Julia was one of the seasoned benchers at the bakery who taught me what was what in the land of doughs. She was also in poetry school at the time. We had plenty to talk about around the kneading table, but our worlds didn’t overlap beyond the bakery very frequently. Fast forward, and I’m screening emails to fill another administrative position at my new day job, and I see Julia’s name appear!
With her poetry MFA under her stylish leather belt, she was looking for more substantial work than bread slinging. We were just about to close the application period, but posing under my boss’s name (as instructed to do in that process), the “boss” wrote Julia a very encouraging response stating how impressive her resume was, and “he” very much wanted to interview her as soon as possible. Was she available the following day to interview?
A few weeks later on Julia’s first day, I was able to reveal the “boss’s” true identity and welcome her aboard! Now that we spend forty plus hours per week together, we have become quite close. Julia’s a smart girl, with a sharp wit and a lot of class, so when her boyfriend invited me to join her birthday celebration, I sought to bring a cake worthy of such a special lady! Thanks for being such a great friend, Julia!
The Recipe: Strawberries & Cream Layer Cake
1 ¼ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar in the raw
5 large, local, free-range eggs (2 whole, 3 separated) at room temperature
6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) organic, unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 Tablespoons organic cranberry juice concentrate
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Strawberry Filling Ingredients
2 lbs strawberries (about 2 quarts), washed, dried and hulled
4 Tablespoons raw sugar
2 Tablespoons French Brandy
Whipped Topping Ingredients
8 ounces Neufchatel cheese, at room temperature
½ cup local honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups local heavy cream
1 package Ghirardelli’s milk chocolate chips
For the Cake
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees.
Grease a 9-inch springform pan.
Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt and all but 3 Tbs of the sugar in a large mixing bowl.
Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks (reserving the whites), butter, cranberry concentrate and vanilla. Whisk just until the batter is smooth.
With a mixer, beat the remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed in large bowl until frothy, 1-2 minutes.
Gradually add the remaining 3 Tbs sugar, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form.
Stir 1/3 of the whites into the batter to lighten; add the remaining whites and gently fold them into the batter until no white streaks remain.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-40 minutes.
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting on a wire rack.
For the Strawberry Filling
Halve 24 of the best looking strawberries (roughly 1 Quart) and reserve.
Set 10-12 of the whole berries aside.
Quarter the remaining berries; toss with 4 Tbs sugar in a medium bowl and let sit for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Strain the juice from the berries and reserve (there should be about ½ cup).
Pulse the macerated berries in a food processor until they form a chunky puree, about five 1-second pulses (there should be about 1 ½ cups).
Simmer the reserved juice and brandy in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until syrupy and reduced to about 3 Tbs, 3 to 5 minutes.
Pour the reduced syrup over the macerated berries, add a pinch of salt and toss to combine.
Set aside until the cake is cooled.
For the Whipped Topping
When the cake has cooled, beat the cream cheese and honey with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.
Add the vanilla and beat at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Gradually add the heavy cream at low speed in a slow steady stream; when almost fully combined, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, 2-2 ½ minutes more, scraping down the bowl as needed.
For the Garnish
While the cake cools, heat the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring until smooth.
Dip the remaining whole strawberries into the chocolate and set on a piece of wax paper to cool and harden.
For the Final Touches
Use a long, serrated knife to cut the cake in half. Place the bottom cake layer on a plate.
Add a layer of whipped topping followed by a layer of strawberry sauce.
Add more cream, followed by the other layer of cake.
Coat the entire cake with the whipped topping. Place in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to cool.
Remove from the freezer and add the chocolate-covered strawberries.
Drizzle with remaining strawberry sauce, and pipe any leftover cream as a garnish.
Transport to the lovely home of a lovely friend to celebrate her birthday.
Nial told me I’m not allowed to make them anything this delicious again, as he fears he might make eating cake for breakfast a regular habit.