Summer Cake

I am sick to fucking death of complaining about snow. Which is remarkable, because I love complaining. Let’s talk about this cake instead. It tastes like summer! It’s stuffed with fresh strawberries and orange zest and whipped cream. The strawberries are out in Florida, according to my parents, and so they’re three pounds for five dollars at the grocery store. With the power of my Safeway Club Card, I can eat this cake and pretend I’m hanging out on the beach. I can’t punch winter into submission, but I can sure as fuck ignore it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that I made two cakes that taste like summer. That was a mistake. One of the cakes was a disaster, but it would have been a mistake even if it had turned out perfectly. I hate baking multiple cakes at the same time. I neglected to keep this in mind and promised two separate sets of people dessert. I enjoyed being a person who bakes so much that I didn’t set myself up to actually enjoy baking. I ended up taking a bunch of breaks from the second cake to fling myself on various pieces of furniture and whine. I just wanted to finish the fucking cake and go to sleep. That’s no way to bake, and it’s no way to live. So I’m not blogging that second cake. Let it remain an untested ideal in our minds.

On the other hand, I actually really enjoyed playing with meringue, so I’ll be repeating that experiment sometime in the future. It’s a great way to use up the egg whites from pastry cream, or the bastardized genoise layers here.

This cake has three layers of orange-flavored sponge cake, brushed with an orange-brandy syrup and alternated with fresh strawberries and Chantilly cream. The cake layers are adapted from Joe Pastry’s Neo-Classic Genoise. I fucked up the math in converting from a sheet pan and anticipated that I could get four layers out of it. I could not. The first two layers ended up being so thin and overbaked that I panicked and combined the last half of the batter into a thicker layer. This actually worked really well–the top two layers were soaked through with syrup and made a nice, slightly crisp counterpoint to the sturdier, moister bottom layer. In the future, though, I would probably up the recipe or make a two-layer cake. It’s too easy to burn layers that are less than a quarter inch thick.

Grand Marnier Syrup For People Who Are Too Cheap To Buy Grand Marnier

Make this first! You can let it simmer while you work on other components, and it will need some time to cool down anyways before you can apply it to the cake.

Ingredients

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
¼ cup crappy brandy
Orange peels

Equipment
Small pot
Stirring implement
Bowl or bottle to stash syrup
Measuring implements

Dump everything in the pot. Put that on medium heat. Go ahead and poke it around a bit until the sugar dissolves fully into the liquid. Bring it up to a simmer, then ignore for 15 minutes or more. When the liquid looks and/or tastes syrupy, go ahead and pour it into your container of choice and pop that into the fridge. I like to leave the orange peel in while it cools to leach out as much flavor as possible. Done!

The Mess Report:

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The Layers

I will warn you that this recipe requires either a stand mixer or extremely strong moral fiber. If you don’t have a stand mixer and aren’t up for holding a hand mixer in place for ten solid minutes, maybe consider another recipe for the layers.

Ingredients:
¼ cup milk
3 tbsp butter
One glug vanilla extract
3 eggs at room temperature
3 egg yolks at room temperature (someday I will make a post about meringue. Until then, consider making the world’s tiniest chiffon cake as an accompaniment!)
14 tbsp sugar (approximately 1 ¾ cup, plus 2 tablespoons)
2 tbsp orange zest
¾ cup flour

Equipment:

Stand mixer with a paddle attachment, (or a hand mixer and the desire to fight)
Large mixing bowl
Small mixing bowl
Small pot
Stirring implement
Sifter
Parchment paper + scissors
9” round cake pan(s)
Large, sturdy spoon or spatula

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Crack your eggs and drop your excess egg yolks into the large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and orange zest. Then mix on high for ten minutes.

Yes, ten minutes. These eggs are going to become Changed Men.

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The left picture is before, the right picture is after. Their color is going to change, from bright yellow to a sort of pallid butter color. They’ll be done when the batter that drips off the mixer hangs out on top of the rest of the batter for a few seconds before sinking in. TURN THE MIXER OFF BEFORE YOU TEST THIS. Egg yolk is really hard to clean off of the walls.

