There was this one time at Ohio State at a lab picnic which redefined American cakes for me. Until then we had been used to eating cheap grocery store cake which was inevitably heavy with buttercream icing. But then a colleague bought a cake from a Japanese bakery in Columbus to share. It was absolutely white on the outside with thinly sliced strawberries and kiwis on the top. When cut, it had 3 layers and in between the light beige colored layers of cake were layers of white whipped cream, interspersed with rich pink colored strawberries and delicate green colored kiwis. I don’t think I have seen a prettier looking cake. As if reflecting the mood of the weather on that sunny spring afternoon, the fruit was the sign that the whiteness of winter was on its way out. And the taste! It was the culinary equivalent of a bear hug from someone you love – warm, soft and sweet.
Ever since that first moment of romance, I have flirted with the strawberry cream cake on numerous occasions. But never quite managed to nail it (pun intended) to taste exactly like I remember it. My first attempt was using this recipe. Isn’t the picture perfectly delightful. So colorful! I made it exactly as in the recipe, except for the strawberry mirror on top. This was during the pre-mixer days and I made this for the hubby’s birthday. I beat egg whites by hand and it was also my first attempt at folding. I am sure the egg whites were not perfect. But the cake tasted quite good, but the actual cake itself wasn’t soft enough. It was spongy though as expected and looked nearly as pretty. I have pictures of the cake which we cut with a couple of friends a day early because I left for a writing conference in Chicago the next morning. Since then I have tried the cake using sponge and chiffon cake recipes from here, here, here, here (the recipe is for paying members only, I’m not asking you to subscribe, but if you can’t find the recipe that’s why!) and here. The first couple and the last one use true sponge cakes without any fat in them and so tend to be dry. I never tried soaking them in sugar syrup even though some recipes suggested that. The third and fourth recipes are chiffon cakes which have some oil in tfhem which makes the cake a little moist, but still my cakes were drier than I remembered the original cake. Perhaps it was just an issue with my cake making skills. Still I made a lot of cakes with these recipes – for friends birthdays, barbecues and other parties, I always had one ready. In summer especially it was a delight to make this cake when all the tropical fruits were in full flow – mangoes, strawberries, kiwis, pineapple, litchies. The cakes looked so pretty!
It had been a long time since I baked these cakes, especially since having the baby. I made a similar cake for my sister-in-laws birthday’s a couple of years ago and then last December, on two back to back weekends I made similar cakes using a completely different cake recipe. I used a Genoise cake recipe – this cake is lighter than the sponge cake because the eggs are warmed before beating and tender because of the addition of fat (butter in this case). The first time it was a chocolate Genoise, soaked in coffee syrup and layered with chocolate whipped cream. This cake actually had burnt bottoms because of a temperature control issue in my oven but I scraped the bottoms off and used the cake. The second time was a vanilla cake, without any soaking syrup and with a strawberry mousse filling which didn’t turn out as light as I wanted it to be. Still both the cakes were delicious (if I do say so myself) and I am quite excited that these cakes also matched the original Japanese bakery cake in moistness, tenderness and mouth feel. I have met the Japanese bakery cake again. Still the search hasn’t ended for the perfect recipe to bake it.
Just writing about those cakes is making life better on a day when things were a little awry. A cousin of mine asked on Facebook today “Why can’t life work out the way you want it to?” Yes, why can’t it? Isn’t that THE question in life? Because if my cakes always turned out the way I wanted them to, I wouldn’t have ever learned baking as deeply as I have now. Because if I hadn’t burnt a few cakes, I wouldn’t appreciate it when a cake came out just perfect. Because if a sponge cake was the same as a Genoise cake, then why warm the eggs and add the fat? Because if every cake was the same why bake so many cakes? And if every life was the same, why have so many people.