The thing about kids' birthday cakes is that, it's not what's on the inside that counts, but what's on the outside. Always judge a cake by its icing. Well, the icing is always the first thing to go whenever I present cupcakes to my kids anyway, whilst the cake is left behind, still stuck to its cupcake liner. Remember that episode from Seinfeld where Elaine had that idea about selling muffin tops? Now, wouldn't that be a fabulous idea for cupcakes too? *wink*
When it came to deciding what cake to make for Z's birthday, it was simply a choice between vanilla or chocolate, and Z chose vanilla. Vanilla and strawberries. I wished he could have chosen something a little bit fancy so that I had an excuse to bake something different. I did a search on strawberry vanilla cakes and found this recipe which had pretty rave reviews. I usually don't believe in butterless cakes, although this one which uses vegetable oil with a hint of lemon zest tastes pretty amazing. The fact that it uses oil instead of butter probably explains why the cake is so cottony soft, light and melts in your mouth. Each layer is laced with strawberry, lemon and vanilla syrup, and combine that with the vanilla cream and fresh strawberries and there's your slice of heaven. Cheesy as that might sound, but it's truly one of the yummiest strawberry cream sponge cakes I've had in a long time. Go for it!
Note: The recipe below makes 4 layers of cake. I actually used only 3 layers (as you can see from the photos) so that the cake wouldn't be so tall. You could just do 2 large layers if you like. Am I making sense? :)
Adapted from GroupRecipes
For the berries:
2 punnets strawberries, rinsed, hulled and horizontally sliced into 1cm thickness
2 tablespoons granulated/caster sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the cake:
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups granulated/caster sugar
For the filling:
1/2 cup thick vanilla custard (made using 2 tbsp instant custard powder mixed with 1/2 cup water)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tbsp icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the frosting:
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp gelatin powder dissolved in 1 1/2 tbsp water
Extra strawberries for decorating
For the berries:
- Combine all ingredients in a medium nonreactive mixing bowl and toss to thoroughly coat strawberries. Let macerate at room temperature at least 20 minutes before using.
- Strain macerated berries and reserve syrup separately.
- Heat oven to 180°C (350°F) and arrange rack in the middle. Grease and flour two (8-inch) cake pans. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a mixing bowl; set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine vegetable oil, water, lemon zest, vanilla extract, egg yolks, and 1 1/4 cups of the sugar. Whisk on medium-high speed, until mixture is airy and light in color, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl; add dry ingredients and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute more. Don't worry if the batter turns out really thick. That's how it is!
- In a clean bowl, whisk egg whites to medium peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute more. Using a rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the cake batter until evenly incorporated; gently fold in remaining egg whites until just combined.
- Divide batter between prepared cake pans. Bake until surface of cakes springs back when pressed and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Remove cakes from the oven, and turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely. Meanwhile, make the filling and the frosting.
- Combine cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and use a whisk to whip until soft peaks. Add prepared custard and whip again until just combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Combine vanilla extract, sugar, and heavy cream in a bowl and whip at medium speed until soft peaks form. Whisk in the gelatin solution until firm peaks form.
- Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least one hour.
- Using a long serrated knife, trim the tops of the cakes as necessary so they are level. Slice each cake horizontally in half to make a 4-layer cake. Place cake rounds on a clean, dry surface and, using a pastry brush, brush 1/4 of the reserved strawberry syrup on the cut side of the first cake round; repeat on the cut side of the second cake round and the repeat with the rest.
- Evenly spread some of the cream filling over the cut side of the bottom cake layer. Arrange strawberries over the cream and cover berries with the remaining filling, being sure to fill in any empty space.
- Place second cake layer over cream and strawberries, pressing gently to secure it. Repeat the layering with the remaining cream and strawberries so that you have 4 layers of cake and 3 layers of strawberries and cream filling in between.
- Using an offset spatula or a long, thin spatula, spread the frosting in a thin layer over the top and sides of the cake. Return remaining frosting and cake to the refrigerator until frosting on cake is set, about 15 minutes.
- Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides of the cake. Let sit in the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving. Decorate the top with extra strawberries if desired.