I’ll take the 80% good for the 20% effort. I want to eat well, but I also have a life to live.
Start with a fresh strawberry puree. Just strawberries and a touch of sugar.
This cake uses the method used by master baker Rose Levy Beranbaum in The Cake Bible, in which butter is mixed with flour and dry ingredients first (instead of creaming butter with sugar). It may seem unorthodox, but it really works.
Some people call this reverse creaming. The butter disappears into the dry ingredients to make a crumbly texture.
Add wet ingredients: plain yogurt, oil, eggs, vanilla. I love the moistness of baked goods with yogurt or buttermilk; the acid reaction makes for a more tender product.
Mix until just combined.
Add strawberry puree.
Et voila: pink batter.
Make frosting while the cake bakes. Cream cheese and butter.
Encore: pink frosting.
I try to make cakes that don’t need frosting. But strawberry cake needs the pink frosting.
The boys love this cake too. When the color comes from strawberries, it doesn’t seem girly.
For more color in the batter and frosting, you can cook a larger amount of strawberries and press out the liquid through a strainer.
Then reduce to a concentrated strawberry puree.
The batter has a deeper color.
The cooked cake would be pinker if you used a white cake recipe with bleached flour and no egg yolks. But I’m all for taste and health over looks.
The cake is only subtly pink, which is why I have to have frosting. But you can taste the strawberry.
The most you can say about my baking aesthetic is that it looks homemade. To me, that’s what matters.
Fresh Strawberry Cake
It took a few birthdays of experimenting, but we’ve finally hit on a fresh strawberry cake that everyone loves. This is a mashup of Confections of a Foodie Bride‘s strawberry puree method with the ultimate vanilla cake from The Cupcake Project. The fresh strawberry cream cheese frosting really seals the deal.
Note that this cake uses the method used by master baker Rose Levy Beranbaum in The Cake Bible, in which butter is mixed with flour and dry ingredients first (instead of starting with butter with sugar). It may seem unorthodox, but it really works.
- 2 2/3 cups cake flour (or 2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour plus 1/3 cup cornstarch)
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt, or buttermilk)
- 1/3 cup neutral-flavored oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 cup strawberry puree (see below)
- 1/4 cup milk
Strawberry puree ingredients
- 2 cups halved strawberries (about 2/3 pound)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature
- 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, more if necessary to thicken
- 1/4 cup strawberry puree
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9″ cake pans or one 9″x13″ baking pan. (You could also make a half-sheet pan, which makes big, thinner cake good for kids’ birthday parties; or 3 8″ cake pans for a triple-layer; or about 24 cupcakes.)
- First make strawberry puree: in a food processor or blender, mix strawberries and sugar on high until well pureed (if you must, add a tablespoon of water to get it going, and stop to push strawberries down if blades are spinning without mixing). You should have 1 cup of puree; 3/4 cup is for the cake batter and 1/4 cup is for frosting.
- In a mixing bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Cut butter into cubes and add to bowl. Use mixer to blend butter into dry ingredients until mixture looks like dry crumbs with no lumps of butter left.
- In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, sour cream, oil and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and mix until just combined (use a rubber spatula to make sure flour underneath gets fully combined).
- Add milk and strawberry puree and mix until just combined.
- Fill cake pan(s) and bake until center is no longer jiggly and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Check cupcakes at 14 minutes, thinner layers at 18 minutes. Thicker cakes may take 25-30 minutes. Cool before frosting.
- To make frosting, mix together softened cream cheese and butter. Add powdered sugar until fully blended in. Add strawberry puree and mix well. Frosting should be creamy but not runny. Add more powdered sugar to thicken if necessary.
- A cooked puree will give you a more concentrated strawberry flavor and color, but it takes some time to cook and reduce down. Cook 2 pounds of strawberries, roughly chopped (about six cups berries) with two tablespoons sugar 15-20 minutes, until strawberries are very soft. Pour mixture through a fine strainer, pressing and scraping the mixture through the strainer with a spoon or spatula. Discard the strawberry pulp and return puree to stovetop, heating until reduced to 1 cup of liquid. Cool before using.
- My cake never looks pink, partly because I use unbleached flour, and partly because this recipe uses whole eggs. A whiter cake will show more pink, so if you want it pinker you could use bleached flour and/or Confections of a Foodie Bride‘s cake recipe that uses egg whites only. You could also add a few drops of red food coloring; it doesn’t take much to make pink.
- You could use frozen berries when fresh aren’t available, but you may need to cook them down to rid of excess moisture. I’ve also been tempted to use strawberry preserves, but generally preserves are more sugar than fruit, and it seems like more work to have to adjust down the sugar in the recipe to compensate.
Here’s the link to a printable version.