Tag Archives: Strawberry

Pink lady cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

Some time over the past few years, I became the kind of person who likes making layer cakes. I still don’t quite understand it. Considering how scattered and slapdash I am in other parts of my life, it seems odd that I’d derive so much satisfaction from stacking cakes on top of each other and painting them with frosting. But I do. I really do.

I think a big part of it is the love. A layer cake might be the purest edible expression of love I know of. There’s absolutely no reason to make one except out of love for (yourself and) others. Layer cakes are celebration food, the thing you make when it’s time to shower love on someone. Even if you make a layer cake to celebrate yourself, you’ll still end up feeding it to people you love. It’s a project–a messy, multi-hour project–the kind of thing you wouldn’t undertake unless you really cared about the person or people whom you’re making it for. But if you like baking, making a layer cake is also a kind of therapy, a way of showing yourself some love while preparing to spread it to others.

This cake is the perfect example. I made it for Audrey’s birthday party, partly at her request and partly of my own initiative. She wanted Smitten Kitchen’s pink lady cake; I know how much she loves lemon, so I decided to give the frosting a lemon kick. It was the perfect cake for Audrey, who loves berries and lemon and gets impatient with chocolate. As it turned out, the strawberry flavor in the cake was incredibly subtle, so that the puckery lemon frosting stole the show. When she sliced into the cake, the layers revealed themselves to be a delicate purple-pink, the perfect color for a non-girly-girl who likes wearing pink.

But there was also some self-care in it for me. The planning of the cake was elaborate and specific, but creating it was a lazy breeze, a perfect excuse to spend the day indoors. I rolled out of bed in the morning, slapped the batter together and threw it in the oven, then went back to bed and did crossword puzzles until the layers were baked. While they cooled, I showered, ate brunch, and watched a nature documentary. I had a little bit of strawberry puree left over from making the cake layers, so I mixed myself a berryoska and sipped it while I frosted the cake. And then I brought it to the party, covered it in sprinkles, and presented it with great affection to the birthday girl.

pink lady cake slices

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Strawberry honey jam

I’ve been bitten by the canning bug.

I used to think that canning had to be a full-day affair, with pounds of fruit and showers of sugar and a clatter of specialized equipment.But lately many of my favorite food blogs have been singing the praises of small-batch canning: a pint or two at a time, perfect for using up the odd pound of fruit or experimenting with new flavor combinations. Small batches of jam also generally set beautifully without added pectin, and pectin was one of the things that put me off canning the most.

I rarely eat jam, usually just a spoonful at a time, swirled into yogurt; I have no great interest in putting up a whole larder of preserves for the winter. So a pint of jam at a time is plenty for me. And now that I’ve started, I’m totally hooked.

Part of this process has been educating myself thoroughly on the basics of canning and safety. Unlike many of the cooking projects I’m familiar with, canning requires a fair amount of precision and attention to detail. I’ve found the blog Food in Jars to be a great jumping-off point for recipe inspiration, and the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation website has been a lifesaver when it comes to food safety. The New York Times has thorough instructions for canning in a water bath, which I pretty much have memorized by now. I’m very new to this, so I’m sticking to tested recipes, keeping the proportions of fruit and sugar the same, and only ever adding more acid, not less. (I’ve found that I often want more lemon juice than a recipe calls for, to cut the sticky sweetness of the jam itself.)

This particular strawberry jam recipe struck my fancy because it uses honey instead of sugar as a sweetener. As it turns out, strawberries and honey are a wonderful, slightly unexpected combination: cook them down together, and you get something rich and treacly and intense, yet with all the comforting familiarity of old-fashioned strawberry jam. I was originally going to add thyme, as per the source recipe, but the thyme in my fridge was old and furry, so I decided to skip it. The jam on its own is delightful, and I could imagine it providing an agreeable backdrop for any number of herbs. And as fabulous as it is now, in the height of summer-fruit season, I’m especially looking forward to smearing it on soda bread in the fall.

strawberry honey jam 2

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Strawberry pie and strawberry berryoska

Yesterday my friend Molly and I threw a Memorial Day weekend party. We went to the farmer’s market beforehand. And ended up going a little strawberry-crazy.

It’s certainly the time of year for it. Citrus has all but disappeared from the markets, and stone fruits are still a few weeks away from being great. But strawberries are at their heady best right now, and our local market is crowded with berry vendors. We sampled from all the stands, and zeroed in on the really good fruit–not too big, not too squishy, deep Valentine red, strong-smelling. Strawberries this good deserve star treatment, and we came up with two glorious ways to show them off: a pie and a cocktail.

Initially the plan was strawberry-rhubarb pie, but for some unknown reason there was no rhubarb at the market. So we decided to forge ahead with an all-strawberry pie, based of course on my go-to rye crust. We stuck with an old-fashioned berry pie filling: fruit, a little sugar, cornstarch, a big glug of balsamic vinegar, and a healthy grind of black pepper (my favorite strawberry spice). Although the recipe we adapted was for a lattice-top pie, we decided to make it with just a single crust, to keep the fruit-to-crust ratio as high as possible. The strawberries on top dried out and singed slightly in the heat of the oven, so to make up for it, I melted a little honey in the microwave and brushed it over the top. (Next time I’d turn the oven down partway through to prevent burning; I’ve amended the recipe below to reflect that.)

It’s not often that my baked goods turn out beautiful, but this one was a stunner.

strawberry pie whole

This was the fruit pie that other fruit pies aspire to be: jammy fruit suspended in a light cornstarch jelly, with a subtle shine from the honey glaze and red juices bubbling over a dense buttery crust. We let it cool for an hour, which turned out to be the perfect amount of time, leaving the pie just warm in the center but still firm enough to slice. Even after a rich pasta lunch, we had no trouble devouring it in about 10 minutes flat. After finishing his first piece, one of our friends said, “Now I’m racking my brain to think of where all the other pies in my life went wrong.”

strawberry pie slice forwards

While we were slicing strawberries for pie, Sam decided to steal a few for a cocktail. A quick Google swipe turned up something called a “strawberry berryoska,” a muddled mix of strawberries, lemonade, and vodka. In Sam’s creative hands, the berryoska morphed into a sweet, lightly fizzy affair, thick with strawberry pulp and laced with a touch of Grand Marnier. It was dangerous, to say the least, and perfect for a spring-to-summer party. The only thing that would have made it more perfect was crushed ice, which we didn’t have. But no one really seemed to mind.

In fact, once the pie went into the oven and we realized we had no more strawberries for drinks, Molly was so devastated that she called her late-arriving boyfriend to bring us more. He showed up with a full half-flat of strawberries. Looks like we’ll be strawberry-crazy here for a while yet.

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