During the last week, I have been spending most of my time in the kitchen, mixing ingredients by hand and giving my oven a workout. Halfway through my two weeks off from work and school, it is a welcome break to spend time away from the everyday grind, a chance to relax and get my thoughts back in order. Though I like to imagine that I will be productive with my newly found time, the last week has proven otherwise, as reality TV shows and sleeping in have sucked away more time than I would like to admit.
Maybe it is okay to let myself be lazy every once in awhile.
With more time in the kitchen, I have been playing around with elaborate, multi-step desserts, including cakes. While I love a good layered cake, I could not decide on a flavor, arguing back and forth with myself between fruit and chocolate based cakes and fillings. While fruit is lovely, it had been so long since I cut my fork through a thick chocolate cake that the thought grew tempting.
Nevertheless, after a walk outdoors with the weather still settling into early spring, a chocolate cake suddenly seemed too heavy for this delicate time of year. With buds just forming on the bare tree limbs, a sweet, light fruit cake seemed to fit the bill. After a walk through the local market, with pounds of red, ruby strawberries on sale, the deal was sealed.
Charlotte cakes originated in France in the early nineteenth century. They traditionally involve fruit purees, sponge cake, and custards or whipped cream frosting. This particular Strawberry Charlotte is not quite as the original cake, but the spirit is just the same. Instead of layers of sponge cake, I used my favorite light vanilla cake recipe and used a strawberry mousse to fill it. Lined with ladyfingers, either homemade or store bought, the cake becomes quite the sight.
While I did not have one on hand, a white or red ribbon tied around the middle would add a gorgeous finishing touch.
This Strawberry Charlotte is a spring cake that is perfect for all of life's celebrations. Layers of light vanilla cake are filled with an airy strawberry mousse and fresh strawberries and topped off with a coating of whipped cream icing. The strawberry mousse is made from pureed strawberries, which gives the cake a bright fruit flavor. The cake is lined with ladyfingers and graced with whole, fresh strawberries making this a simple, but impressive cake to decorate.
Note: The strawberry mousse filling contains raw egg whites. If this is a problem because of pregnancy or small children, please use pasteurized eggs or a different recipe for the strawberry mousse filling.
Yields 7-inch cake
Vanilla Cake Layers
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (169 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (59 ml) vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (175 grams) cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (240 ml) milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease 2 7-inch cake pans and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Gradually add in the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the milk, stirring until batter is uniform and smooth.
Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing the cake and transferring the cake to a cooling rack to cool completely.
1 cup fresh, chopped strawberries
1 large egg white
1/4 cup (60 grams) granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
In a blender or food processor, process strawberries until smooth.
In a large bowl, beat the egg white until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and salt and continue beating for 5/7 minutes, or until soft peaks form. Add the strawberries and continue beating until stiff peaks form, about 3-5 minutes. Refrigerate the mousse until ready to assemble cake.
There will be leftovers. If you freeze the mousse, it turns into a light ice cream and is lovely to enjoy by the spoonful.
Whipped Cream Icing
1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large bowl, whip together all ingredients until stiff peaks form. Chill the whipped cream until ready to assemble.
1 pound (450 grams) fresh strawberries
25-30+ ladyfingers (savoiardi cookies)
On a serving plate, place the bottom layer of the cake. Cut a handful of strawberries into quarters and place them randomly over the surface. Spoon on the chilled strawberry mousse and place the cake in the freezer for 15-20 minutes (or longer) to stiffen the filling.
Place on the top layer of cake. Using an offset spatula, frost the cake on all sides with the whipped cream icing. Press the ladyfingers along the outside of the cake, spacing them evenly. Dot the top of the surface with the remaining fresh strawberries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.