While that is going, head over to the stove. Heat the milk and butter in the pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing scorches.  When the milk simmers, take it off the heat.

Once your eggs are ready, pour the milk down the side of the mixing bowl. This way, the milk goes into the mix without breaking all the air bubbles you’ve been whipping into those eggs. At this point, you might want to check and make sure that your orange zest isn’t all stuck to the paddle.

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If it is, just scrape it off into the bowl and give the batter a gentle stir. Take the bowl out of the stand mixer. We go the rest of the way by hand.

Sift a quarter cup of the flour over the top of the batter. Fold the flour in. Repeat two more times. You have two goals here. One is to maintain as many of those precious air bubbles as you can. The other is to actually mix the flour in so that when you pour your batter into the pans, this does not happen:

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If this happens, put the batter back in the bowl and try again. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl as you go.

Line the bottom(s) of your cake pan(s) with parchment paper. Put ¼ or ½ of the batter in each. Spread the batter out to the edges and smooth it as flat as you can get it. Pop in the oven. If you’re making 4 layers, I recommend 7 minutes; if you’re baking 2 layers, I recommend 9 minutes. The smell rule still applies though: As soon as you can smell the cake, check to see if it’s done. The cake will be a nice warm golden color when it’s done, and you’ll be able to poke it without getting liquid gunk on your hand.

Pull the layers out and run a spatula along the sides to loosen them from the pan. After 10 minutes, flip the layers out onto another surface.

The Mess Report

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The Strawberries

I used a pound of strawberries in this cake. It could have happily accommodated more. The main struggle here is cutting strawberry slices that are flat and even heights. I am not so good at parallel lines or sight measurement, so I resorted to using a pastry cutter to get even, flat slices. You adult-type people might have a mandolin, an egg slicer, or another kitchen implement that can perform this function. First, slice the strawberries in half lengthwise and place the cut side down. Then use your slicing implement of choice.

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Separate the pieces into the inside pieces with two flat sides and the outside pieces with a slanty, rounded side.

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Set aside the straight edged pieces for later. They won’t like what’s coming next.

straight-edge-strawberry

(original straight edge art from here; photoshop by L. Evalyn)

The round pieces are going to get sauced. Put the rounded pieces  in a bowl with a sprinkle of sugar and stir them up. This will draw the juices out and make a sauce. How? I don’t fucking know. It’s a mystery.

Chantilly Cream 

Chantilly cream is fancy-sounding name for whipped cream named after a place in France. It’s a little more stable than normal whipped cream and will hold up for longer. If you want to frost the sides of the cake, use 2 cups of cream instead of 1.5 cups.

Ingredients

1.5 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 glug vanilla

Equipment
Mixing bowl
Hand mixer or stand mixer with whip attachment

Pour your cream and vanilla into a mixing bowl. Whip those up to soft peaks. Then gently sprinkle the sugar over top and start whipping again. Stop when the cream is sort of standing up on its own, like buttercream frosting. Taste test for quality.

The Assembly

Optional Extra Ingredient/Equipment: Dark chocolate and a vegetable peeler

If any of your layers are different sizes, put the thickest one down first on your serving surface. Paint it with the brandy syrup, then spread a thin layer of cream on top.

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Now grab half of your straight-edge strawberry pieces and place them on the cake, covering as much surface as you can. I made a circle around the edge and then filled in the middle.

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Glop some cream on top when you’re done and spread it so that it just barely covers the top of the strawberries, but fills in the space between them.

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Put down the next layer and repeat.

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For the top layer, baste with the syrup and then smooth the rest of the Chantilly cream on top. Grab your sauced strawberries and pile them in the middle.

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Honestly, I think it looks a bit like the cake got shot. So I tried to guide some of the syrup into a compass rose arrangement and covered it in chocolate shavings. Act like you’re peeling a chocolate bar with a vegetable peeler, and bam! Chocolate shavings. Sprinkle them on top.

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Cake is way better than snow.

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