Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Good Food: Strawberry Cake, From Scratch

I have certain rules I set for myself when it comes to cooking and baking.  Among some of the more important ones include:  Never over-bake anything, always pay attention to what you’re cooking, always use a kitchen timer and one of the biggest, never try a new recipe for an important occasion. 

I learned the last lesson the hard way when I made the brilliant decision to bring a Swiss Cheese Fondue to a gathering of friends.  As I prepared the dish at the host’s house, I just couldn’t understand why the cheese was melting, but only a bit.  In fact, it melted into a big lump of cheese swimming in a garlicky Chardonnay based puddle.  It was a complete disaster.  I was embarrassed.  Only later did I learn the difference between Swiss Cheese and Swiss American Cheese.   Believe me, there is a big difference.  Oh, and when you use the correct cheese, that fondue is wonderful.

Fast forward about 10 years and my culinary skills have continued to improve.  I have much more confidence when approaching a new recipe and find myself becoming more adventurous in trying new creations in the kitchen.  Unfortunately, I still have a problem following my own rules.  Try as I might, there often isn’t a good time to try a new recipe before I need it for a family function or maybe a Presidential Innauguration (I haven’t been invited yet, but who knows, it could happen).  I will probably never truly learn that lesson, except to say that I almost always have a Plan B in place should Plan A fail miserably.

This brings us to the cake you see before you.  This pink strawberry beauty is not only my first strawberry cake ever, but also my first from-scratch cake ever.  I’ve made plenty of other recipes from scratch – breads, cinnamon rolls, pies, cheesecakes, but I’ve never made an actual cake from scratch.  So, what better time to try than for a triple birthday party, one which included celebrating for our now 4-year old daughter, little GT.   She had asked for a Strawberry Cake, and I had to oblige.  Not that she has to try all that hard to get something out of me.  Poppa Pushover, maybe that should be my name.

I eagerly hit the Internet to pull up the scores of Strawberry Cake recipes available on those billions and billions of web pages out there.  I found countless versions of Strawberry Cake.  All of which started with a boxed mix and strawberry Jell-O.  Seriously.  Sure, there were a few that used actually Strawberry puree in the mix, but not a single one from scratch.  And, to make matters worse, when I searched for a From Scratch Strawberry Cake, the results actually came up with recipes the authors said were ‘from scratch’, but still used cake mix!

Now, I’ve made my fair share of cake mix cakes.  I’m actually a big fan of the Cake Mix Doctor books and own all of them.  But when I want to do something from scratch, that’s what I mean.  Sugar, flour, butter, eggs, etc. etc.  Why is it so hard to find a true ‘from scratch’ Strawberry cake?  Unfortunately I don’t have an answer to that question, but I can answer this question – is there a true Strawberry Cake recipe made ‘From Scratch’?  Yes, there is.  And I found it thanks to a fellow blogger:  Cook Like a Champion.  Courtney had made a Strawberry Cake with Champagne Buttercream Frosting she called a Strawberry Champagne Ruffle Cake that was a sight to see.  It was a beautiful cake, but, best of all, was completely from scratch, with real cake flour and everything!!

Relieved, I shelved the cake mix and Jell-O and went to work.  Know what?  It’s not that hard to make a good cake from scratch.  Know what else?  You can do it too.  Give it a shot, I think you’ll be pleased.

The cake itself turned out fabulously.  I was very pleased with the recipe (and myself) for turning out a cake that would have likely been very common 50 years ago, but now, not so much.  Of course, I had to violate my own rule about baking a new recipe for an important occasion.  If I had left it at that, I would have been fine, but I decided to improvise.  I really do know better than that, but I wanted to push the envelope.  I did and just barely survived this bout.

You see, I wanted a strawberry flavored frosting.  I also wanted the Champagne Buttercream.  So, I decided to add some leftover strawberry puree to the frosting.  Guess what happened?  Well it never really came together.  Actually it did come together just fine, until I added the puree.  Then things got a little weird.  As a fan of the science of food I should have known that this wouldn’t work.  Adding the strawberry puree introduced water that was never intended to be there into what was a perfect buttercream frosting.  The result was a somewhat lumpy, grainy, weepy frosting that tasted amazing but looked like it was about to fall apart into it’s component parts.

So, rather than admit defeat, I cranked the KitchenAide on high and beat the living daylights out of it, all the while knowing I couldn’t change the laws of cooking physics regardless of the size of my stand mixer.  I slapped the frosting on the cake which actually didn’t look too bad and rushed to serve it after dinner before the whole thing could come apart on me.

In the end, I won the battle and learned a good lesson.  If I want a strawberry flavored frosting in the future, I need to get a true recipe that will allow the proper incorporation of strawberry puree.  Even though it looked a little funky up close, I was probably the only one that really even noticed.  Everyone else was commenting on how good the cake was.  Success.

Have you ever tried a cake from scratch?  If not, allow me to encourage your inner grandma (or grandpa) and give it a go.  I think you’ll be pleased.  Just be sure to follow the directions.  Do as I say, not as I do.

Click here to get the original recipe from Cook Like a Champion.

Thaw the Berries

Thawing Complete

Make the Strawberry Puree

Combine the Wet Ingredients

Mix the Wet Ingredients

Sift Together the Dry Ingredients

Add the Wet Ingredients to the Dry and Mix

Prep Your Pans

Pour the Batter in the Pan

Weighing for Even Batter Fill

Tap the Pans to Settle Batter

Cook Down the Champagne

Cool the Cakes Completely

Whip up the Buttercream

Frost and Decorate

Enjoy the Beauty

Love the Slice

Anxiously Awaiting


  1. It looks lovely! And even though the strawberry frosting didn't turn out perfectly,at east it tasted good. :) I'm sure your daughter felt so special to have this cake on her birthday, and I hope you all have plenty of wondeful memories from it.


  3. The link to the recipe is there - the link is embeded in the name of the cake about mid-way down the post. To make things easier, I've added an additional link at the end of the post back to the original recipe on Cook Like a Champion. Thanks for stopping by.