A Surprise Strawberry Birthday Cake

Nik Sharma

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For first-time cake makers, I always recommend starting with either genoise or angel food cakes recommend starting with genoise or angel food cakes. Because of the way they’re prepared, they help build a baker’s intuition when creating the correct textures for a cake and handling ingredients. There are valuable skills to be learned, like how to beat eggs into light foamy mixtures and how to fold flour or melted butter into the airy mass of eggs to produce without causing the mixture to deflate. It made me appreciate simple factors like temperature, ratios of ingredients, and how they interact with each other.

Genoise cakes are used to make Swiss roll cakes and typically fancier cakes that are soaked in sweet syrups and decorated with frosting. In contrast, angel food cakes are usually dusted with sugar or cocoa and served with fresh fruit and some creamy dairy like yogurt or whipped cream.

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to surprise my friend “THE TR” with a birthday cake that would be strawberry and vanilla themed. I initially started with a Fraisier cake, but even though it was delicious, the weight of the top layer of the cake kept forcing the diplomat cream out through the center. This cake would not make it in the blistering heat that defines L.A. summers. The warm air would soften the diplomat cream even more, and it would look like Godzilla stepped on it, making a squishy mess. I returned to the drawing board and opted for an angel food cake that was a little less fussy.

Developing a strawberry cake recipe for a friend’s birthday, it still needs work but very happy with the direction th…

I’ve made several angel food cakes but this was the first time, I decided to add sugar directly to the egg whites. I was taught to add the sugar slowly while the eggs whisk. However, I want to mention this. It MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE if you add them sugar before or slowly during whisking. As long as the egg whites are warmed to room temperature and the sugar is superfine (it will dissolve very fast), the egg whites whisk wonderfully and produce an amazing texture. Here are two other cakes that start out as Angel Food Cakes – a Coconut Cardamom Cake and a Fresh Berry Yogurt with Lime and Cardamom Cake (these two recipes use the method of slowly adding the sugar to the eggs but you can skip that and save yourself some time).

Toasted Coconut Cardamom Angel Food Cake
Berry, Lime, Cardamom Angel Food Cake

Angel food cakes are one of my personal favorites to serve with fruit. The texture of this cake is light and spongy; from a flavor standpoint, it’s a blank slate and gives you the freedom to do whatever you want with it. I’ve previously flavored angel food cakes with almond, coconut, coffee, green cardamom, pandan, and vanilla. For a summer dessert, the lighter pillowy texture of the cake works beautifully. I made a cardamom-flavored angel food cake for THE TR’s birthday cake and filled the center with lightly sweetened vanilla bean-infused crème fraîche. I then decorated the top with a relatively large quantity of strawberry preserves that I infused with black pepper, vanilla bean, and pomegranate molasses and stuck several strawberry-flavored Pocky sticks all around the top.

Here’s my recipe for the Angel Food Cake, and here are the Strawberry Pocky Sticks I used. It’s best to make the cake 4 to 6 hours before serving; that provides enough time to cool. Put the cake together just an hour before serving, so the cake doesn’t get enough time to absorb all the syrup. I like to see some of the syrup surround the cake.

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A Surprise Strawberry Birthday Cake

Angel food cakes are one of my personal favorites to serve with fruit. The texture of this cake is light and spongy; from a flavor standpoint, it’s a blank slate and gives you the freedom to do whatever you want with it. I’ve previously flavored angel food cakes with almond, coconut, coffee, green cardamom, pandan, and vanilla. For a summer dessert, the lighter pillowy texture of the cake works beautifully. I made a cardamom-flavored angel food cake for THE TR’s birthday cake and filled the center with lightly sweetened vanilla bean-infused crème fraîche. I then decorated the top with a relatively large quantity of strawberry preserves that I infused with black pepper, vanilla bean, and pomegranate molasses and stuck several strawberry-flavored Pocky sticks all around the top.

For these strawberry preserves, I used my Joule sous vide. The goal was to make preserves that absorbed the flavors from the spices but still held their texture, tender but not mushy. It’s much easier to do this with sous vide, where the temperature can be accurately controlled and achieve the correct consistency; cooking them on the stove is much riskier. Make the strawberry preserves a day before you need to use them.

Here’s my recipe for the Angel Food Cake, and here are the Strawberry Pocky Sticks I used. It’s best to make the cake 4 to 6 hours before serving; that provides enough time to cool. Put the cake together just an hour before serving, so the cake doesn’t get enough time to absorb all the syrup. I like to see some of the syrup surround the cake.

  • Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients

For the Sous Vide Strawberry Preserves

2 lb/910 g fresh ripe strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise

1 cup/200 g sugar

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

1 tsp ground black pepper

3 Tbsp/45 ml pomegranate molasses

For the Sweetened Crème Fraîche

8 oz/230 g crème fraîche

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

2 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

  1. Heat a water bath to 180F/82C.
  2. Place the strawberries, sugar, vanilla bean stalks and scraped seeds, and black pepper in a food-safe, vacuum sous vide bag. Seal the bag and remove most of the air, taking care not to crush the strawberries during vacuum sealing. Place the bag in the preheated water bath and let sit for 15 minutes. While the strawberries cook, prepare a large ice water bath. Once the strawberries are done, remove the bag and immediately dunk it into the ice water bath to stop it from cooking. Once cooled completely, open the bag, add the pomegranate molasses, seal the bag and let sit overnight in the refrigerator. Before using, remove and discard the vanilla bean stalks. Use the strawberries and syrup over the cake.
  3. Fold the crème fraîche, vanilla bean seeds, and confectioners’ sugar together. Taste and add more sugar if needed. Make this 1 hour before using.
I like to sketch out my dessert ideas before I go and assemble them. It helps me visualize how it will turn out (or not).
TR’s Strawberry Surprise Cake Successfully Demolished

Ok that’s enough Angel Food Cakes for now, until next time,

xx
Nik

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