Strawberries Take the Cake

strawberry layer cakeThis cake is so worth it. I’ve been known to indulge in the sport of cake making on occasion, usually to be disappointed in the results. Cakes tend to be a lot of work, what with the sifting, measuring and the like. Generally, I only eat the frosting. Sometimes the cake, too, but because it is glued to the frosting.

So first and foremost – this cake is the bomb. The cake itself is delicious and will probably become my favorite basic cake when I don’t cheat with mixes. Mainly I use mixes because I’m willing to trade the somewhat artificial flavor for ease of making the final cake, as a vehicle for frosting or ice cream. But this basic cake, in all of its mixing, is really, really good. But there’s not shortcuts. When the directions call for mixing for 6 minutes, it’s not kidding around. The recipe is from, via Christina Tosi at New York’s Milk Bar.

There are multiple steps here. You will be making a cake, a cheesecake (crustless), strawberry jam, frosting, lemon curd and something called milk crumbs (from the Milk Bar). This being strawberry season, I already had already made the jam. You just need to tweak it with some vinegar – yes vinegar – which helps downplay the sweetness. I had some extra lemon curd left over from a Barbara Kafka recipe in the NY Times.

I will include her recipe here, plus include with my modification. One major modification I made to the recipe involves the construction. I don’t own 6-inch pans. So I baked the cake in 2 9-inch cake pans and the cheesecake in a 9-inch nonstick cake pan. I will include directions on assembly below.

The cake itself can go into the freezer and come out on a nice warm day around 4 p.m. and be ready in time for serving after dinner.

Vanilla Cake

This will make 2 9-inch round cakes or 1 8×12-inch sheet cake.

Nonstick baking spray
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 14 cups sugar
14 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
12 cup buttermilk
12 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 12 cups cake flour (I used White Lily)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare your cake pans by coating with cooking spray and then lining the bottoms with either rounds of parchment or a sheet of parchment – cut to fit the size of the pan. This will help your cake come easily out of the pan later.

You can use a stand mixer or hand electric mixer, but be prepared to beat for a while here.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed for 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Crack eggs in a separate bowl, to make sure there are no shells, then add them, one at a time to the creamed sugar and butter, mixing on medium-high speed for another 3 minutes.

Put the buttermilk, oil and vanilla into one measuring cup, then, with the mixer speed on  low,  slowly drizzle in it in. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until the batter doubles in volume and turns white – this will take about 6 minutes.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder salt. With the mixer speed on low, add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Scrape  batter into the prepared pans (pan) and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, 28 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely. Remove from the pans (pan). Wrap the pan in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
This is the recipe from Saveur.
My take on it would be to use 12 ounces of your favorite jam, homemade or purchased (buy the best you can, making sure strawberries are the first ingredient). In a small bowl, combine jam, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3 to 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar.
12 ounces strawberries, hulled
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pectin
34 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sherry wine vinegar
1 12 teaspoon white wine vinegar
In a blender, puree the strawberries. In a small saucepan, whisk the sugar with pectin and 12 teaspoon of the salt. Put purée into the saucepan along with both vinegars. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil , and then reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook the jam, stirring, until thickened , 10 minutes. Remove the jam from the heat and let cool completely.
Strawberry Frosting
1 stick butter, softened
1/4 powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons pickled strawberry jam
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
In a mixing bowl, beat with electric or stand mixer cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Mix in 5 tablespoons pickled strawberry jam and the lemon juice. The rest of the jam will be used in the cake.
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Coat a nonstick cake pan with cooking spray.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat cream cheese and egg until light and fluffy. Add salt and sugar and beat for 2 more minutes. Scrape into prepared pan.
Bake for about 20 minutes. The top will not be brown, but the edges will have started to pull away from the edges.
Let cool on a rack.
Lemon Curd
 2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
6 large eggs, room temperature and beaten in a small bowl
In a 2 1/2-quart souffle dish or 8-cup glass measuring cup, place butter, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Cover with microwave plastic wrap and cook for about 4 minutes.
Remove from microwave and carefully uncover.
Add about 1/4 cup of the melted mixture to the eggs and whisk together (you are tempering the eggs, so work quickly). Scrape egg mixture into souffle dish and whisk constantly so you don’t get scrambled eggs.
Place back in microwave, uncovered, and cook for about 3 minutes. Whisk again. Cook again, uncovered, for about 2 minutes. Finish in a blender for a very smooth lemon curd. For this cake recipe, I don’t bother with the blender.
Don’t skip this. Some people like to snack on them. I wasn’t keen on the flavor by themselves, but in the cake, it is a great complement.
34 cup instant nonfat dry milk, such as Carnation
14 cup flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar
12 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces (chips are OK) white chocolate, melted
Heat  oven to 250. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.
In a medium bowl, whisk 12 cup of the dry milk with the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Add the melted butter and stir with  until the mixture forms small clusters. Spread the baking sheet and bake until dried and sandy, 20 minutes. Allow to cool.
Return the clusters to a bowl, break apart any that are larger than 12 inch in diameter. Add remaining 14 cup dry milk and toss until evenly coated. Pour the white chocolate over the crumbs and stir until evenly coated. If not using that day, refrigerate for up to 1 week.
To Assemble
Now that you are exhausted … This recipe really is a 2-3 day exercise. I baked the cake, cheesecake, and milk crumbs the night before.
While the cheesecake was still warm, not hot, I crumbled it into a medium size bowl with the lemon curd. Then beat until creamy. Cover and refrigerate.
The next day I mixed the vinegar into the strawberry jam and used 5 tablespoons to make the frosting. I pulled the lemon curd cheesecake out of the fridge to get to room temperature.
Now all you need is 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.
1. Cut your cake into 2 6-inch rounds. Find a small bowl with a flat bottom that is 6-inches in diameter. Put the cake scraps into the bowl, pushing down and together so it forms a somewhat cohesive layer. Invert it onto a serving plate. Brush with 3/4 teaspoon lemon juice.
2. Spread with half of the leftover pickled jam and top with 1/3 of the milk crumbs.
3. Take a sheet of parchment paper that is long enough to go around the bottom of the cake. You want to cut it so it will be about 18-inches tall. Wrap the parchment around the cake and secure with tape in several places. This will become a form to keep the layers from falling over. This step is important.
4. Now spoon 1/2 of the lemon curd cheesecake over top and spread to the edges.
5. Top with 1 of the cut cake layers. Brush with remaining lemon juice, remaining jam and 1/3 of the milk crumbs.
6. Dollop and spread remaining lemon curd cheesecake on top. Place remaining cake layer on top. Spread frosting on top. Sprinkle with remaining milk crumbs.
7. Freeze for at least 12 hours.If you are going to freeze for longer, make sure to wrap in plastic and foil to protect the cake from freezer burn.
8. Remove from freezer at least 3 hours before serving. Remove parchment. Revel in its beauty. Slice and serve.
Best eaten outside, with candlelight and stars.
dinner outside

