Baking Chez Moi: Strawberry Cake

Mothers! How much do we love them? Enough to make a gorgeous cake for them? Yep!

I’m thinking of the Rose Fraisier from Baking Chez Moi. Strawberries are in the market, roses are traditional, the cake is doable, meant to be made in stages, it’s beautiful and, best, best of all: It’s delicious!

The Fraisier is the traditional French strawberry cake. What’s most traditional about the fraisier is the way the cake is constructed: It’s always a layer cake and the layers are never covered, because you’re meant to see the berries, cut, so their beautiful centers are clearly in sight, standing up tall and nestled in a thick cushion of cream.

My cake keeps with tradition … and doesn’t. The layers are my old friend, the easy-to-make French Yogurt Cake, this time flavored with rose syrup and rose extract. I love the rose with strawberries, but you can skip it and opt for a little more vanilla instead. The cream is a pastry cream fluffed up and lightened with whipped cream and the berries are the berries, the freshest, prettiest, most perfumed ones you can find.

The recipe is long, but nothing is hard and here’s a good game-plan:

The cake will keep at room temperature for a day or so and can be frozen for up to 2 months. Make the pastry cream up to 2 days ahead, keep it in the fridge and then fold in the whipped cream when you’re putting everything together. Build your beautiful Fraisier on the day you want to serve it and then return it to the refrigerator.

Your work is done. All that’s left is to pop the cork on a bottle of something as delicious as the cake. Think Champagne, sparkling wine (a rosé would be perfect, of course), a dessert wine or even a strawberry spritzer.

Photograph by Alan Richardson.

Dorie Greenspan

Strawberry Cake (aka Fraisier)

From Baking Chez Moi

Makes 10-12 servings

Fraisier means strawberry bush, and Le Fraisier is the French cake that celebrates the fruit. It’s a classic in pâtisseries all over the country, and as close to a strawberry shortcake as the French get, even though there’s nothing short about it. It’s a grand cake that heralds spring and the arrival of the first berries from Provence. The base of the traditional cake is a génoise (a sponge cake) which is often baked in a thin sheet and then cut into two squares and moistened with syrup. This sweet is all about the berries and cream and the skinny cake is just there to frame them. For the classic Fraisier look, some berries are halved from top to bottom and stood up all around the outside of the cake, their cut sides facing out, and then whole berries are lined up snugly to cover the bottom layer of the cake. This strawberry forest is enveloped in buttercream before the top layer of cake is settled over the filling and decorated with a layer of rolled-out almond paste, often colored green.

For the base of my Fraisier in the round, I chose France’s most popular home-baked cake, the yogurt cake, which I flavored with ginger, lime and rose extract and syrup (if you use a rose syrup from the Middle East, your cake may end up pink). I split the cake in two, stood a battalion of berries straight up on the bottom layer and filled in the crannies with a mixture of vanilla pastry cream and whipped cream (lighter than buttercream, but made stand-up strong with the addition of a little gelatin). I skipped the almond paste for the top layer and finished the cake with a swirl of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a cluster of cut and sugared berries. You can decorate it in many ways, so have fun with it.

A word on rose syrup and extract: My favorite syrup is made by Monin. Because you won’t be using it daily (even if it does make good cocktails), I suggest buying a small bottle and keeping it refrigerated after you’ve opened it. You can also find rose syrups, usually less expensive (also sweeter and considerably redder), in stores specializing in Middle Eastern ingredients. If you use a deep-colored sweet syrup, use just 2 tablespoons. Look for pure rose extract—my brand of choice is Star Kay White. Rose is a tricky flavor, and to get the right fragrance and a taste that is subtle but clearly rose, you need to use the best-quality syrup and extract you can find. Unfortunately, rose water, which is fairly easy to find, doesn’t have the full flavor you want for this cake.

