I love strawberries, but I generally only eat them when they are in season from local growers. I think this adds to the sense of anticipation and excitement I feel about them. The brief period in April and May when they are at their peak, I gorge myself, making jams and preserves and baked goods – and of course eating them out of hand. The rest of the year is mostly strawberry free for me. If I really need to, I use frozen whole strawberries for baking or maybe to make sauce. But every once in awhile I am tempted by fresh ones, though I am always almost disappointed by the hothouse year round offerings. I set out to create a cake with as much in season strawberry flavor as possible when only the grocery store berries were available.
So let me take this opportunity to discuss the birth of a recipe. The origin of this recipe begins when I wanted to bake a cake for a friend’s birthday, which falls outside strawberry season. But she loves strawberries and pink was just the perfect color for the occasion. I used some frozen, but just wasn’t thrilled with the result. Sure the cake was pink, but not very strawberry-ish. I wanted to do better. I kept thinking, and decided to roast some fresh strawberries to bring out their flavor and sweetness. This turned out to be a much better option for the out of season fruit, and I was pretty pleased with the result. Time passed, and I had reason to make a Valentine themed dessert. Of course, the pink-tinged strawberry cake seemed like a perfect idea. But I still had some reservations about the level of strawberry flavor. I happened to have in my pantry some freeze dried berries, which used to be a rare gourmet store snack but I know find in the dried fruit aisle at every store. I crumble them up on yogurt sometimes, or mix them with nuts for a snack. I couldn’t help but think that concentrated strawberry taste would add to the cake, and indeed it does, upping both the flavor and the hue. And thus was born this lovely year-round strawberry cake.
Then there is the glaze. I bought some ruby chocolate at a gourmet store in London some years ago, intrigued by the pink hue. Ruby chocolate is a naturally red chocolate developed a few years ago (do an internet search for more information). Since then, I now find it at markets like Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s and certainly online. I wanted to use that unique color in a Valentine sweet. It has a slightly berry taste, so it seemed like a perfect pairing for this strawberry cake.
A few notes – I make this in a small 6-cup bundt cake pan I bought on a whim a few years ago from a holiday display at a big box store. I have fallen in love with it, because it makes a beautiful cake that’s perfect for a smaller gathering. But this recipe will easily double for a 12-cup bundt, just increase the cooking time, checking with a tester from 1 hour onward. I have no talent for frosting beautiful cakes, which is why I’m such a fan of the Bundt, so I happily use cheats. The one pictures here has some powdered dried strawberries, shiny sugar flakes and something called gold lustre dust. Go wild with your own creation.
Ruby chocolate turns slightly grayish pink when mixed with liquid, so to keep the color I simply melt the chocolate. If you want to substitute a white chocolate glaze, melt ½ cup of white chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon of cream in the microwave and stir until smooth.
Strawberry and Cream Cake with Ruby Chocolate Glaze
For the Cake:
16 ounces large strawberries
1 scant cup freeze dried strawberries
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
For the Glaze:
3.1 ounces ruby chocolate (I use Chocolove bars)
For the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or nonstick foil.
Hull and halve the strawberries (you can hold a few back for garnish) and spread in an even layer cut side up on the baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the strawberries have begun to collapse and are very soft. Remove from the oven and place the berries in a measuring jug. Use a spoon or a spatula to crush them a little – leave some larger pieces visible. Set aside to cool.
Spray a 6 – cup bundt pan with baking spray. Put the freeze dried berries in a ziptop bag and use a rolling pin to crush them to a powder. You should have ¼ cup powder (save any extra for garnish).
Beat the cream cheese and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment at medium high for a few minutes until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the mixture is pale and fluffy and the sugar no longer feels granular when you rub a little mix between your fingers. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl and making sure each egg is beaten in before adding the next. Beat in the flour and salt until fully combined, scraping the bowl, and smooth. Add the roasted strawberries and the strawberry powder and beat until well combined and smooth. Raise the speed to high and beat five seconds. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely (place the rack over parchment paper to catch any drips from the glaze).
For the Glaze:
Fit a small glass or metal bowl tightly over a small pan. Put about an inch of water in the pan, not touching the bottom of the bowl, and bring to a simmer. Break up the chocolate and put it in the bowl over the water. Stir until melted and smooth, then drizzle over the cake. Leave the glaze to set for several hours.