You already have plenty of recipes for kids’ birthday cakes —they are often just as happy with a mix because by the time they’ve all devoured hotdogs and soda, the only important thing left to do is blow out the candles.
But what do you do when you want a sophisticated confection, something that would sit proudly on the table at a party for the whole country or just for someone particularly special to you?
Today’s cake delivers on all fronts.
Strawberry lemonade cake
This isn’t a difficult recipe but if you want more than 12 servings you will need to do it twice because it does not double well. The effort is, however, worth it. If you do that, then create a layer cake with butter cream icing in the middle.
The soaking syrup is sucked in by the tender crumb and adds a tart berry note and small streaks of beautiful pink colour that show daintily through. The cake is good enough to stand alone if you want to leave out that step altogether, though.
Use any icing you like but this one is particularly easy to work with and makes plenty for a large cake. I am highly challenged in the decorating department and this is one of my go-to solutions. Put a thick layer of icing on top of the cake and press in plenty of fresh sliced strawberries and it’s beautiful enough. If you have mastered the art of icing flowers feel free to festoon as you wish.
The method, however, is critical in this recipe so there isn’t a lot of room for creativity.
2-1/2 cups cake-and-pastry flour
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup soft unsalted butter (absolutely no other)
1-1/4 cups superfine sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. finest quality vanilla
1 cup milk
1 lemon, zest and juice
Strawberry soaking syrup
2 cups strawberry wine (There’s a great local variety that works perfectly.)
2/3 cup sugar
reserved lemon juice
1 tbsp. berry liqueur or brandy (optional)
Lemon butter cream icing
1 cup soft unsalted butter
3-1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp. each vanilla and lemon extract
1 tsp. lemon juice
Measure the flour roughly then sift onto a sheet of waxed paper. Spoon the sifted flour back into the measuring cups and level it off. You will probably have some leftover but you can put that back in the canister. Sift again with baking powder and salt then sift one more time; set aside.
The texture of the butter is important in this cake. You want it very soft, but not at all melted, so if you forgot to take it out of the fridge and must microwave it, do so on the lowest possible power for small increments of time. It is also important to use superfine sugar. It is usually available in the grocery store but always in those bulk food places, sometimes labeled as caster or instantly dissolving sugar.
Cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until light in colour and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla.
Alternate the dry ingredients and milk, making three additions of dry and two of wet starting and ending with dry. Beat after each addition until completely incorporated. Stir in lemon zest, reserving the juice for use in the syrup.
Generously butter a 10-inch round, straight-sided deep baking dish. If you don’t have a cake pan like that use a springform pan. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit in the bottom and butter again. Flour thoroughly and tap out the excess. Spoon in the batter and smooth the top — the mixture is thick and creamy, not runny. Drop the pan onto a hard surface to break any air bubbles and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. The top will be dry and not terribly brown, but you don’t want that in this cake.
Allow it to sit in the pan for 10 minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment paper, and cool completely on a rack.
For the syrup, bring wine, sugar and lemon juice to a boil and reduce to about 2/3 of a cup — mixture is thick and glossy but still pours easily. Remove from heat and stir in liqueur if using. Poke holes all over the cake, top and bottom, using a skewer or a couple of strands of spaghetti and slowly spoon the syrup all over the cake, allowing each spoonful to soak in before adding the next. Cake can be refrigerated up to a couple of days after this step, just wrap very well in plastic.
For the icing, combine all ingredients and beat — starting on low speed unless you want to wear the sugar — until smooth. Turn up the speed to medium-high and beat another 7 minutes, until creamy and airy. If you like you can add a small drop of yellow food colouring.
Ice the cake top and sides — be very generous, especially on top — then pile on as many sliced, halved or even whole strawberries as will fit. Do this last bit just before serving so the berries are at their freshest. Serve with coffee or tea or go all out with a glass of chilled strawberry wine.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86,
St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.