Honestly, sometimes I can’t just let well enough alone. I see a recipe, and something about it strikes my fancy. Then, I proceed to make it, changing whatever it was that originally grabbed my attention. I end up with something completely different, and kind of, well… disappointed. But what do I expect? I’m like that reviewer on epicurious.com that everyone hates…you know the one- “Well I loved this recipe for scrambled eggs with herbs, but I didn’t have any eggs so I used bread and I didn’t have any herbs so I used jam, and I threw some peanut butter on there, too, for a little extra flavor. It tasted almost like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Five stars!” Yeesh. I might do this, but I’ve always prided myself on not writing stupid reviews like that. Oh wait… that is about to happen.
I kind of fell in love a little bit with this cake when I saw it on the Saveur website. So unnaturally bright pink! But when I scanned down the list of ingredients, it looked a little weird and it called for Strawberry extract, which is even weirder. Not that I’m one to turn up my nose at processed ingredients, but strawberry extract? Doesn’t sound particularly yummy. (Please note that I have absolutely no problem pouring huge amounts of food coloring in batter, just extract. I never said I was rational.) But this picture of this insanely pink cake kept coming into my life, or at least across my computer screen, and so I bit the bullet and decided to give it a try. There has to be something delicious and unexpected about it, because it’s in Saveur, right?
Well, unfortunately, we’ll never know, because I completely wreaked havoc on the original recipe. Turns out stupid strawberry extract is sold, um, NOWHERE, and I wasn’t about to go on an ingredient hunt for it. No way. Oddly enough, I had some raspberry extract in my drawer (no judgies!), and I thought about using that, but then I wouldn’t be able to call it a strawberry cake, I’d have to call it a raspberry cake, in which case I’d have to go back to the store and get raspberry jam instead of strawberry….
Yes, these are the kind of conundrums that occupy my mind during my waking hours. Anyway, I decided that instead of using the extract in the frosting, I’d just chop up some strawberries real small and macerate them in a little sugar so they got all nice and syrupy before I added them to the frosting. No big deal, that’s not that big of an adjustment. I had a nagging feeling that maybe I was ruining something, but I plowed ahead.
Then I had a problem with the food coloring. The recipe called for A LOT of food coloring. I have no problem with this, in theory. But when I started it add it to the batter, it seemed like an awful lot, and the batter was already a beautiful shade of pink. I had the food coloring dropper in my hand, about to add the rest, and I froze. I decided not to add it. It seemed pink enough. What a fool I am.
This is not to say that the cake didn’t turn out to be pretty good. It was nice enough. The cake wasn’t the best- a little gummy (Probably from the jam? Too much oil?), but not too bad, and it really did have a nice, subtly strawberry flavor. The frosting was really the best part of the whole situation. It’s a basic cream cheese frosting, but the little bits of strawberries that I added in place of the extract made it taste like strawberry shortcake frosting… can you imagine such a thing?! The tiny pieces of fruit looked like little jewels in the fluffy frosting, and even though I didn’t add the whole amount of food coloring to the frosting, either, I think the color was beautiful.
So, it was good, but it was nothing like the cake I had ogled on the Saveur website. Alas, it wasn’t a bright pink show-stopper. Which was pretty much my entire motivation for making this. I’m not saying I wouldn’t make it again the way it was. In fact, I think this strawberry frosting might become a favorite. The cake, not so much. But if I do attempt this one again, I will make it with all of the food coloring and strawberry extract. Maybe.
adapted from Saveur
3 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup seedless strawberry jam
12 drops red food coloring
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 lb confectioners sugar
5 strawberries, diced
8 drops red food coloring
Heat oven to 350°. Grease two 9″ round cake pans; set aside. (If you want to be really safe, you can line the bottom of the pans with parchment.) Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In another small bowl, whisk together milk, jam, and 2 tbsp. food coloring in a small bowl.
Beat together sugar, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and smooth, 2–3 minutes. Alternately add dry and wet ingredients to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with dry; mix until combined. (Dry, wet, dry, wet, dry… got that?) Divide batter between prepared pans and smooth tops; bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of cakes comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes, unmold, then cool completely.
In a small bowl, mix diced strawberries and one or two tablespoons of the confectioners sugar. Set aside for 10-15 minutes. Mash up the berries a little bit with the back of a fork.
In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese on high-speed of a mixer until smooth and fluffy, 1–2 minutes. Add 8 drops of red food coloring, confectioners’ sugar, and macerated strawberries; beat until smooth. Place one cake upside down on a cake stand, and spread frosting over top. *Hint: If you take a few strips of parchment paper and place them along the edges of the cake plate before putting the cake on it, you’ll be able to catch any frosting drips while you’re icing, and when you’re done, you pull out the strips and are left with a clean plate. Voila!*
Cover with second cake; frost top and sides of cakes with remaining frosting. I recommend putting on a crumb coat first, to avoid getting crumbs in the final coat of frosting. Basically, all this means if that you slather on a very thin coat of frosting first to catch all of the crumbs, then go back and put more on with a clean spatula. (If frosting gets too soft, put both the cake and the frosting in the fridge for a while before continuing.) Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.