Strawberry Cake

It wasn’t that long ago, so I am sure you remember my caramel cake story. Well, you may also remember that part of my bounty was a strawberry cake. It was amazing. The only other strawberry cake I had ever eaten was while in culinary school. One of the gals brought it in for a birthday celebration. It was good and very popular. I about died when she started listing the ingredients; box cake, jello, cool whip. I do give her credit. It takes major “cakehones” to bring a less than semi-homemade cake to culinary school. I was training to be a pastry snob, so I never made it. Then i went to Mississippi; where they know their cake. I found myself on a whole new quest. I had to develop a great recipe for completely homemade strawberry cake. I think i got it. And now, I give it to you. Enjoy!

Strawberry Cake
*inspired by rose levy birnbaum’s white velvet butter cake*

1 cup chopped strawberries
1 Tbs powdered sugar
mix together and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients
4 oz egg whites (about 4 1/2 egg whites)–at room temperature
1 cup milk–at room temperature
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbs + 1 tsp baking powder
12 Tbs butter–at room temperature
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup good strawberry jam
Combine egg whites and 1/4 cup milk with vanilla in a bowl. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment mix together the flour, sugar and baking powder. Add to it the butter and mix until crumbly. Turn the mixer to low and add the remaining 3/4 cup milk stirring until completely moist. Increase the speed to medium and beat for about 1 minute. Add egg white mixture 1/3 at a time, scraping down the sides between additions. Stir in strawberry jam and sugared strawberries by hand. Divide mixture between 2-8″ pans that have been greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 30-40 minutes (use the skewer test to ensure the cake is baked properly). Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

strawberry-pecan icing
1 lb cream cheese–at room temperature
3/4 lb unsalted butter–at room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar (more or less)
1/2 cup good strawberry jam
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup pecans–toasted and chopped
Beat the cream cheese and butter together. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. Add the jam, vanilla and salt and beat until fully combined. Add the sugar 1 cup at a time. Check for preferred sweetness after the 4th cup of sugar–add more if you like. I like it with the 6 cups. Stir in the pecans and use to generously frost your cake. (i don’t split the layers…this is a 2 layer cake with a 1/4″ thick of icing as filling).


Caramel Cake

Warm and sticky. Like a rainbow lolly half eaten, forgotten in the crease of the car seat. Three showers a day couldn’t keep me felling fresh. Add to it a severe case of chiggers; itchy feet with my face swollen to near paralysis, and you find yourself smack dab in the middle of one of my favorite food moments.
Mississippi 2010–My Husband’s Family Reunion

I had been obsessed about caramel cake since reading about Minnie’s version of it, in the novel The Help. It is a beautifully written story about fictitious people, weaving through real life. It was captivating. Almost as captivating as its descriptions of food.

I can’t help myself.
I spent the whole “girl with the dragon tattoo” trilogy wondering if people in Sweden actually eat that many sandwiches.

but I digress

Mike and I were mid-stop in our three week southern states road trip, when we hit Mississippi. I had long forgotten my barbecue binges in Texas and my creole cravings in New Orleans. We were crossing the state line, and i needed caramel cake. As we drove through some of the most beautiful country; green as the hills of Ireland, with scattered towns, population merely a blip, I frantically dug through travel books/notes/the web, looking for a bakery, or a sign touting BEST CARAMEL CAKE EVER!

We were in Mississippi for a family reunion, not a cake walk. So, I settled in. Kind of. Not really

About 3 days in, the men went golfing. The remainder of the family was doing other things. I’m not sure, I didn’t ask, I was on a mission. I spent an hour that morning with one last ditch effort, searching the web. I spotted it. A place called Buck’s One Stop in Calhoun City
a mere 70 miles away. Hey, I’m from Los Angeles. It takes and hour to go 15 miles. 70 miles on open roads? Total breeze.

The GPS was slightly off and took me to a dead end street, in a not so friendly neighborhood. I thought to myself, this is the South, it could be that Buck was making cakes in his garage. It could happen. I almost knocked on the door, then thought better of it. Because I was alone and without cell coverage, I figured i’d best to make one more pass down main street. No buck’s one stop. No buck anything. I did, however, happen upon a parking lot crowded with cars. A make-shift sign on the front door of the building named the place Bubba T’s. It seemed nice. Actually, it seemed like a community center, possibly serving meals to the homeless. It was a buffet, housing really hearty meals of richly smoked meats and slow braised greens in an all you can eat fashion–self portioned, from a modge podge of steam pans.

