In Japan the birthday cakes are so different from American cakes. They’re less sweet, have whipped cream frosting instead of butter and stabilizers and dyes, and always have fresh fruit. The cake itself is sponge-y and moist. And I’ve never been able to copy the recipe. My mom is convinced that Japanese flour is super light and has less gluten, like cake flour but even finer.
For my little brother’s birthday we decided to make a Strawberry Cream Cake from Cook’s Illustrated, just to try to get close to that Japanese cake. And it wasn’t too far off. It’s probably the best compromise I can come up with. It wasn’t even close to as pretty, but the cake itself was light and moist with a fine crumb.
Amaya and my brother could not keep their fingers out of the frosting. I felt good that it wasn’t full of nasty junk. I was also surprised how easy the recipe was, despite its many steps. The frosting was very easy to make, and I never think that about frosting. I’ll definitely be experimenting with this cake for Amaya’s birthday.
1 1/4 C cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp table salt
1 C sugar
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 T unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
2 T water
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 pounds fresh large strawberries washed, dried, stemmed
4–6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsch (optional—I didn’t use any)
Pinch table salt
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp table salt
2 C heavy cream
1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour round 9 by 2-inch cake pan and line with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tablespoons sugar in mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter, water, and vanilla; whisk until smooth.
2. In clean bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. With machine running, gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, 60 to 90 seconds. Stir one-third of whites into batter to lighten; add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert cake onto greased wire rack; peel off and discard parchment. Invert cake again; cool completely, about 2 hours.
3. FOR THE STRAWBERRY FILLING: Halve 24 of best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter remaining berries; toss with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar (depending on sweetness of berries) in medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain juices from berries and reserve (you should have about 1/2 cup). In workbowl of food processor fitted with metal blade, give macerated berries five 1-second pulses (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). In small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer reserved juices and Kirsch until syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour reduced syrup over macerated berries, add pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until cake is cooled.
4. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: When cake has cooled, place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add heavy cream in slow, steady stream; when almost fully combined, increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes more, scraping bowl as needed (you should have about 4 1/2 cups).
5. TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Using large serrated knife, slice cake into three even layers. Place bottom layer on cardboard round or cake plate and arrange ring of 20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around perimeter of cake layer. Pour one half of pureed berry mixture (about 3/4 cup) in center, then spread to cover any exposed cake. Gently spread about one-third of whipped cream (about 1 1/2 cups) over berry layer, leaving 1/2-inch border from edge. Place middle cake layer on top and press down gently (whipped cream layer should become flush with cake edge). Repeat with 20 additional strawberry halves, remaining berry mixture, and half of remaining whipped cream; gently press last cake layer on top. Spread remaining whipped cream over top; decorate with remaining cut strawberries. Serve, or chill for up to 4 hours.