    For the cake
  • 1 ½ cups (204 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lime
  • ½ cup (113 grams) plain yogurt (it can be Greek), at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons rose syrup, preferably Monin (see above)
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon pure rose extract, preferably Star Kay White (see above)
  • ½ cup (120 ml) canola or other flavorless oilFor the filling
  • 1½ cups (360 ml) whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons (75 grams) sugar
  • ¼ cup (32 grams) cornstarch, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1¾ cups (420 ml) very cold heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup (40 grams) confectioners’ sugar, siftedAbout 36 large strawberries, rinsed, patted dry and hulledFor the topping
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1/3 cup red currant jelly
  • ½ cup very cold heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 drop pure rose extract

Strawberries, sliced or whole, tossed with a little sugar and then drainedTo make the cake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9- to 9½-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Set the pan on a baking sheet.Whisk the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt together in a small bowl. Put the sugar and lime zest in a large bowl and, using your fingertips, rub them together until the sugar is fragrant. One by one, add the yogurt, eggs, syrup and extracts, whisking vigorously after each ingredient goes in. Gently whisk in the dry ingredients until thoroughly incorporated into the batter, then gradually fold in the oil—you’ll have a thick, smooth batter. Scrape it into the pan.Bake the cake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sides start to come away from the pan, the top is springy to the touch and a skewer inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and let it rest for 10 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan, turn the cake over onto the rack, remove the bottom and peel away the paper. Allow the cake to cool to room temperature upside down.Turn the cake right side up. If you’d like the interior of the cake to show around the edges—pretty and traditional—use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to slice away the crust around the sides of the cake. Cut the cake evenly into two layers and place the bottom layer cut side up on a serving plate.To make the filling: Bring the milk to a boil (I do this in a microwave oven). Meanwhile, whisk the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan until thick. Still whisking, drizzle in about ¼ cup of the hot milk and then, continuing to whisk, gradually add the remainder. Put the pan over medium heat and cook—whisking nonstop and making sure that you get into the corners of the pan—until a bubble pops at the surface. Lower the heat and whisk the pastry cream for another minute to ensure that the cornstarch is fully cooked.Scrape the cream into a medium bowl and whisk in the vanilla. To cool the cream down quickly, put the bowl into a large bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and let it sit, stirring frequently, until it is cold. Refrigerate until needed. (The cream can be covered tightly—press a piece of plastic film against the surface—and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Put the gelatin in a small microwave-safe bowl and pour over the cold water. When the water is absorbed and the gelatin is soft, about 3 minutes, microwave for 15 seconds, or until the gelatin is melted.

Working in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the cream on high speed until it starts to thicken. Add the confectioners’ sugar and continue to beat until the cream holds peaks. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat in the still-warm gelatin. The cream will thicken almost instantly, and that’s fine.

Whisk the cold pastry cream to loosen it, then add a big spoonful of the whipped cream and whisk energetically. When the mixture seems supple enough to be beaten easily, whisk in the rest of the whipped cream until blended and smooth.

To fill the cake: Spread a thin layer of filling over the bottom layer of the cake. Cut some of the berries vertically in half and trim them at the base so that they’re all the same height. Stand them up, cut side out, around the sides of the cake, leaving some space between the berries. Continue to cut and arrange the berries until you’ve circled the cake. Trim the rest of the whole berries so they are all the same height and place them, base end down, over the layer, fitting them snugly over the cake.

You want to fill in all the spaces between the berries with cream and then smooth a generous layer of it over the tops of the berries, so either spoon the filling into a piping bag (no need to fit it with a tip) or into a zipper-lock plastic bag (snip off one corner of the bag). Pipe cream between the berries and then, when all the spaces are filled, pipe a generous layer of cream over the tops of the berries, taking care to leave the cut side of the outer berries cream free, and smooth it with an offset spatula or a table knife. Settle the top layer, cut side down, onto the cake, rocking it gently from side to side so that the filling can “glue” it into place. (If you’d like, you can refrigerate the cake for up to 6 hours. Press pieces of wax paper against the sides of the cake and keep the cake away from foods with strong odors.)

To finish the cake: Stir the water into the red currant jelly in a small bowl and heat in the microwave until it bubbles. Brush the top of the cake with the jelly, coating it evenly, to give it a shine; save a little jelly for the berry garnish.

Whip the cream in a small bowl until it just starts to mound, add the confectioners’ sugar and continue to whip until the cream holds peaks. Whisk in the vanilla or rose extract.

Spoon and swirl or pipe the cream into a circle in the center of the cake. Scatter the strawberries over the cream and drizzle the reserved jelly over the fruit. If the cake has not been refrigerated, chill it for at least 1 hour.
Storing: You can bake the cake ahead and keep it covered at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months. And the pastry cream can be made and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. But once the cream and berries join the party, you’ve got to finish assembling the cake, chill it and serve it on the same day.

Alan Richardson, Baking Chez Moi, books, cake, cookbooks, desserts, fruit, holidays, Mother's Day, strawberries, sweets