Let them eat (strawberry) cake
What cake did Marie Antoinette have in mind when she said “Let them eat cake”? What she supposedly said was “Qu’il mange de la brioche”, not exactly translated to “let them eat cake” but close enough in the sentiment. Perhaps she never said that at all and the phrase was unfairly attributed to her, but in any event, had she been alive still she’d be “eating her words” as that phrase is seen as the utmost indifference to people’s suffering. She is also believed to have said that she is terrified of being bored. We spent a month in Paris a while back and visited Versailles and her pink palace next door, including her little “farm” where she would go with her young kids to gather eggs and get milk from the cows, perform in her own theatre and try to create a simpler life for herself away from the big chateaux. We all know how that story ended. Was she to blame for her fate or was she victim to circumstances? History is always fascinating.
Well, when I say let them eat cake I make the cake and serve it to my guests so it has a different context. I made this vanilla-strawberry cake yesterday for a dinner party for six on the rooftop patio. Dinner was interrupted just before dessert by almost hurricane force winds that swept over Kelowna and caused considerable damage. I saw a sea plane almost upside down on the dock in the downtown area, as well as substantial damage to trees, boats docked at the marina and more. At least the rain that followed helped in extinguishing a fire that was burning across the lake, dangerously close to homes in the area.
Before the wind made it impossible to stay outdoors we managed to have a nice dinner with great conversation, even an impromptu musical performance by G (“Smile”, written by Charlie Chaplin), before we were forced indoors to continue the evening inside.
I have been baking on and off these past few months, even trying my hand in cake decorating without monumental success, so I keep the presentation simple. I baked this cake a couple of weeks ago and kept the two layers wrapped in the freezer, then assembled it for dinner yesterday. It’s a two layer cake that you can use as is or cut into 4 layers, which I did. I layered the cake with freshly whipped cream and strawberries and then spread a layer of whipped cream all over the cake, trying to smooth the sides the best I could. Last minute decision was to caramelize hazelnuts, grind them and press them all over the cake. They added a welcome caramel crunch to the otherwise soft cake. They also cover a multitude of cake decorating sins.
If you make the cake keep it in the fridge but take it out at least 30 minutes before serving to take away the chill.
1.5 sticks butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups fresh strawberries
1 -2 tablespoon sugar, depending how sweet they are.
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, skin on
2 tablespoons sugar
Combine hazelnuts and sugar in a skillet over medium high heat and cook, stirring now and then until the sugar melts and coats the nuts. Be careful not to let the sugar burn.
Let cool, then place in a food processor and chop to a coarse texture.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix for 5 minutes until the batter is very light.
With the mixer running add the eggs one at a time and let them incorporate well into the batter before adding the next one. Stop the machine and scrape the sides once or twice in the process.
Add the vanilla and mix it in.
Sift the flour and baking soda together (pass through a fine mesh sieve).
Lower the speed of the mixer to low and begin adding the flour to the batter alternating with the buttermilk and finishing with the flour. Stop to scrape the sides down one or twice through the blending.
Butter 2 – 8″ cake pan with removable bottom (you will need about 2″ high sides) and line the boom with a round of parchment.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake in the 350°F oven for 35-40 minutes or until done. I carefully touch the top of the cake and if it’s firm then it’s ready. You can insert a skewer into the cakes to see if it comes out clean with wet batter, but the touch test works for me.
Remove from the oven and let the cake cool in the pans.
You can refrigerate the cake or freeze it at this point.
To make the filling:
Whip the cream and sugar and soft peaks form but be careful not to over whip.
Slice the strawberries in half, if they are large, into 3- 4 slices and mix with a tablespoon of sugar.
Slice each cake round into two layers.
Spread some of the whipped lemon cream on the bottom layer and pile with sliced berries.
Repeat with remaining layers.
Spread whipped cream on the top and sides and smooth it as well as you can.
Pile some strawberries on top of the cake (see image, but use your imagination).
Pat the chopped caramelized hazelnuts onto the sides and sprinkle them top of the cake.
Refrigerate covered but remove from fridge 30 minutes before you serve.
Serve the cake with more of the sugar marinated strawberries on the side and if you have it, extra whipped cream.
Let them eat cake.