Curious Cook: Here’s some berry good cake


In the spring a young child’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of fields of pick your own strawberries. (Apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson.)

When The Kid was little we often visited local farms in order to pick pound after pound of strawberries. I’d ask the proprietors if they’d like to weigh my child on the way in and out, and we’d pay the difference. They always laughed and said no — until they saw The Kid at work. While picking, I’d notice my toddler’s head turned away.

Bad sign.

I’d call out, and The Kid’s head would pop up, splattered in bright red juice, looking like a zombie child who got caught eating the babysitter. It was at that point that the farmers realized when I asked them about weighing The Kid, I wasn’t actually joking.

Of course, when we got home, we’d set down the 50 or 60 pounds of freshly picked strawberries and reenact the final scene of “The Graduate.” Petey and I would look at each other and wonder, “What now?” We had enough berries to make jelly for every PBJ eaten by every American school kid for 10 years.

After a few years, and more pounds of sad, spoiled, furry berries than I care to admit to, I realized that the berries were tasty, but the trips themselves were and should be the point.

This strawberry cake only takes about a dozen fresh strawberries — but they should be the ripest, plumpest, most gorgeous strawberries in the field.

The rest of the berry flavor comes from a very surprising ingredient that you might never think of: freeze-dried strawberries.

When freeze-dried, the water in food is completely removed. It’s the texture of that space ice cream or Styrofoam. But when ground up, it lends the color and the flavor of real strawberry without adding more liquid. Many grocery stores carry bags of them, and if all else fails, there’s always the internet.

But I’ll tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the strawberry fields of the living dead, as portrayed by your own berry gore-covered offspring.

Thanks for your time.

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Joyland Strawberry Layer Cake

Cake: 2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

2 1/4 cups cake flour

1/3 cup crushed freeze-dried strawberries

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons real vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch round tins.

Cream together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.

Sift together flour, strawberry powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix into butter mixture. When mixture just comes together, mix in sour cream and vanilla until batter is fully blended. Carefully spoon batter into prepared cake pans and bake for 25-35 minutes. Start checking after about 22 minutes and remove from oven as soon as toothpick comes out clean, but moist. Cool in pan 5 minutes and then turn out onto cooling rack to finish cooling completely.

Vanilla Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat sugar and water in pan on stove until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in vanilla and let cool.

Mom’s American Buttercream

3 1-pound boxes powdered sugar

2 teaspoons salt

3 scant teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup butter-flavor Crisco

3 egg whites

3/4 cup of water (or less)

2 tablespoons vanilla

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup crushed freeze-dried strawberries

Dump all ingredients except the jam into mixer. Beat ingredients at low until it starts to come together. Put water in at this point, a bit at a time. Once it gets to a creamy frosting and piping consistency, let it go on medium-high for 4 minutes.

Remove two-thirds of the frosting, cover, and set aside. Add crushed berries to remaining frosting in mixer and let it go on medium-high until completely incorporated and smooth (2-3 minutes).


12 big beautiful fresh strawberries

1/2 cup crushed, freeze-dried strawberries

Brush both cakes generously with simple syrup.

Cut tops off cake so they’re straight and level and put cut pieces and crushed strawberries into a food processor until they’re small crumbs and set aside. Slice each cake in half, horizontally. Pipe one ring around the outside top of three layers as a dam, then fill with strawberry buttercream, and smooth down. Stack onto cake board or plate, topping with unfrosted layer then put into fridge until frosting firms up.

Frost with about half the remaining frosting. Smooth it as much as you can. Gently press the cake and berry crumbs around the sides of the cake until it’s fully covered.

Using a large star tip, put a border around the top and bottom of the cake. Cover the top with piped stars and top with strawberries. Cover and refrigerate at least six hours or overnight before service.