If you’re in the South- the warmest language is the Food. Spicy? ‘Yes ma’am.’ Fried? ‘I liketa died.’ Baked? ‘Well, doesn’t that take the cake?’ Oh yes! the best drawls of all come out when sugah is involved! Our Southern Sweet Tooth is legendary, right up there with fresh vegetables. In fact, I’d venture to say- the slowest drawls can be found at Farmer’s Markets- especially where jams, jellies, syrups, pickles and home baked goods are sold! When fresh fruit starts showing up at roadside stands or farmer’s markets- Southerners have been known to work themselves to death- figuring out how to eat and preserve as much as possible! Especially peaches, blackberries and strawberries! It’s a funny thing, now you can get these fruits almost all year round but somehow they just don’t taste the same.
One of my vivid childhood memories is the excitement I felt as an old rattletrap truck sputtered into our neighborhood- windows rolled down as a farmer called out these distinct words… ‘Strah-behries- strawbehries! Getcher strah-behries!’ My job was to run toward the road waving my skinny arms so the truck would stop! Meanwhile my sister would take out running to the house calling out for our Momma. Dressed in flowered Housedresses or cotton Dusters that snapped up the front or starched Shirtwaist dresses, ladies would hurry out- Aprons Sashes flying, Change Purses in hand, Sensible Shoes stepping up to the Strawberry Truck. The man would lift up the plywood sides of his ol’ truck and the sweet aroma of fresh strawberries would waft out on the breeze; inside we could see-packed like jewels were sweet strawberries. I could hear paper bags being filled, or woven market baskets handed out as money changed hands. We knew something especially delicious was at hand!
Now, I have a confession to make here- my family wasn’t known for baking very many Layer Cakes- My great aunt Mary Sue made a layer cake called Lemon Cheese Cake which wasn’t anything like folks think of cheesecakes at all! No, we ate strawberries with pound cake, as a topping for shortcake or homemade ice cream. Strawberries showed up in hot bubbly cobblers or topped cool pies; we loved them just sugared and sliced in a bowl with whipped cream too- so… the first time I had a true Strawberry Layer Cake- it was a revelation!
I think the first Strawberry Layer was from a bakery called the Electric Maid on Southside and most recently a wonderful bakery called Edgar’s near Cahaba Heights….until a darling friend named Kim made several for our family and I’ve come to love them! Sooo… I have a confession to make- this is my very first attempt at making a Strawberry Layer Cake! Another confession is that, I baked it with the help of Mr. Duncan Hines. I mean, if you’re not a layer cake baker- why do all of that sifting and measuring if it’s really the Icing you’re after? The strawberries were the first local ones I’ve had this year- smallish. I have a test- if the wild strawberries are growing in the yard, I know the ones sold in the stores are probably local!
The first order of business when I buy fresh strawberries is to Slice and Sugar them, which is nothing more than hulling the sweet green cap and slicing some of the berries making sure to cut away the soft bruised spots- pour sugar on top and proceed to slice another layer ending with sugar. Cover and chill until ready to use. This wait time is important because the sugared strawberries put off a beautiful sweet red juice. ( I always use it or even drink it! Add the juice to lemonade for a precious Pink Lemonade!) The sweetened strawberry juice is helpful when making shortcakes or trifles and this Layer Cake! I used the sugared strawberry juice in Mr. Hine’s cake mix instead of the suggested amount of water! Extra good! Well…without further ado let me tell you how I made –
Camellia’s Strawberry Layer Cake
- You will need two quarts of fresh strawberries. Reserve roughly one pint of the prettiest berries for decorating the cake- I recommend keeping the whole berries in a cool dim place. For the layer cake and frosting- instead of slicing the strawberries– I did a rough medium dice then, sugared the berries generously with granulated sugar- toss to coat and chill several hours or overnight. *The sugar should be completely melted, this does not require cooking.
- For cake layers, butter two 8 inch cake pans- line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper (also buttered) and lightly flour. I did use real butter for flavor! Make cake batter according to mix directions- substituting sugared strawberry juice for the water! (Mine called for butter or margarine- I always use butter!) Divide evenly into the pans. Bake according to directions.
- Allow cake layers to cool completely! Remove parchment and reserve, while making the icing.
- Strawberry Cream Cheese Icing
- Sift 6 !/2 cups of powdered sugar in a bowl and set aside.
- 1 cup of diced and sugared strawberries drained- Bring to room temperature also-*for all of you serious cooks out there- the word is macerated – I prefer ‘diced or sliced and sugared’ strawberries- sounds delicious!
- 2 sticks of Butter softened to room temperature
- 16 ounces of Block Cream Cheese softened to room temperature.
- 2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract
- *Now, I might have taken a short cut on the cake layers but not here on the Icing! Use the best and freshest ingredients possible- room temperature butter and cream cheese and sifted powdered sugar is essential here!
Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment- not the whisk! blend vanilla extract, cream cheese and butter until smooth and well blended. Add sifted confectioner sugar gradually until smooth. Remove mixing bowl and fold in by hand- the drained diced and sugared strawberries. Blend until berries are incorporated. The Icing is a beautiful pink! *You may need a bit less or a bit more powdered sugar, just make sure it’s sifted so there are no lumps! This frosting is enough to frost 2 layers. Use reserved whole strawberries for decoration. Keep Iced Cake Covered and Chilled so that it slices easily.
Okay y’all…this cake wasn’t as good as our friend Kim’s, who is an expert- but it turned out very well if I do say so myself! Still. I have a long way to go before I master the art of layer cakes! Let’s see…I want to learn how to make my sweet mother in law- Eleanor’s Famous Coconut Cake, my Great Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake and oh yes! I’d love to learn how to make a perfect Southern Caramel Cake. Hold the phone. I’ll probably just stick to what I know…still, a girl can dream… Strawberry Layer Cake was a fun way to kick off Spring!
Love y’all, Camellia
*photographs are obviously mine
* Duncan Hines® Strawberry Cake Mix was used for this cake- it calls for butter/margarine instead of oil, I would recommend using butter. *Also, I do not recommend adding fresh strawberries to this cake mix- as the batter might not have the right consistency. *The greenery on this cake came from our garden- we do not use pesticides or chemicals. The greenery was washed, placed flat between two layers of damp paper towels for use in decoration only- all parts might be edible but not necessarily tasty! Remove from sliced cake before serving. * I also recommend using whole berries for decoration and they can be put on the plate when serving.