The first day of the Farmers Market is always exciting.There's fresh produce, goodies from bakeries and the impressive work of local crafters and artisans. People are milling around and laughing with old friends.
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
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
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.
Reach Kelley Atherton at email@example.com.