It snowed today.  In case you don't have access to a calendar, you should know that it's almost May.  Just before it really got ugly, before the ducks and Mama started running around in a honking frenzy to warn me that the sky was falling, it was raining.  Rain mixed with ice shards but still rain. I heard the mail truck pull up to the house and I ran out to save our kind mail woman a trip onto our slippery walkway.

"Vermont fertilizer," she said, gesturing to the icy deluge.  "It's supposed to make the grass green."

As she pulled out, as if on cue, it started to snow.  I looked up the hill to my garden.  There was already a light dusting covering my asparagus patch.  Fat chance those stalks will make an appearance any time soon with this schizophrenic weather.  But the strawberries were another matter.  I jogged up the hill to check on them and found that my alpine strawberries were looking perky as ever.  Good thing too because with May and Mother's Day fast approaching, I depend on those puppies to supply me with a hit of spring, even when the rest of Vermont's flora and fauna refuse to acknowledge the season. And strawberries are what remind me most of my mother in May. The second she could get her magic baking hands on seasonal berries, she'd make a strawberry and cream sponge cake.

It's been 15 years since my mom passed and I still miss her.  I still make her a strawberry-centric cake every spring around Mother's Day.  This year it's a Fraisier, that French delight that's a glorious ode to all things strawberry (Fraise = strawberry a la Française).  Traditionally, a Fraisier is a cake comprised of a ring of strawberries walling in vanilla mousse, all sandwiched by genoise.  I went all-in on the strawberries, flavoring the mousse with berries.  Mom would approve.

For a video demo of how to make this cake, visit my video demo site: 


For the genoise

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup bleached cake flour (pre sift measure, spoon the flour into the cup and knock off extra with a flat edge of a knife)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Line a 9" pan with a round of parchment and spray with baker's spray.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar and eggs. Place the mixing bowl over a double boiler (simmering water in a saucepan) and whisk constantly until the sugar has melted and the mixture is warm to the touch.

Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the salt, vanilla bean paste and almond extract and whisk on high speed for 2 minutes.  Turn the mixer to medium high (speed 8 on a 4 quart Kitchen Aid and medium speed 5-6 on larger, higher powered Kitchen Aids) and whisk for 5 minutes more.

While the egg mixture is whisking, first whisk together the flour and cornstarch and then sift the flour/cornstarch mixture.

Once the eggs have done their time in the mixer, make sure the butter is still fluid (if it's not, gently reheat it) and then add a large spoonful of the whipped eggs to the butter, whisking immediately to combine.  Set aside.

Sift the flour in 2-3 additions over the remaining egg mixture and fold gently after each addition.  Add the butter/egg mixture and fold until just combined.  Immediately transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes.  Don't open the oven early, the cake will fall.  When finished, the cake will have risen just above the pan, will be golden brown and have slightly pulled from the sides of the pan.  After 30 minutes, gently poke the cake to see if it springs back.  If it sounds a bit crackly, bake for 5  minutes more.

Run a paring knife along the edge of the pan to release the cake and turn out  to cool completely on a cooling rack.  Once cool, place in the freezer (freezing for a bit makes it easier to slice the cake cleanly in half).

Clean the cake pan and line again with a parchment round on the bottom and with a strip lining the edge of the pan that rises about 2 inches above the top of the pan (it will be a paper ring within a ring).  Set aside.

For the mousse

1 (8 ounce) package Philadelphia cream cheese, room temperature (very soft)
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups hulled and diced strawberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 packet gelatin
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon
1/2 cup water

In a bowl, combine the diced strawberries and the sugar.  Stir to combine.  Allow to sit about 20 minutes for the juices to start running. Transfer to a saucepan and stir over low heat until the strawberries are soft and the juices start to thicken to the point they coat the back of a spoon.  Transfer to a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth.  Run the puree through a fine sieve.  You should have at least 1 1/4 cup puree once sieved.  Take out 1/4 of the puree and set aside for the glaze.

Combine the lemon juice and water in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin in an even layer over the top.  Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes to bloom (the gelatin should look like wet sand).  Once bloomed, melt the gelatin in the microwave in 30 second bursts at 30-40%.  Swirl the bowl in between blasts and continue until the gelatin is completely melted.  Combine the 1 cup strawberry puree and the gelatin mixture and stir to combine.

In a food processor combine the cream cheese, confectioner's sugar and puree and mix until smooth.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks and fold into the cream cheese/puree mixture.  Alternatively, use a stand mixer:   in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and the confectioner's sugar.  Mix until smooth.  Swap out the paddle attachment for the whisk attachment.  Add the heavy cream and whisk on high until the mixture is thick and almost has stiff peaks.  With the mixer running on low, slowly add the strawberry mixture.  Once added, mix on high until combined.

NOTE:  This mousse recipe is easily doubled and tripled.  

To finish

About 24 large strawberries
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 packet gelatin
reserved 1/4 cup puree

Take the cake from the freezer and trim any brown pieces from the top and bottom of the cake.  Using a long, sharp serrated knife, cut the genoise evenly in half.  Place the one layer into the bottom of the prepared cake pan.

Hull and cut 10 similarly sized strawberries in half.  Line the sides of the pan with the strawberries, cut side out and flat side down on the edge of the cake.

Gently pour the mousse into the middle of the cake pan and using a small offset spatula, gently push the mousse to the edge of the pan, being careful that the mousse doesn't seep out and cover the cut side of the strawberry.  Place the second layer on top of the mousse very gently.  Press VERY gently to adhere the cake to mousse.  Place in the freezer for at least 2-3 hours (you can leave it overnight as well).

Once the cake has been in the freezer for at least 2 hours, combine and 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar in a sauce pan and stir over low heat until the sugar has melted.  Take from the heat and stir in the puree and then sprinkle the gelatin in an even layer over the mixture.  Allow to bloom for at least 5 minutes (the gelatin will look like wet sand) and then return to low heat, stirring constantly until the gelatin has completely melted.  Allow to sit for a five minutes.

While the glaze is resting, gently turn out the cake from the cake pan (I place a flat plate or cake round on top of the cake and flip it and then immediately place my serving platter atop the cake and flip it right side up again). Pour the glaze evenly over the top of the cake, starting at the middle and gently pushing out towards the edge using a small off set spatula to help you along.  I decorated the top of the cake with rings of strawberry along the edges (this is very useful when you haven't gotten the glaze to the very edge to keep it from dripping over) and then I piped a bit of firm royal icing just inside the strawberry ring and topped with some little pretties.  Keep the cake in the fridge if not serving immediately.  Alternatively, you can wrap the cake well BEFORE you glaze it and keep in the freezer for up to a month.

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