Memorial Day: 4 Make-Ahead Cakes

Memorial Day coincides with my birthday so I celebrate with a three-day sweet fest. My mother used to make the most creative birthday cakes, creating her own forms to cut out theme cakes (this is before Wilton made molded cake pans) and decorate them.

I was a vanilla girl. Vanilla ice cream. Vanilla cake. White frosting. That was me. Then one year, my mother made a chocolate Coca-Cola cake. I was done. I was chocolate forever after.

Here are four of my favorite recipes for cakes for Memorial Day weekend – whether you have a birthday to celebrate or a picnic.


Coca-Cola Cake, courtesy of

Coca-Cola Cake

The recipe is from the Coca-Cola website, courtesy of the Junior League of Atlanta. My mother made it pre-Internet so I’m even more impressed.

chocolate glazed tart

Chocolate tart with a caramel glaze. 

Chocolate Glazed Tart

This is a new addition to my recipe list, courtesy of It is incredibly rich. So rich, that I had to make it even more decadent by swapping out the chocolate glaze with a caramel. one. This is best made the morning of the day it is to be eaten. It’s pretty easy to make and you can either make your own caramel sauce or buy one.

Simple Salted Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put both sugars in the bottom of a medium-sized heavy saucepan with high sides over medium heat and melt sugar. Keep and eye on it so it doesn’t burn. This is where a rubber spatula with a 500-degree heat range will be your best friend. Once it has melted, carefully (because this will bubble up) add butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Use a whisk for this because you want to fully incorporate the butter. Once that is done, this takes 2-3 minutes, carefully pour in cold cream, which will also bubble up and spatter. Allow it to boil for about 1 minute and remove from heat. Whisk in salt and vanilla extract. Allow to cool. This can be stored in the refrigerator.

It will be hard to buy caramel sauce after you taste this.


One-Pan Chocolate Cake

I found this recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website and my daughter and I make it all the time. I love the intense chocolate flavor, which I think differentiates this recipe from a lot of other chocolate pan cakes. I love King Arthur’s triple cocoa blend (this is not a paid post). If you are using regular Dutch process cocoa, the addition of the espresso powder (found usually in the coffee aisle or international aisle of your grocery story) is a wonderful enhancer. I add it to almost all chocolate recipes. Add some sprinkles and it can be very festive and holiday appropriate (and who doesn’t love a few sprinkles on cake?).


This salted peanut tiramisu just needs to be finished off with a dusting of cocoa.


