This strawberry cake completely blew me away.
After years of mediocre from-scratch strawberry cakes, my expectations were pretty low when it was time to taste-test. Biting into the first pastel pink forkful was a moment of truth. And I cried tears of joy.
Or were those real tears because I just dirtied every dish in my kitchen with all this strawberry cake recipe testing? Hmm.
I find it challenging to pack real strawberry flavor into cake without the crutch of fake strawberry flavoring. My goal was to create a strawberry layer cake made entirely from real strawberries. We’re talking strawberries inside the cake and in the frosting as well. With the help of freeze-dried strawberries, I tackled strawberry frosting. I’ll get to that below. But for strawberry cake? Things have always been pretty lackluster in the flavor and texture department.
Here are the Problems
- Chopping up strawberries and folding into cake batter works, sure, but then you’re just eating vanilla cake with chunks of strawberries.
- Pureeing strawberries and folding into cake batter has potential, but (in my experience) the texture is always off. There’s too much liquid. How about adding more flour to make up for that liquid? Then your cake is too dense. And the flavor is always lacking.
- Strawberry jam could work, but I prefer to start with real strawberries.
So how can we pack real strawberry flavor into cake batter without adding too much liquid? REDUCE THEM DOWN. Ding ding ding! We have a winner.
New Game Plan
- Puree fresh strawberries.
- Reduce down on the stove.
- Let cool.
- Stir into cake batter.
Start with 1 pound of ruby red strawberries. Puree them. You’ll need a food processor or blender for this step. And you’ll need it again for the frosting. I used my ninja!
Take that strawberry puree and reduce it down on the stove. This, my friends, is where all the magic happens. Like I mention above, you want a lot of concentrated flavor within a little amount of liquid.
We went from 1 cup of liquid-y hot pink (above) to 1/2 cup of super thick deep red (below). That’s what 30ish minutes simmering on the stove gets us. Look at the difference!! You want this thick, rich, highly concentrated strawberry flavor in your cake batter, instead of the thinner strawberry puree pictured above.
This reduced strawberry puree will go right into the cake batter. No need to strain the seeds first — they disappear when the cake is baked. Since the reduced strawberry puree needs to completely cool down, I suggest getting started the day before. Just let the reduced strawberry puree sit in the refrigerator overnight and make the cake batter the following day.
The cake batter itself started from my white cake. This vanilla flavored cake proved to be the best jumping off point for a strawberry cake. I kept the majority of the recipe the same, but I removed some of the wet ingredients to make room for 1/2 cup of reduced strawberries. The cake is light, springy, soft, and fluffy.
The reduced strawberry puree will tint the cake batter a lovely pastel pink and, if you want, you can add a small drop of pink or red food coloring to brighten that hue. Not necessary, of course. (I added a teeny drop.)
Expect a velvet-y and slightly thick cake batter.
You can taste the fresh strawberry flavor in the baked cake, but the flavor is REALLY brought out when you combine it with strawberry frosting.
Like strawberry cake, strawberry frosting has always left me feeling a little defeated. Fresh strawberries were the issue. The frosting would always curdle from the added moisture. And no amount of fresh strawberries could get me the strawberry flavor I craved. Instead of settling for artificial strawberry flavor, I took a trick from Sally’s Candy Addiction: strawberry dust! Grab some freeze-dried strawberries, grind them up, and toss it into the frosting.
(I actually added freeze-dried strawberries to cake batter as one of my test recipes. This was an awful decision and an epic fail. The cake was atrocious. Texture, taste, and appearance. Just… no. But freeze-dried strawbs are a YES for frosting!)
Where to buy freeze-dried strawberries? I always find them in my regular grocery store in the dried fruit aisle. Wegmans, Giant, Trader Joe’s and Target carries them. Keep your eyes peeled– they’re more commonly found that you think!
Instead of a thicker strawberry buttercream, I used my silky cream cheese frosting recipe. Tossed in the freeze-dried strawberry “dust” and was left with a frosting so pink, Barbie would be jealous.
So let’s review. The tricks to homemade strawberry cake and frosting made with real strawberries? (1) Reduced strawberry puree in the cake batter and (2) freeze-dried strawberries in the frosting. Kiss your boxed strawberry cake buh-bye.
- 2 and 1/2 cups (250g) sifted cake flour (measured correctly)*
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks; 170g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
- 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup (75g) sour cream, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup reduced strawberry puree (see note)*
Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 cup (10-12g) freeze-dried strawberries*
- one 8-ounce block full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup (1 stick; 115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3 cups (360g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1-2 Tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- salt, to taste
- Make the reduced strawberry puree and allow it to cool completely. See note.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease and lightly flour two 9-inch cake pans.
- Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.
- Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamed, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the egg whites on high speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Then beat in the sour cream and vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients until just incorporated. With the mixer still running on low, slowly pour in the milk *just* until combined. Do not overmix. Whisk in 1/2 cup of reduced strawberry puree, making sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick.
- Pour batter evenly into cake pans. Bake for around 24-25 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it is done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
- Make the frosting: Using a blender or food processor, process the freeze-dried strawberries into a powdery crumb. You should have around 1/2 cup. Set aside. In a large bowl using a hand-held or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese for 1 minute on high speed until completely smooth and creamy. Beat in the butter until combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar, strawberry powder, 1 Tablespoon milk, and vanilla and beat on medium-high speed until combined and creamy. Add 1 more Tablespoon of milk to slightly thin out, if desired. Taste, then add a pinch of salt if needed.
- Assemble and frost: First, using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with frosting. Top with 2nd layer and spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake keep its shape when cutting– it could slightly fall apart without time in the fridge.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.
Make ahead tip: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Light it sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 10 minutes before assembling and frosting. Frosted cake can be frozen up to 2 months if you have room in the freezer. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
*I strongly suggest using cake flour in this recipe. It’s sold right next to the all-purpose flour in the baking aisle. And you use it a lot in my recipes! In a pinch, you can use a DIY version: measure 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Remove 2 Tablespoons. Mix in 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift it. Measure 1 cup. This sifted 1 cup equals 1 cup of cake flour. I suggest doing this 3x, then remove 1/2 cup since you need 2 and 1/2 cups in this recipe.
Where to buy freeze-dried strawberries? I always find them in my regular grocery store in the dried fruit aisle. Wegmans, Giant, Trader Joe’s and Target carries them. Keep your eyes peeled– they’re more commonly found that you think! Do not use the chewy/gummy dried strawberries. You need FREEZE-dried strawberries which grind into a powder.
*To make the reduced strawberry puree: puree 1 lb of strawberries. You should have a little over 1 cup. Stirring occasionally, simmer the puree over low-medium heat for 25-30 minutes until you’re left with 1/2 cup or a little over 1/2 cup Allow to cool completely before using in cake batter. I always make the reduced puree the day before so it has plenty of time to cool down. I cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. Use 1/2 cup in the cake. Discard any leftovers or spoon on ice cream/yogurt/add to smoothie. Yum!
*To bake in a 9×13 pan: Simply pour the batter into a greased and lightly floured 9×13 pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
*Cupcakes: Fill cupcake pans 2/3 full with batter. Bake for 20-22 minutes. Makes 2 and 1/2 dozen cupcakes. For less cupcakes, you can make my vanilla cupcakes, reduce the milk and sour cream to 1/3 cup each and add 1/4 cup of concentrated strawberry flavor to the batter.
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