Although it's not quite time for strawberries in Tennessee yet, in more southerly states the season is in full swing. I really wanted to make a strawberry cake for my birthday party last week (along with strawberry-infused vodka), so I had to make due with CostCo strawberries. Of course a friend from Louisiana brought strawberries picked that morning to the party, but it was too late for the cake so we've just been eating them out of hand (which may be the best way to enjoy them anyway).
Luckily, this cake doesn't rely too heavily on the quality of the strawberries; they mostly provide a little color and some tart texture to round out the airy soft genoise layers and light and creamy mousse filling. This cake requires a bit of time and effort but I think it's worth it, particularly for a special occasion. Having a stand mixer makes the process much easier because you whip the batter for a long time, but it's possible to make it with a handheld mixer.
If you make nothing else, make the cheesecake mousse filling--it's quite easy and probably the best filler/frosting for a cake I've ever made.
P.S. - Speaking of strawberry season, my strawberry-basil breakfast bowl recipe was recently featured on a Whole Foods' cooking blog--check it out! (It's a variation on a blog post I did last summer, the blueberry-basil breakfast bowl.)
vanilla bean genoise filled with cheesecake mousse and strawberries
adapted from Sarabeth Levine and, oddly enough, Worcester Telegram and Gazette
makes one three-layer 9" cake
5 tbsp butter
5 large eggs + 5 large egg yolks
1 c sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla bean, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c pastry or unbleached cake flour
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 c powdered sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c chilled heavy cream
+1 pint strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
Make the genoise: Preheat oven to 350. Grease three 9" cake pans (or one or two, if you don't have three and need to bake the layers in batches) and line them with parchment paper. Do not leave out this step; I promise the cake layers will stick to the pans if you do!
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, or in a small heatproof bowl in the microwave. Let cool.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to low to maintain the simmer. Whisk the eggs, yolks, and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer, or a very large heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over the water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water), and whisk constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is very warm to the touch, about 1 minute. If you have an instant read thermometer, the mixture should reach 118 degrees.
If you have a stand mixer, attach the bowl to it and fit it with the whisk attachment. Add the vanilla and beat the mixture on high speed until it is almost quadrupled in volume, very pale yellow, and fluffy, about 5 minutes. If you're using a handheld mixer, Sarabeth says this will take at least 6 minutes. She says the right consistency has been reached when, if you lift the whisk attachment a couple of inches above the bowl, the egg mixture creates a thick ribbon that falls back on itself and holds its shape on the surface of the mixture for at least 5 seconds before sinking. I whipped mine for at least 6-7 minutes and didn't quite reach the 5-second mark, but my cake turned out just fine! Whenever you think it's good enough, remove the bowl from the stand mixer.
In four equal additions, sift the flour over the egg mixture, folding in each addition with a whisk. (I'm not much of a sifter, but I think it's important here.) Handle the batter gently to keep it as light and fluffy as possible. Transfer about a quarter of the batter into a medium bowl; add the butter and fold in with a whisk. Pour this mixture back into the remaining batter and gently fold it in with a whisk.
Pour the batter into the cake pans and smooth it over with a spatula. If you don't have three pans to use at once, try to fill the pans you have to about a half-inch thickness; this should make your layers roughly even. Bake until the top of the cake is golden and it springs back when pressed gently with your finger, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely in the pan. (If you need one of the cake pans to make another layer, you can probably get away with letting the layer cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before removing it.)
While the cake layers are cooling, make the mousse: using a handheld or stand mixer (whisk attachment) on medium-high speed, whip together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Whip the heavy cream in another bowl until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture in three additions, and cover and refrigerate until cake layers are cooled and you're ready to assemble the cake.
Assemble the cake: Run a knife around the outside of one cake pan, and flip the cake out onto the plate you want to use for your cake. Remove the parchment paper, and spread a thin layer of mousse over the surface of the cake. Cover this with a layer of sliced strawberries. Repeat this process for the next layer, then top with the third layer and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining mousse. Top with strawberry halves or more sliced strawberries, if you'd like.
You can store this cake in the refrigerator for a day or two before serving, but make sure to remove it at least an hour before you want to serve it.