Strawberries remind me of childhood summers. I grew up near pick-your-own strawberry fields. I can almost feel the muggy heat of afternoons spent picking strawberries, finishing hours later with probably as many strawberries in my overstuffed tummy as in the bushels we were given to collect them in. Bright red stains on my face and on my T-shirt were a dead giveaway for my crime, and a tummy ache from my overindulgence my punishment.
I think my kids will also remember strawberries as the fruit mascot of their youth. California's mild climate means that we can enjoy local strawberries the whole summer long. They start to make a big presence in the farmer's markets in June, when my older daughter has her birthday, so most of her birthday cakes have featured strawberries as a garnish. They are still wildly abundant now in the season's finale, as summer is coming to a close. There are some pick-your-own strawberry farms down the coast, but we're spoiled by the fruit's easy availability everywhere you turn. I mean that literally. On many street corners in San Francisco, you'll see vendors making come-hither motions to you as you walk or drive by, with huge cases of larger-and-redder-than-life strawberries stacked on the sidewalk. We usually buy them instead from the farmer's market or a local grocery and eat them in their natural perfection; they don't last very long in my family. The ones that survive get used in all types of desserts, and are also a favorite bit of sweetness in mixed green salads.
My kids accompany me on grocery shopping expeditions and watch and/or assist in my cooking and baking (although for baking, they are most often interested mainly in licking the bowl). The daughter, for whom I made the cake I am presenting here, is very observant and a foodie in the making. She apparently noticed the copious amounts of extra-rich European butter, which I normally do not buy, that I purchased to make this cake, a Victoria sponge. Victoria sponge is a richer version of sponge cake than what we normally consume in the U.S. It is named after Queen Victoria of England, who enjoyed a slice with her afternoon tea. Victoria sponge is traditionally a simple "sandwich" of two layers of sponge cake with Devon clotted cream and strawberry jam in the middle, and lightly dusted on top with confectioner's sugar. For my daughter's 5th birthday, I added lightly sweetened whipped cream on top and piled on the strawberries. There are so many sweet, red, ripe strawberries around, I make them into the jam that fills the cake as well.
My pretend cooks are now graduating to becoming my prep cooks in the real kitchen now, which is an exciting development. My older one is a master at mincing garlic. I'm still wary of giving a knife to the little one, but she is good at mashing things -- potatoes, bananas and avocados. But I think I'll hold off for now on teaching them how to turn our summer strawberries into margaritas.
Strawberry-Crowned Victoria Sponge Cake
Recipes adapted from Saveur, Issue No. 84
- 3⁄4 pound plus 1 tablespoon salted European-style high-fat butter, softened (I use unsalted Kerrygold)
- 3 cups plus 1 tablespoon self-rising cake flour
- 1 1⁄2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 1⁄4 cups double Devon cream
- 3⁄4 cup high-quality strawberry jam, homemade if possible
- 1 pint of strawberries, sliced in half
- 1 pint of heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 360º. Grease two 2-inch deep, 8-inch round cake pans with ½ tablespoon butter each. Dust each with ½ tablespoon flour; set aside.
- Beat remaining butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed for 5 minutes.
- Add granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
- Combine eggs and 6 tablespoons water in another bowl.
- Add half the egg mixture and half the flour to the butter-sugar mixture. Beat well for 1-2 minutes. Add remaining egg mixture and flour; beat batter for 5 minutes.
- Divide batter between prepared pans.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.
- Invert cakes onto a rack, remove pans, and let cool completely.
- Beat Devon cream in a medium bowl until stiff.
- Put 1 cooled cake layer on a cake plate, spread top with half the jam, then cover jam with the cream. Spread top of remaining cooled cake layer with remaining jam and place it, jam side down, on top of cream.
- Whip heavy cream until just slightly stiff. Stir in vanilla and sweeten with additional sugar, if desired, to taste.
- Generously slather top of cake with whipped cream.
- Top with a crown of strawberries for your summer birthday princess, or for a luxurious afternoon tea.
End-of Summer Strawberry Jam
Makes 4 ½ pints
- 2 pounds fresh end-of-summer strawberries, washed and hulled
- 5 cups granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Place washed strawberries into a large, heavy pot and mash with a potato masher.
- Add sugar and lemon juice and stir well.
- Bring to a vigorous boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
- Continue to boil until thickened, about 10-15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool for 30 minutes.
- Once cool, skim any foam from the surface.
- Use ¾ cup to fill the cake.
- Store the remainder in the refrigerator for up to three days, or can for longer storage.