I got in line. Half wondering if perhaps, this wasn’t an invitation only, memorial luncheon for Bubba T.

I gathered my courage while filling my plate, silently practicing my lines and voice inflection. The minute I opened my mouth, I was a tell. Not from around here, certainly not Bubba’s kin. Thankfully, I noticed a small cashier’s sign in the far corner of the room. Behind the register sat the most adorable Priscilla Presley circa 1968 look alike. While she tallied my bill, we made small talk. Yes, I am from out of town, yes, it is hot enough for me, no, I don’t need napkins. And then I did it. I asked if she knew Buck’s One Stop. Her reply, “Yep. The Texaco. You need gas?” First of all, I was standing there, paying for a loaded plate of food, including some sort of pudding-I wasn’t going to admit I was looking for more food. Secondly, I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had driven 70 miles to buy cake I had read about in a book and that I may or may not have crashed a funeral lunch. So, I lied. Yes, I need gas.

I almost didn’t stop at the Texaco which, by the way, was no longer Buck’s, it had been sold to Mark. But in the spirit of optimism, I held out hope. I’ve experienced great food at truck stops in Italy, it could happen in Calhoun City.

Nearly a full year has passed yet that day remains an indelible memory. I can see the patrons, hear the sounds, feel the arctic blast of air rushing me like a wave as i opened the grimy gas station door. At first glance it looked like every road-side station snack shop–cigarettes, candy, gum, chips. And then I saw it. I felt like Tony Orlando, but instead of yellow ribbons, I saw cakes and pies. Right there, in the Texaco station, in the township of Calhoun City, population 1770, were the most beautiful, freshly baked cakes I had ever laid eyes on. Including, the object of my obsession. Caramel Cake. It was sky high and drenched in icing–a single slice flanked by strawberry cake and coconut cream pie.

Behind the counter was the proprietress, amply bosomed, kind-faced and seemingly unaware that people drive miles for her confections. As she and I locked eyes over the counter, my heart sank. Just one piece remaining. A generous slice, but a single slice, none-the-less. How was I going to eat the slice of cake while still sharing it with others? Apparently,my lips were moving and I was muttering it out loud. To which the nice lady gave me a great big smile and pointed at a floor to ceiling shelving unit, stacked with pink boxes.

pink boxes of cake

My heart jumped. I may have shed a tear. I think I giggled a bit. I was prepared to sell my soul. And had this been Los Angeles, I might have had to. Because I walked out of there with 2 whole cakes–one caramel, one strawberry–an additional slice of each (for tasting purposes), and maybe some pie. I’m not exactly admitting to the pie. I’m just saying, they sold pie too.

My version of caramel cake tastes pretty close to what I remember from Calhoun City. It combines a tender crumb white cake with a rich and sugary poured icing.

Caramel Cake

white velvet butter cake
from rose levy birnbaum
4 oz egg whites–room temperature
1 cup whole milk–divided–room temperature
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbs + 1 tsp baking powder
12 Tbs unsalted butter-room temperature
1/4 tsp kosher salt (my addition)
In a mixer combine all the dry ingredients, and mix for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and mix until the flour gets crumbly. Stir in 1/4 cup of the milk and bring the speed to medium high and beat for about 30 seconds. In a bowl, stir together the egg whites, milk and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients in 3 additions, scraping down the sides and beating for about 5-10 seconds after each addition. Do not over mix, but make sure it is all incorporated. Pour into 2-7″ cake tins, which you have parchment lined and greased. Smooth the batter and bake in a preheated 350 oven for approximately 35 minutes. Bake until a tester comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn over onto cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Slice each round into two horizontally to make 4 layers total.

caramel icing
2 cups light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
2 Tbs real maple syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
Bring brown sugar, butter, milk, maple syrup and salt to a simmer. Simmer just until the sugar is no longer grainy, don’t let it boil. Remove from heat and add vanilla, stirring constantly. Allow to cool just slightly…so that it isn’t scorching hot, but nicely warm. Whisk in powdered sugar. You have to work fast, this will set up rather quickly. Pour icing on each layer as you stack it, you don’t want it to completely pour over the sides, but it can drip over without issue. once all the layers are set, pour the remaining icing over the top using a ladle. use the bottom of the ladle to coax the icing over the sides to cover completely.
sprinkle pecans on top

*full disclosure
i love this frosting, so i make 1 batch and allow it to cool a bit, then spread like frosting between the layers. this gives me a bit thicker layer of filling. i then make a second batch and completely bathe the cake in it. it is my preferred method…but 1 batch of icing will work as well.

