"I hate people who are not serious about their meals."

Oscar Wilde,
The Importance of Being Earnest

Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry Layer Cake (or How I Spent My Saturday Afternoon)

The strawberries in this part of the world have been especially delicious lately.  Big, red, shiny and amazingly fragrant.  Knowing that we had a family gathering coming up on Sunday, I made it my
mission toward the end of the week to find a dessert recipe that would allow me to incorporate some
of the many punnets of strawberries currently residing in our refridgerator.  I knew I didn't want to
cook them, and any kind of a fruit salad seemed like a cop out.  I was considering fresh strawberry jelly when I came across this cake recipe and knew I had hit the jackpot.  Layers of almond sponge, citrus
cream and thinly sliced fresh strawberries - the flavour combinations sounded mouthwatering, and it
wasn't going to be too heavy an end to a meal, on what was probably going to be a pretty warm evening. 
I had the house to myself on Saturday afternoon, so I got all my ingredients ready and got to work
with the electric beaters. There is quite a lot of preparation time involved in this recipe; though none
of it is particularly difficult, just time consuming - but oh so very worth it!  Considering I had to do a fair
bit of converting of measurements to be able to recreate this recipe without the aid of a kitchen scale
(note to self: must invest in kitchen scale!), it was an astounding success. 
So without further ado, i present to you...

Strawberry Layer Cake
adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller

3 punnets strawberries (or 1.5 large punnets)

Almond Sponge
120g/4.2oz blanched almonds
3 eggs
100g/3.5oz icing sugar, sifted
3 eggwhites
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon caster (superfine) sugar
30g/1oz plain flour, sifted
25g/1 quarter stick of butter, melted

Citrus Creme
100g/3.5oz thickened (heavy) cream, at room temperature
250g/8.8oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon each of finely grated lemon and lime rind
120g/4.2oz caster sugar
3 tablespoons each of lemon and lime juice
2 teaspoons powdered gelatine soaked in 2 Tablespoons cold water
(or 2 leaves gelatine soaked in cold water)

For the sponge: Preheat oven to 250C/480F.  Line a 26 x 38cm (10 x 15 in) oven tray with baking paper. Place almonds into the bowl of a food processor and pulse til finely ground.  Using an electric mixer or beaters, whisk together whole eggs and icing sugar until pale and thick.  Add ground almonds and stir to combine.  Sift flour into this mixture and fold through, then add melted butter and fold through carefully.  In a separate bowl, whisk the eggwhites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form, then add caster sugar and continue to beat until smooth and glossy.  Add half of the eggwhite mixture to the whole-egg mixture and fold through, then fold through the remaining half, be careful not to overwork as this will take all the air out of your mix.  Evenly spread the better into your prepared tray and bake for 5-7 minutes or until golden.  Do not freak out if your sponge looks a bit wrinkled when it comes out of the oven, it will relax and flatten as it cools.  Cool on tray on a wire rack, then invert on to baking paper and peel the backing paper from the base.  Divide into 4 equal sized rectangles (make the cuts along the long side of the sponge, your pieces should be roughly 23 x 9cm/ 9 x 3.5in) and set aside.

Wash and hull the strawberries, and then slice lengthways into 2mm thick slices.

For the citrus cream: Whisk cream to soft peaks and set aside.  Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, citrus rinds, and 50g/1.7oz of caster sugar until smooth and well combined.  Meanwhile, combine the remaning sugar along with the lemon and lime juices in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat.  Squeeze any excess water from your gelatine and add to syrup.  Remove pan from heat and stir until gelatine dissolves.  Let cool slightly and then pour into cream cheese mixture with your beaters or mixer running.  Beat until smooth, about 1 minute, then gently fold in whipped cream until just combined.

To assemble the cake: line a 10 x 23cm (4 x 9 in) loaf pan with plastic wrap.  Place one piece of the sponge into the base of the pan and spread with one third of the citrus cream, followed by one third of the strawberries.  Repeat the process two more times, and finish with your final layer of sponge.  Cover with plastic wrap and place some canned food on the top to weight it down a little. Refrigerate until set - at least 3 hours or overnight.  To serve, dip the cake pan into warm water, invert on to a plate or platter and remove the plastic wrap.  Dust with icing sugar or snow sugar to serve.  Enjoy!
NB: If you're going to present this cake as a whole to a table full of guests, you might want to trim the sides once you take it out of the tin, just to neaten it up a little.  Some of the cream can squeeze down the sides.  Look at the photo above and you'll see what I'm talking about.  Doesn't taste any different, but some of us are sticklers for presentation.  I mean, really, when you've spent this much time on a cake, you want it to look it's best!


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