The Farmers Market is more exciting when there’s strawberries. This was the case June 2 at the fairgrounds and at Wednesday’s Farmers Market downtown, too.
Strawberries — and the Farmers Market — are a sign that summer is near.
It’s also time to try out new recipes to use all that’s growing around here.
Whenever strawberries are in season, I take a moment to consider what new dishes I could make with them.
There’s strawberry shortcake or strawberry-rhubarb pie, but I like to try different recipes in search of the perfect formula.
I come from a long line of Midwestern sweet tooths and tend to gravitate toward dessert recipes.
I like putting strawberries on a salad with nuts and poppyseed dressing, but nothing beats a spongy cake dripping with strawberries and whipped cream.
Perusing the Martha Stewart website, I found strawberry cream cake. The picture looked like a giant strawberry shortcake. The description said, “Cake, cream, and berries combine in a treat that’s twice as delectable as the sum of its parts.”
I was sold.
The recipe was simple: basic yellow cake, sugary strawberries and whipped cream. It could be made quickly with a box of cake mix and frozen whipped cream, but where’s the fun in that?
Plus, making a cake provides an opportunity to use local milk, eggs and butter. These staples are available year-round in various stores and are a way to support local agriculture and business while cooking.
I found Alexandre Eggs and Borges Milk at Harvest Natural Foods and Rumiano Butter at the Cheese Store. I got strawberries at the Farmers Market.
The recipe says to line the bottom of a cake pan with parchment paper and then butter-flour the whole thing. I had never used parchment paper when making a cake, but I tried it anyway. The bottom of the cake ended up moist and it slid easily out of the pan, but I think you could get away with using just butter and flour.
I mixed the butter softened to room temperature with sugar until it was airy. I added two whole eggs and two yolks, one at a time. The batter was already a rich yellow, but the deep saffron yolks made it all the more so.
Then came a little bit of vanilla extract (I bet this cake could be good with vanilla beans too) and creamy whole milk.
I beat the mixture with a hand mixer until everything was incorporated and poured it into the prepared cake pan.
While it baked in the oven, I cut the strawberries into thin slices. The tiny strawberries from Ocean Air Farms took me back to my childhood home. They reminded me of the ones that grew in my backyard.
I would see the strawberries poking out of the green leaves and know it was summer. I imagined they were wild strawberries because they just seemed to appear every year (they had been planted by the previous owner and my mom tended to them). Occasionally, I found a really big one, but they were mostly small.
I sprinkled sugar on the strawberries and let them sit — this lets all of the juices out of the fruit.
The recipe called for adding unflavored gelatin (found in the baking aisle of most stores) to the whipped cream. Again, I had never done this before, but it was worth trying.
I let the gelatin dissolve in water and whipped the cream and a little sugar until soft peaks formed. I remembered my mom teaching me to test this by pulling the beaters out of the whipped cream to see if fluffy peaks were left in their wake.
I heated the gelatin in water on the stove top until the crystals had fully dissolved and then poured the syrup into the whipped cream and kept on beating. It firmed up almost immediately.
The cake was ready to be assembled.
After the cake was cool, I cut it in half. I lumped strawberries onto the bottom half and slathered whipped cream on top. I placed the top half on with more whipped cream and then strawberries.
I was impressed with how the whipped cream held its shape. After sitting in the fridge for a while, it was really holding steady.
The result was a spongy cake that soaked up the strawberries’ juices. The berries were sweet and firm and the whipped cream was light and airy forming the perfect little bites.
This is definitely a cake I’ll be making for my family this summer.