This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie challenge was a close call. Who wouldn’t want to make a French strawberry cake: strawberries, cream and a chance to make a génoise? But what about the berries? French rhubarb cake doesn’t have the same glamor. At least not in June.
Strawberries are delicate –the best ones really can’t travel very far, or wait very long. And I’m stubborn. I’d rather wait for a local berry – one that is red all the way through, tender and truly sweet – than make do with an imitation – something that exhibits all the mechanical characteristics of a strawberry without actually being one.*
Food magazines and websites start extolling strawberry flavors and virtues in April. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we wait, and we wait, (trying to be content with rhubarb) until our berries start to come in – usually in mid-June. Through some years, it can be as late as July.
Even this year, while the rest of the country experienced record temperatures in early spring, we’ve had just enough sun to keep us all on the edge of our seats – waiting for the second week in July when summer officially arrives in Seattle.
We’re still waiting on the sun, but the strawberries are here – thankfully, in time for me to make my deadline with this cake. This one really is a show stopper. If you like strawberry shortcake, you will love this cake. It is strawberries and sweetened cream with just enough cake for texture.
Mine isn’t decorated quite as elaborately as the ideal cake Dorie describes in Baking with Julia. Rosettes are a skill I have yet to master – really, making a layer cake without a lurch would be a big step for me – but, I did make double the batter; meaning I was brave enough to split the layers in half for a four-layer cake.
This French strawberry cake wasn’t featured on the Baking with Julia TV series. But, you can see the contributing baker; cookbook author and cooking teacher, Flo Braker making the génoise for Julia on YouTube in the episode, Marvelous Miniatures.
I’m still struggling with the cake-flour issue (and by the way, just because I don’t want to use it, doesn’t mean I’m saying you shouldn’t. It’s simply a personal goal for me to bake with more whole grains.) So, my génoise was made with whole-wheat pastry flour and just a touch of all-purpose flour. I was really nervous about folding the heavier flour into the meringue. But it worked beautifully, and the cake layers rose properly. I can’t wait to try out this batter for ladyfingers or madeleines.
I sliced up the strawberries for the filling, and macerated them with sugar and grated ginger for a full day before assembling the cake. I drained the berries and saved the liquid, which I boiled down to make a dessert sauce, just in case my whole wheat génoise needed some extra help. But in the end, my cake was a perfect match for the filling, without any extras. Luckily, the strawberry-ginger sauce is lovely on ice cream, too.
Be sure to visit the websites of our gracious hosts for this week, Sophia, of Sophia’s Sweets, (she’s only 15, by the way. And her cakes don’t lurch!) and Allison of Think, Love, Sleep, Dine to see the original recipe. And you can find links to all the particpating bakers at Tuesdays with Dorie. If you do make this cake – even if you aren’t dogmatic about local strawberries think about using organic berries. It’s better for you and better for the soil.
*I’m paraphrasing Douglas Adams, who was not, in fact, writing about strawberries. But he was writing about imitation food.