Strawberry Lemon Dream Cake

I was picking strawberries from my garden and for every one I added to the basket, another would find its way into my mouth.  Glorious.  They didn't "suggest" that they may be strawberries, as grocery store berries tend to do.  They were unadulterated strawberry, no fruity innuendo from these guys.
Almost ready but a few days on the vine won't hurt.

Because they are so wonderful they deserve to sing, no matter how they're eaten.

I made a simple cake with just a touch of pizzaz to make it worthy of the ruby jewels. This is my favorite kind of cake, where uncomplicated elements lend themselves to being assembled into a confection that looks as if it was transported from a four-star pastry shop in Paris straight into your kitchen.  All the while, the cake itself is scrumptious without trying too hard.  It's simple, in every way.  But it doesn't have to look that way.

Aside from the lemon and strawberry, there are subtle notes of mint and almond, giving the cake both depth and lingering refreshment.  Perfect for a summer day.



For the Lemon Chiffon Cake

1 cup pastry flour
1 cup sugar, divided
4 eggs, separated and brought to room temperature
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3-4 large lemons)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
zest of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the slightly minty, almond infused pastry cream filling

3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 cup + 2 tablespoons corn starch
4 egg yolks
pinch of salt
3 large mint leaves, cut into strips (chiffonade)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

3 cups heavy cream for whipping

For the Strawberry Coulis

1/4 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped into small pieces
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

To finish

1 pound strawberries (or 30 large strawberries for the inside of the cake and a few small perfect berries for garnishing the top
a few leaves of mint for garnish
7 ounces of almond paste


For the Lemon Chiffon Cake

Preheat the oven to 325º.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the 4 egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon zest and grapeseed oil.  Sift the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt and baking powder over the egg yolk mixture and whisk until very smooth.

•In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar.  Whisk on high until the egg whites turn white and increase slightly in volume.  Slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and continue whisking on high until the egg whites create smooth, stiff peaks but don't whisk so much that they dry out and start to chunk.

•Transfer the egg whites to the egg yolk mixture and gently fold together until a smooth batter forms and no white streaks remain.

•Transfer the batter to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Gently spread the batter in an even layer over the sheet pan with a large offset spatula.

•Bake for 25 minutes or until the cake gently springs back when gently poked and just begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Allow to cool completely.

•Run a sharp knife along the edge of the cake to fully release it.  Place another piece of parchment on top of the cake and place a second sheetp pan on top of that parchment.  Flip the cake and turn the cake out onto the 2nd parchment lined sheet pan.  Cut the cake into three even strips, 5 1/3" wide and 12" long.

For the pastry cream

•Combine the milk, 3/4 cup heavy cream and mint in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer.

•In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and pinch salt.  Whisk until the mixture thickens and ribbons.  Slowly add the hot milk mixture, whisking all the while so that the eggs don't curdle.  Continue whisking until smooth.

•Transfer the mixture back into the saucepan and whisk over medium heat until the mixture thickens to the consistency of mayo.  Take from the heat and add the pat of butter and the almond extract.  Whisk the butter and extract into the pastry cream and then pour the pastry cream through a fine sieve into a large bowl.  Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap, making sure to press the plastic wrap over the surface of the cream so that it doesn't form a skin.  Refrigerate until completely cool, about 2 hours.

For the coulis

Combine all the coulis ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer over low heat until the strawberries are very soft and all the sugar has melted.

•Transfer the coulis to a blender and blitz until smooth.  Pour through a sieve into a small bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge until cool, about 1/2 an hour.

To finish

•Hull the 30 large strawberries and set aside.

•Whip the 3 cups of whipped cream until stiff peaks form.  Take 1/3 of the whipped cream and whisk into the pastry cream.  Gently fold the remaining whipped cream into the pastry cream.

•Place a layer of cake on a cake platter.  Place 15 strawberries hulled side down, evenly onto the cake.  Pipe half the lightened pastry cream in between the strawberries, using a small offset to smooth out the cream over the strawberries.

•Place a second layer of the cake atop the cream laced strawberries and arrange the remaining 15 strawberries atop the second layer.  Pipe the remaining pastry cream among the strawberries and smooth with an offset.  Place the final layer of cake atop the strawberries and cream and place in the freezer to set, about 2 hours.

•In the meantime roll out the almond paste to measure slightly larger than 5 1/3" x 12" and using varied sizes of open/plain pastry tips, punch a random pattern of differing sized circles along the almond paste.

•Once the cake has set (test the cream to see if it feels very firm), remove from the freezer and place the almond paste sheet on top.

•Dip a very sharp serrated knife into hot water and wipe dry.  Trip the sides of the cake, gently sawing to keep the cream from spurting out the sides of the cake.  The more firm the cake is the cleaner the trimmed sides will be.  But the cake will be much harder to cut.  So take your time in your gentle sawing and keep the knife hot and clean throughout the process.

•Gently spoon coulis into the open almond paste holes.  Serve immediately or cover the sides the cake with parchment and then cover again with plastic wrap to keep the cake moist.

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