Friday, April 15, 2011

Warm Strawberry Crumb Cake

Strawberry sighting! After a long and wet winter season, suddenly we have the arrival of the first strawberries of spring and not a moment too soon. Bright red, plump, fragrant and juicy, strawberries are a welcome burst of brightness after a long stretch of rain clouds. For me, asparagus and strawberries are the first anticipated bites of spring and I’m enjoying both in great quantities right now. Primavera!

Strawberry shortcake is usually the order of the day as warm weather unfolds. This simple cake is another perfect way to enjoy the same elements but with some different textures. The strawberries are baked into a warm jammy lusciousness, tucked safely underneath a delicious cake batter and a crumb topping. It’s part gooey fruit, part dreamy delicious moist cake and part little layer of crisp and crust. Best eaten warm, it’s a really terrific spoon dessert that will add to your favorite spring fruit memories. You’ll see.

Bench notes:
- The original instructions call for baking the cake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. My cake was done in about 50 – 55 minutes. Whenever I'm not sure how long to bake something, I usually start checking it around what I think is a reasonable time for the pastry to set and then just keep checking it in 2 - 5 minute intervals depending on the first test. With experience, you'll be able to tell just how much longer a cake needs to bake based on your first test. So check it around the 40 minute mark and see what you think. With this cake you'll be able to tell when to test it by the delicious aroma wafting through your kitchen. A toothpick should come out with just a few moist crumbs attached.
- Taste your strawberries to determine how sweet they are and adjust the sugar in the fruit mixture accordingly.
- The recipe calls for this to be baked in a glass pan or ceramic dish. I’m guessing that’s to avoid any chemical reaction of metal cake pans and the highly acidic strawberries.
- The baked fruit is thickened just a bit with a cornstarch slurry, which is a mixture of equal parts cornstarch and cold liquid.
- If you don’t have a vanilla bean handy for the fruit mixture, use about 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
- I also added the grated zest of half an orange to the strawberries.
- I made a half recipe and used individual ramekins, which produces 4 – 6 servings, depending on the size of your ramekins. For a half recipe, I used 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk. I also used an ice cream scoop to distribute the batter evenly. Baking time is about 20 – 25 minutes.
- For convenience when halving recipes, keep these equivalencies handy: 1/4 C = 4 Tablespoons; 1/3 C = 5 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon; 1 Tablespoon = 3 teaspoons.
- This is good on its own but also nice with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche.
- This would also be a great dessert with any berry or really just about any fruit.

Warm Strawberry Crumb Cake
adapted from Food and Wine magazine
Serves 8 to 10

3 lbs strawberries (about 8 cups)
1/2 C sugar, to taste
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 1/2 T cornstarch dissolved in 2 1/2 T of cold water
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
zest of half an orange (optional addition)

Crumb Topping

1/2 C lightly packed light brown sugar
1/2 C + 2 T flour
Pinch of salt
2 oz (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into small cubes


2 1/4 C flour
1 T baking powder
3/4 t salt
4 oz (1 stick) butter @ room temperature
1 1/4 C sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 t vanilla
3/4 C buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Hull and halve the strawberries. Combine the cornstarch and cold water.

Toss the strawberries with the sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch slurry, vanilla seeds and orange zest, if using. Let stand for about 30 minutes or so, until the berries release some of their juices. Pour the fruit mixture and juices into a 9"x 13" glass or ceramic baking dish set on a sturdy baking sheet to catch any drips as the fruit bubbles up.

For the Crumb Topping, mix all of the ingredients with your fingers until it looks like coarse meal and then press into small clumps.

For the cake batter, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly between additions. Scrape down the bowl and add the vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients to the batter in 3 additions, alternating with half the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just about blended. Finish mixing by hand using a rubber spatula.

Spoon the batter over the fruit filling, spreading it to the edges of the pan. Sprinkle the batter evenly with the crumb topping.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling, the crumb topping is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. (Mine baked in much less time. Check it at about the 40 - 45 minute mark or when the aroma begins to intensify.)

Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cheers to spring!


A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Ahh. What a welcoming for spring. Looks lovely. I'm ready for jammy lusciousness!

Victoria said...

I am INSANELY jealous that you have strawberries in April, but at least when June rolls around I, too, will be able to get tiny, local, intensely flavored strawberries. Berries so sweet they never have to see even a speck of sugar.

I just have to wait a little longer than you do , as opposed to NEVER getting a stone fruit I can eat (except for darling prune plums in September).

And I just know those apricot, peach, and nectarine recipes are lurking in your brain waiting to be born.

OhEss said...

Victoria must share a climate similar to mine. I think of Strawberry Shortcake as my birthday cake standard in mid-June. I have been eying the jar of canned sour cherries in my cupboard and think maybe some Sozzled Cherry Shortcake sounds like a good dessert to try using your inspiration.

Catherine said...

I can't wait until I can get my hands on some local strawberries. The first ones I find will probably get stuffed in my mouth before they so much as see the kitchen, but later on I'll definitely give these a go-they look delicious. We get really good plums round here which I think would be great in this too.

pastry studio said...

Hello, everyone!

Victoria, your local strawberries sound fantastic. I hope they appear in abundance in June - or sooner! I'm afraid I am indeed beginning to think obsessively about apricots, peaches.....

OhEss, cherries sound perfect for this.

Catherine, I know what you mean about that first basket of strawberries. And I really love plums and they would be great with this cake and topping.

Unknown said...

I made this tonight to finish off dinner with friends, I must say it was a smashing success! Thanks so much!

Elly said...

I'm intrigued by the idea of warm strawberries. Cookbooks always say you should never attempt to cook them or even heat them, but I can almost taste how good they are from your photos! I bet the contrast between the crumbly cake and the strawberries is amazing...may well have to try this very soon!

pastry studio said...

Raven, so glad you and your guests enjoyed this cake!

Elly, I had the same impulse about fresh strawberries but this cake proved me wrong. When baked in this particular preparation, the vanilla and orange zest really add a great flavor and the texture is what it would be in a strawberry rhubarb pie. In other words, irresistible!

Bryan said...

Hiya PS!
and i love a good seasonal strawberry shortcake, but your different preparation really is special.

i was curious how the orange would work here. i chopped mine fine even after zesting and the flavor and purfume really added something delicate and wonderful to the strawberries.
+ vanilla = delicious.

and speaking of rhubarb, couldnt resist adding some lightly-poached dice to the berry mixture.
i baked mine in ramekins too. love the individual portions!

pastry studio said...

Hey Bryan! There's something about this cake that really is delicious. It's lighter than I expected and the flavor is so good. I bet the addition of rhubarb to your fruit was incredible!