Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Whipped Cream Frosting

All of us have grown up eating fruits: some lovingly, some reluctantly and others neutrally. But whatever be our attitude towards fruits, bananas and apples round the year, mangoes in summer and oranges in winter have formed an unwavering part of our diets. There are (the aforementioned) fruits that we've been eating traditionally, since times immemorial, and then there are those fancy additions to our breakfast tables and snack boxes (in the form of peaches, plums, apricots, kiwis) that happened much later in life. Strawberries, however, fall somewhere in between, at least for me.
This was almost two decades back, when I was in school. My parents and I were holidaying in the hilly slopes of Mahabaleshwar: one of our customary December activities (Thank heavens for being born to parents who love travelling!). Mahabaleshwar, as we know, accounts for almost 85% of the total amount of strawberries grown in India. Now I had never tasted fresh strawberries till then. My only brush with the berry was innumerable references to it in various "English" books I'd read and the horribly synthetic and artificially-coloured strawberry ice cream that I absolutely abhored. In Mahabaleshwar, as soon as you entered the main market area, you'd find strawberry vendors lining either side of the street, with their lush scarlet booty on display. The sight was tantalising, I had never seen such a riot of red in my life. My mother, who had had her fair share of strawberries in her life and time, warned me that they are extremely sour on their own, and cautioned by her advice, I gingerly walked by the 'strawberry-wallah bhaiyyas' without showing too much enthusiasm. But as is the norm with most street vendors, they called up and asked you to taste a piece. "Meetha lage to lena, nai toh koi baat nahi" (If you find it sweet, then only take it. Otherwise it's perfectly fine.) Suddenly revved up, I started to hop, skip and jump from one vendor to the other, popping in my mouth one strawberry after the other of varying levels of sweetness. Once I reached the end of the street, I realised I was almost 20 strawberries down and utterly in love. I went back to the "bhaiyya" who had given me the sweetest strawberry and bought a bunch. Post-dinner dessert and breakfast the next day was sorted!

A week and a half or so later I was back in Calcutta, but the taste of strawberries lingered. I researched (in a pre-Google era) and found out that strawberries are sold in New Market between December and early February and since then, every winter I've made my customary trip to New Market, coming back with bags of strawberries which I would have on their own, with custard that Ma would make, with Amul cream (as and when that hit the market) and most recently in the form of this divine Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Whipped Cream frosting. This indeed is one step closer to heaven!

Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Whipped Cream Frosting

Serves: 8-10

Ingredients:

Flour: 130 grams
Caster Sugar: 150 gram + 2-3 tbsp
Eggs, at room temperature: 2
Strawberries, hulled and chopped: 700-800 gm (leave some whole for garnish)
Balsamic vinegar: 2 tbsp
Butter, at room temperature: 75 grams
Olive Oil: 30 ml
Vanilla bean paste/essence: 2 tsp
Baking Powder: 1.5 tsp
Baking Soda: 1/2 tsp
Salt: 1/4 tsp
Heavy cream, chilled: 1 cup

Method:

For the strawberry jam:

1. In a non stick pan heat the chopped strawberries, 2-3 tbsp of sugar (depending on how sour your strawberries are) and balsamic vinegar. Add a little bit of water, bring to a boil and let it simmer for 8-10 minutes. Stir intermittently till it forms a blood red syrupy puree with some strawberries remaining bite-sized. Take off the gas and allow it to cool.

For the cake:

1. Preheat oven at 180 degree C and line the bottom of a round spring-form cake tin with baking parchment. Butter the parchment and the sides of the tin.

2. In a bowl sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Keep aside.

3. In another bowl take the softened butter and cream it with a whisk or a hand blender. Add the caster sugar gradually and continue to mix it well. Now add the eggs one by one until fully incorporated.

4. Now add the dry ingredients a little bit at a time and fold it into the wet mixture. Add 2/3rd of the strawberry jam (reserve 1/3rd for the frosting) and fold it into the batter.

5. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

7. Let it cool for 20-30 minutes on the wire rack before unmoulding.

For the whipped cream frosting:

1. In a chilled glass bowl, take the cream and place it on ice bath. With a hand blender (the whisks of which also need to be chilled in the freezer for 20-25 min before whipping), start whipping the cream till soft peaks form. Add the remaining strawberry jam and whip a little more. Add some sugar if you need to.

For assembly:

1. With an offset spatula, coat the surface of the cake well with the whipped cream (ensure that the cake is completely cooled before you do that). Garnish with whole strawberries and mint leaves.

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