I have had really good tiramisu and really bad tiramisu (and made both).This salted peanut recipe from rocked my tiramisu world. I, too, missed texture in my tiramisu. I wanted a little crunch. Transforming regular salted peanuts into with a simple sugar glaze, rocked. The  peanuts from the Virginia branch of the family were particularly good (who knew there could be such a difference in peanuts). Indeed, I had to make extra because I kept nibbling at the sweet and salty nuts.

I will be experimenting with tiramisu more now – next up might be making some brittle and adding it. The only thing missing, for me, from the recipe, was some chocolate. So either dust with some cocoa powder, or, drizzle some chocolate sauce on top.

If you want a more traditional tiramisu, follow Mario Batali’s recipe. 

If you have a picnic this weekend, any one of these recipes will serve you well. They are best made in the cool morning and refrigerated for later in the day or made the night before and refrigerated.

Marnie Mead can be reached at






Rhubarb and Strawberries perfect pair

strawberry rhubarb

The French almost spoiled rhubarb for me forever. There are very few foods on my “do not eat” list, and rhubarb was on there. I couldn’t fathom why anyone wanted to eat what I perceived to be a tart version of celery. I only eat that when it is chopped finely like a mirepoix. No ants on log in this house.

But I like to test my dislikes every now and again. So on a trip to Paris a few years ago, I gave it a try as a dessert choice during prix fixe three-course meal. Stewed. That should have given it away. It tasted like tart limp celery.

Fortunately, the relentless press of rhubarb recipes in the late spring caught my eye a year ago and I gave it a try again – chopped finely and paired with strawberries in a crisp or crumble. The fine chop eliminates my texture issue, while the tart flavor pairs deliciously with strawberries.

Now, when it comes into season I buy it. I don’t always know how I am going to prepare it, but I buy it anyway. It keeps for a bit, like celery, so you can wait for inspiration. In my case, it came in the form of Tuesday night dinner. My beau was coming over and he has a sweet tooth (as do both my daughter and I). I temporarily exhausted the chocolate category for his birthday.

Borrowing a recipe from Food52, I chopped up 1 pound rhubarb, 1 pound strawberries and added them to a pot with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and let it sit for an hour. Then I brought it to a boil and simmered for about 20 minutes, until it was nice and thick. I put into into jars, add lids, and refrigerate until ready to use. I dollop spoonfuls in my yogurt in the morning and put it on ice cream at night. It’s strawberry jam at the next level.

For our dessert, the strawberry rhubarb jam topped a fluffy cheesecake baked in a Mason jar, a recipe I adapted from Martha Stewart. I made a few minor alterations.

I can tell you I converted two rhubarb haters into lovers, both asking for some extra jam to top their cheesecakes as they dug in.Cheesecake an a Jar

This seems like a lot of eggs compared to my normal cheesecake recipe, which calls for 1 egg per 8 ounces of cream cheese. The eggs make it fluffy instead of dense, which is perfect in these jars.


  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 ounces mascarpone or sour cream (1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon fruit preserves or jam
  • 6  6-ounce jars


  • 4 chocolate or regular graham crackers
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar


Heat oven to 325 degrees. Fill a small pot or a teakettle with water and get it ready to boil. You are going to bake these cheesecakes in a bain marie (water bath) to keep the temperature even.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and mascarpone (or sour cream) until smooth with an electric mixer. Add sugar and beat until it is fully incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Mix in salt (1/4 teaspoon), lemon juice and vanilla.

Divide batter among six 6-ounce jars, filling each about half full first then using any remaining batter to even them out.

Put a baking dish large enough to hold the jars, a 9×9 square dish will work, on the middle rack in the heated oven. Place jars in the baking dish. Fill the dish with boiling water until about halfway up the side of the jars.

Cover with foil that has had 4-6 large slits cut into it to vent. Bake until set in the center, about 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate overnight to set.

You can serve these the same day, as I did, by gradually changing the hot water to cold once the cheesecakes are baked.  When you remove them from the oven, place the hot pan in the sink. Remove foil. Add tepid water to the dish to gradually lower the temperature. Once the dish has the tepid water in it, gradually add ice cubes to chill down the cheesecakes. Go slowly – don’t dump a bunch of ice all in at one time, or you risk cracking the baking dish and the cheesecake jars. Add ice as it melts. They should be ready to eat in about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, turn graham crackers into crumbs in either a blender or food processor (or buy crumbs). Add sugar and pulse several times to combine. Then add melted butter and process until just incorporated. Spread onto a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes.

When cheesecakes are ready to serve, spoon some preserves on top and sprinkle with graham topping. Place any extra preserves and topping in separate bowls and serve along with the cheesecakes so guests can replenish as they scoop out the cheesecake.

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