St. Patrick’s Day Cake

I do enjoy a snazzy chapeau. Especially if it is edible.

This is a simple 7″ layer cake placed on a 10″ cake round. Place the fondant covered cake in the middle of the round. Roll out a strip of fondant wide enough and long enough for the brim, curling up the edges. Using a brush, paint a bit of water on the round (only a little) to help the brim stick and carefully place along the edges of the cake. The shamrocks are fashioned from lightly colored fondant cut out with a cookie cutter. softened the edges a bit with my fingers to give them a bit of movement. The buckle is simply rolled fondant covered in edible gold leaf, then brushed with a bit of bronze luster dust. I used just a bit of water to adhere all the elements onto the cake.

If you would like more details or further instruction on how I made this, please ask. I promise i won’t tell you that a leprechaun left it behind, at the pub I frequent.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

My two best finds in England? Becky and sticky toffee pudding. Becky is a Brit and a cherished friend. She is also whip-smart and has a laugh that fills a room. I was reminded of that last week. Mike and I met up with Becky for lunch whilst in London on a visit. Such a treat!
I was also reminded of the first time I’d eaten sticky toffee pudding. It was Becky’s birthday and I had strong-armed my way into a reservation at the, then, most popular spot in town, The Ivy. I may have insinuated that I was a food writer. I can’t remember. It was 10 years ago and not entirely a lie; my diary is loaded with food descriptions…as far back as the 6th grade. I have since eaten sticky toffee pudding hundreds of times but none have been as good. The Ivy didn’t invent it but they sure did perfect it. Almost. I have made a few additions to their recipe along the way that give it a bit of a kick, a more modern flavor if you will but it is them and Becky that I have to thank. I was one small fib away from never knowing the beauty of sticky toffee pudding
For my final, in culinary school, I made sticky toffee pudding into a composed dessert with bourbon hard sauce and cocoa nib tuile all wrapped in a caramelized sugar cage. It was beautiful and earned me high marks but way too fussy for everyday enjoyment. This recipe is not complicated, but it is a bit time-consuming. It takes a bit of advanced planning, but I promise, it is worth it.

sticky toffee pudding


for the date puree
375gr stoned dates
375ml water
1/2 inch knob of peeled ginger kept whole
Simmer the dates and ginger in the water over low heat about 15 minutes until they are very soft and the water has almost evaporated. Remove the knob of ginger and discard. process the remaining water and dates until very smooth.
for the toffee sauce
640 ml heavy cream
340 gr granulated sugar
130 gr corn syrup (optional)
130 gr unsalted butter
generous pinch of kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla
Pour half the cream, sugar, corn syrup (if using), butter and salt into a thick-bottomed pan and mix well.  Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon, and continue to boil until it is golden brown.  Remove from heat and allow it to cool slightly. Whisk in the remaining cream and vanilla. Set aside.
for the sponge
130 g unsalted butter–room temperature
375 g dark brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
450 gr bread flour
10 gr baking powder
3 gr baking soda
3 gr kosher salt
1/8 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
Grease and line a baking tin measuring approximately 30x24x6cm, with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, clove, ginger, and cardamom.  In a mixer cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, do not allow the mixture to separate. If it does, add a bit of flour to bind it back together. Add vanilla. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat until the mixture is smooth.  Fold in flour mixture until smooth.  Add the warm date puree and mix well.  Spread in prepared tin and bake for about 45-50 minutes at 350. Use a cake tester to ensure you do not overbake.
To assemble
Once cooled, remove the cake from the tin and trim the edges.  Slice horizontally into 3 and reassemble in the baking tin, spreading two-thirds of the sauce between layers. Just before you are ready to serve, place the cake back in a 350 oven for about 15 minutes, then cut into equal servings.  Top with remaining toffee sauce. You can serve with softly whipped cream, creme fraiche, soured cream or ice cream.

**You can also make these into cupcakes. Bake as normal and before they are completely cooled, poke holes in them and pour in the toffee sauce. Allow it to seep in and pool on top.  Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

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