There are times when I really feel like I should have named this blog "the little baker that couldn't". I suppose every one feels that way about themselves sometimes, even when blog names aren't concerned. It's our natural instinct to think that we suck and we're never going make it in the world. What it's not our natural instinct to think is that it's okay to make mistakes and that no baker started out perfect--they all learned from their trials and errors. But that's the truth. And the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can start making better strawberry shortcakes....erm, that last part might just apply to me.
In all honesty, this came out to be a pretty darn good strawberry shortcake. But you couldn't have paid me to believe that when I was in the actual process of making it. You see, strawberry shortcake is made out of sponge cake, whipped cream, and strawberries-- sponge cake being the most essential part, in my opinion. So, when my beautiful, fluffy, golden sponge cakes came out of the oven and then deflated, I was heartbroken. And I had no idea what I had done wrong.
I followed Jonathan's amazing step-by-step photo recipe exactly as instructed, minus a few very minor modifications like not beating my egg whites with my KitchenAid stand mixer and shaking/rotating the pans to even out the batter...but they couldn't have been responsible, could they? At that point, so many questions were running through my head about what I did or didn't do correctly but I realized that I would never really know unless I tried making the cake again. But first, I had to invert my deflated cakes because yes, I still thought they were salvageable.
And they were....kind of. Because I followed Jonathan's recipe exactly as instructed, I didn't grease my pans. Apparently, that's very common for making sponge cakes and it seemed to work just fine for him. Me, not so much. I ran a spatula around the edges of the cakes to release them and they didn't appear to be stuck, but all the banging and slamming in the world could not get them out when I flipped their pans over. I eventually somehow managed to slide an entire lifting spatula under the cakes to loosen them up enough to get them out, but only one of them survived this process.
This meant two things. One, I was going to have to make another layer to complete the cake, which was fine because I wanted to try again and do a better job anyway. And two, I would be able to taste the cake and see how it came out beforehand! The reason I was really excited about this is because I was making the cake for someone else so getting an opportunity to taste it was the best unexpected gift I could get at that point. And it made me pretty hopeful when I took one bite and realized that what the cake lacked in appearance, it made up for in taste. So even if one of the layers of the cake was going to be denser than the other, depending on how my next cake came out, I knew it was going to be delicious.
So, I got to work right away on the next layer. I still didn't use a Kitchen Aid to mix my egg whites, but I was extra super careful when folding them into the batter, and didn't make any extra movements after the batter was in the pan. Oh, and I lined the pan with parchment paper this time. I do believe that it's possible a sponge cake won't stick to an ungreased pan (as proven by Jonathan), but I didn't want to take any chances. I couldn't afford to mess up again. Anywho, after about 25 minutes and a lot of prayers, I took the cake out of the oven and hoped and hoped it wouldn't deflate.
But it did....but definitely not like the other ones. It was a subtle kind of deflation, one that I don't think affected the density of the cake all that much. Definitely an improvement. Also, the cake slid out beautifully from the pan thanks to the parchment paper, so I was pleased overall. With my cakes ready, and my syrup ready (I made it while the first layers were baking), I could finally get started on the whipped cream. Alongside making sponge cakes, I think making whipped cream is also something I still haven't yet fully mastered. I've made it before many times but I still can't really tell if it has been "over whipped" or not.
It gave me sort of a difficult time when covering the cake but that might be because I've never covered a cake in whipped cream. I'm more of a buttercream kind of gal. But anyways, we're about 7 paragraphs into this so I'm going to stop rambling and wrap this up. I didn't use all of the syrup I made for the cake because I think it made more than one cup, which means I probably didn't let it cook long enough. Other than that, I did exactly what Jon did, down to his fanned strawberry in the middle of the cake.
Although my cake didn't come out to be as high as Jon's (probably due to the slightly deflated cakes or not as much strawberries in the middle), I'm pretty confident it tasted just like his. He claims it's the best cake for the summer and those were my thoughts exactly as I went through two slices of cake like it was nothing. Like I wasn't at a family friend's house eating a cake that I had made for them. What can I say, it was good. No scratch that, it was great. It was everything I have ever imagined strawberry shortcake to be and more. Light, moist, not overly sweet and perfectly refreshing.
And the best part about this all is that it can only get better from here. I haven't yet mastered a perfect sponge cake but I will someday and that will make this the ultimate strawberry shortcake.
Strawberry Shortcakeadapted from The Candid AppetiteIngredients:For the sponge cake6 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
pinch of vanillin powder (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1 cup cake flour (I made one cup of cake flour by adding 2 tablespoons of cornstarch to a cup, then filling the rest with all-purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 pints fresh strawberries, rinsed, stemmed and sliced, reserving 9 whole berries for the top
2 cups sliced almondsFor the simple syrup1 cup water
1 cup sugarpinch of vanillin powder(You can add your own choice of extract for flavoring, if desired)For the whipped cream3 cups very cold heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
pinch of vanillin powder (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)Directions:For the sponge cakeSeparate the eggs into two mixing bowls. Start by beating the egg yolks with the sugar until very thick and lemon colored. Add water and vanilla extract; scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and mix until everything is incorporated. Add flour and mix on low speed just until everything is combined. Be careful not to overmix the batter.
In another bowl, beat egg whites until frothy. Then add cream of tartar and salt. Beat mixture until whites are stiff, but not until they are dry. Fold the whipped egg whites mixture into yolk mixture, carefully, so as to not deflate the egg whites.
Pour the batter into two ungreased 9 inch pans. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool on a cooling rack. Invert the cakes.For the simple syrupIn a medium saucepan, combine sugar and the water over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture reaches a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook 5 minutes more. Remove pan from heat, and stir in extract of your choice. Let cool to room temperature.For the whipped creamIn a large mixing bowl, pour the heavy cream and mix on low-medium speed for several minutes. Once the cream has frothed and slightly thickened, add the sugar and vanilla. Continue to whip on medium-high until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over mix the cream, as it could turn into butter rather fast.AssemblyPlace one of the layers of cake on a serving plate or stand, where ever you will decorate it. Brush on simple syrup evenly and heavily onto the first layer. Dollop with a spoonful of the whipped cream and spread evenly over the cake layer. Arrange the strawberry slices over the cream. Top with another spoonful of cream and spread once again.
Top with the second layer of sponge cake, and brush with more of the simple syrup. Place a large dollop, multiple spoonfuls, of the whipped cream on the cake. Spread out evenly over the top, allowing the cream to fall down the sides. Using an offset spatula cover the cake completely with the whipped cream. Smooth it out, removing any excess cream.
Cover the sides of the cake with the sliced almonds. Shake off any loose nuts. Using a pastry bag, fitted with a star tip 1M, make 8 rosettes on the edge of the cake, making one final rosette in the middle. Place the reserved strawberries on each of the rosettes. Slice and serve. Store any leftover cake, covered, in the fridge.Yield: 9-inch, two layer cake