I like quests. Cooking quests to be precise. The highs and lows of looking for that elusive ingredient. You know the one. It's touted in every food magazine, featured in blogs and used with wild abandon by celebrity chefs. So, naively thinking that it's at the corner store, you're sorely disappointed when the shelves are void of it yet filled with a determined resolve to find it. So began the Panko Quest of 2005. A quest that lasted through disparaging grocery store visits, criss-crossing neighbourhoods, requesting friends and family to be on the lookout for it, And yet it remained an uncrossed entry on the grocery list until the visit to the health food store. Oh, the joy. Recently, I've come across a recipe for a strawberry tropezienne. A brioche-type concoction. filled with pastry cream, strawberries, and topped with pearl sugar. Yes, pearl sugar. Ha! I sense the panko of 2010. But alas this weekend I came away victorious, thinking that the Sugar Pearl Quest was short-lived. Not so. Sugar pearls are rotund little edible decorations. Pearl sugar on the other hand are irregular little chunks of sugar what will not melt when topping such pastry delicacies but will lend a satisfying crunch. A misnomer. The Pearl Sugar Quest is still underway.....
I'm also a little unrelenting when it comes to less-than-perfect recipes. There always has to be a way to fix them, to make them even better. To try again. And again. Let's take a strawberry shortcake. Not the biscuit kind. The sky-high layer kind. The filled-to-oozing with whipped cream kind. The kind that seems to say Hey, look at me. I'm awesome! But how to concoct something of this magnitude? What cake is strong enough to buttress it? Chiffon? Sponge? White? Well, three tries later, I'm thinking that a buttermilk cake is up to the job. With lots of fluffy whipped cream sandwiched in between. And juicy, ripe berries peeking out. And this cake has one more surprise between the layers - rhubarb jam. I think I'm on the right track.......
First, prep the pans....
Beat the butter with the sugar....
Add the dry ingredients....
Then the wet....
Beat well and then divvy up into the pans to bake....
Then just cool it....
Meanwhile, prepare your fillings.....
First, the strawberries....
Whip that cream a la Indy Jones.... Do do do doooooo do do dooooooo......
And don't forget to make the rhubarb jam....
Ladies and Gentlemen, time to start your engines. We need to assemble!
A little bit off the top.... (Yes, that is a grater. A trick I learned from my grandmother. To smooth the sides of the cake out, you gently grate - on the small grater side - and let the crumbs fall where they may! Next time, I'll show you the real meaning of crumb coating a cake!)
Brush on the reserved strawberry syrup. Then the rhubarb jam. Next the strawberries. Top with whipped cream. Lather, rinse, repeat with the rest.
Dare I say it? Bon Appetit!!!
Strawberry Layer Cake (adapted from Martha Stewart Living)
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 c granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/3 c low-fat buttermilk, room temperature
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 pounds strawberries, cut 1/3 of an inch thick
1/4 c granulated sugar
2 cups cold heavy (whipping) cream
3 tbsp confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 c rhubarb jam (see recipe below)
Directions for making the cake
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place rack in center of oven.
2. Butter two (2) 9-inch round cake pans, dust with flour and tap out excess.
3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and 1 tsp salt.
4. Beat butter and granulated sugar in mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes.
5. Reduce speed and add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
6. Add in flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour.
7. Add vanilla extract.
8. Divide batter equally between pans.
9. Bake, rotating halfway through, until tops spring back when gently touched and a cake tested inserted into centers comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
10. Transfer to wire racks and let cool in pans, about 20 minutes.
11. Run a knife along edges of cakes and invert onto racks. Let cool completely.
Directions for making the filling
1. Combine strawberries with granulated sugar, lemon juice and 1/4 tsp salt. Let stand, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving syrup.
2. Whisk cream with confectioners' sugar until stiff peaks form.
1. Trim cake tops. Slice cakes in half horizontally. Generously brush 1 cake layer with some reserved syrup, and spread on one-third of the jam. Top with one-third of the strawberry filling, then one-third of the whipped cream. Repeat with two more cake layers.
2. Refridgerate for at least 1 hour.
3. Dust cake with confectioners' sugar before serving.
2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and cut crosswise 1/2 inch thick (about 6 1/2 cups)
1 pound sugar (about 2 1/4 cups)
fresh lemon juice
Bring rhubarb, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large pot, stirring often. Cook, stirring often, until bubbles slow, foam subsides fruit rises to the top,and jam sticks to a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes. (I found that mine took much longer for the jam to thicken up.) Let cool for one hour. Refrigerate.