We had some friends over for dinner last night, and I had planned to make Cook's Illustrated's Strawberry Cream Cake for dessert. That plan, however, was doomed.
I got off to a bad start because I decided to make my own cake instead of the cake in the recipe. In itself, this was not a bad decision. The problem was that I forgot to read the directions first, so I baked a normal two layer cake thinking that the finished cake had 4 layers, and I would just split each layer in half. As I discovered after taking the cakes out of the oven, the finished cake has 3 layers, and I didn't have enough strawberries to add a layer. By this time it was almost 4:00 p.m. and the only thing I had managed to do was make the wrong size cake. I made an additional crucial error in that I didn't toss my strawberries with sugar beforehand and they needed to sit for 2 hours.
But I was determined not to let these fuck-ups derail my dessert. I knew I didn't have enough time at this point to make a full-size cake since I didn't want to try to assemble it after dinner. That would only lead to my guests exchanging worried glances as I cursed in the kitchen, futilely attempting to make a beautiful cake in five minutes. Then I had a brilliant idea - I could make tiny cakelets in a snap since I wouldn't have to worry about slicing large layers, placing strawberries just so, and piping intricate designs. I whipped out the cookie cutters, cut out 2.5 inch cake rounds, and set them aside in a covered container. I also mixed the strawberries with dark muscovado sugar and set them aside. (Muscovado sugar has a high molasses content and allegedly "Sugar milled in Mauritius is particularly special because it retains much of the flavor of the cane grown on soil rich with volcanic ash." Anyway, it tastes really good and has more flavor than regular dark brown sugar.)
While the pork rested after it came out of the oven, I drained the strawberries and began reducing the liquid in my trusty Mauviel Windsor pan. By the time the pork had rested the strawberry liquid had become syrupy. I poured it into a small glass bowl and set it in the fridge until dessert time.
As my husband cleared the dinner plates and turned on the coffee maker, I quickly assembled the cakelets. I sliced each cake round in half, piped a spiral of cream cheese-enhanced whipped cream (this stuff is like heaven on a spoon), tossed on a few berries, and repeated this procedure. Then I mixed the sweet strawberry sauce with a teaspoon or so of 12-year-old balsamic vinegar and dribbled it over the cakes. They were so good I ate one for breakfast this morning.
Strawberry Cream Cakelets
Makes 6 cakelets (with leftover cake)
For the cake:
9 ounces (2 1/4 cups) bleached cake flour
12 ounces (2 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon double acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 ounces vegetable oil
1 cup whole or 2% milk, room temperature
3/4 cup egg whites, room temperature (5 to 6 large eggs' worth)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the strawberries:
1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
2-3 tablespoons muscovado or dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar
For the whipped cream:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the strawberries and sauce: Toss sliced strawberries with sugar in a medium bowl and set aside. Stir occasionally for about 2 hours. Set a medium mesh strainer over a small saucepan and drain berries. Place berries into covered container and set aside (refrigerate if they will be out more than a couple of hours.)
Bring berry liquid to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is thick and syrupy, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir balsamic into sauce and pour into small bowl. Place sauce in fridge to cool.
To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 9-inch round cake pans (or 1 9x13 inch cake pan) with baking parchment or waxed paper.
Measure the dry ingredients into bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl. I highly encourage you to weigh the ingredients, but if you don't have a scale, measure the flour by fluffing it up, then spooning it lightly into the measuring cup and using a straight edge to level off the flour even with the top of the cup. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together and set the bowl aside.
Whisk the room temperature egg whites, milk and vanilla together. Put 1/2 cup of this mixture into a cup or small bowl. Set both aside.
Add butter and oil and all but the reserved 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the dry ingredients. Beat at low speed until dry ingredients are moistened, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high (stand mixer) or high (hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate mixture and add structure. Turn mixer off and scrape sides and bottom of bowl.
Add remaining milk/egg mixture and beat at medium (or high) speed for an additional 30 seconds. Scrape bowl again.
Divide batter evenly into baking pans. Tap pans lightly on counter to remove any large air bubbles. Optionally, wrap pans with magi-cake strips.
Put pans in oven on middle rack and bake until light golden brown and toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with only a few loose crumbs, about 25 minutes. Due to variations in ovens, check at least 5 minutes before the stated time. Cool in pan for 10 minutes then invert onto cooling rack. Cool completely before assembling.
To make the whipped cream: Place softened cream cheese into a large mixing bowl. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add cream and beat on medium speed until stiff, 2 to 3 minutes more. Spoon into pastry bag fitted with star tip if desired. Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to use.
To assemble cakelets: Using about a 2.5-inch round biscuit cutter, cut rounds out of each cake. (You'll get 4 to 5 out of each layer.) Slice each round in half. Place one half on small plate. Pipe or spread whipped cream onto cake; top with sliced strawberries. Repeat with another layer, topping off with a dollop or swirl of whipped cream. Dribble a couple teaspoons of sauce over the cakelets and serve immediately.