Plenty of Cake

There’s the birthday cake, the bundt, the wedding cake, the Tunnel of Fudge, the fruitcake, the ice cream cake, some with stuff written on it to celebrate an age or an anniversary or a farewell to the office. Yet most cakes, like this one at the thesis reception at our daughter’s university art gallery, have no writing and no candles.

This cake was a measure of her life, of graduating with the B.F.A. and the  uncertain and tumultuous world that awaited her. A world in the Cornell president’s commencement address that claimed to be “deeply in need of her.” As well as all the other 6,000 graduates.

After years of working in the 2D media of printmaking and drawing, she looks like a Murakamian to me—a follower of the Japanese best-selling author (Kafka on the Shore, among others) as she depicts the confusion over what is real and what isn’t and attempts to draw fantasies that suggest a new relationship between the material world and the natural world.

When I graduated with my B.F.A. after the 60s, I wanted to make third world documentaries in Cuba.

But for her, welcome to the existential universe. And a strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting. The carefully balanced sweetness of the fruit, the smooth icing on top, the frosted layers in between.

That day she could have her cake and eat it too.

FRESH STRAWBERRY CAKE (about 8 servings)

This recipe is adapted from
*Fresh strawberries need to macerate overnight

For the Cake:

  • 16 oz very ripe fresh strawberries, with not much white on them.  (If you need to cut a lot of white, get more strawberries.)
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 12 TB unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temp, whites and yolks separated
  • 1/4 cup whole milk, room temp
  • 1 TB vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cup cake flour, sifted after measuring
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

For the Frosting:

  • 4 TB strawberry puree (you will get leftover puree from cake)
  • 8 TB regular butter, firm
  • 8 oz cream cheese, slightly cold
  • 16 oz (1 lb) confectioner’s sugar


For the Cake:

Hull and slice fresh strawberries.  Toss with 3 tsp sugar and cover.  Let sit in fridge overnight, until they become macerated and juicy.  Blend strawberries with short pulses, just until pureed.  Do not liquify.

Preheat oven to 350F with rack on lower middle of oven.  Line bottom of two 8 or 9 inch round pans with parchment paper.  Grease and flour the paper and sides of pans.

Beat butter and sugar in stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium high, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add milk, yolks, vanilla, and 3/4 cup of strawberry puree (save remaining puree for frosting, filling, or other use.)  Blend just until combined.

In separate bowl, whisk together:  sifted cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  Fold in the butter mixture with rubber spatula, just until wet/dry ingredients are fully incorporated.  Do not over mix.

In a clean bowl, using electric mixer, beat egg whites until peaks form.  Gently fold egg whites into the cake batter with rubber spatula, softly folding until combined.

Divide batter evenly among the two pans.  Give the pans a gentle shake to level out the tops.  Bake 20-25 minutes until toothpick inserted in center has a few tender crumbs attached.  Watch carefully so it does not over bake and become dry.  Let cakes rest at room temp for 10 minutes and turn out onto wire racks.  Let cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting:

In stand mixer using paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until it is light, pale yellow, and fluffy.  Add cream cheese and beat until combined.  Reduce speed to low and add confectioner’s sugar and beat until combined.  Add the strawberry puree and mix until combined.  Place frosting in fridge about an hour before use.  Frosted dessert should be kept in fridge until ready to serve.  This frosting is best suited for spreading rather than piping, as it is smooth and creamy soft.

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