It is always a joy to go to the farmers market. Not just because the veggies, fruit and flowers are always local and the best of the season, with a freshness, color and smell you do not get at the supermarket. As a professional chef, I have purchased produce from some of the best purveyors in the San Francisco Bay Area. They have an extensive list of quality products from local, national and international suppliers all the time. But for me, finding great produce at the farmers market, where I can feel the open air, see and smell the seasonal products... that is priceless.
Strawberries are in high in season now, and their sweet smell, luscious looks and good prices are everywhere, but nothing is better than getting them at the farmers market. They are fresher and cheaper and brought out by small farmers only a day or two after they are harvested. And there is no white flesh or hole inside. They smell and taste like strawberries!
When I was a child, strawberry season was very short and expensive, but my whole family loved it. I remember my grandmother often made me simple, fresh strawberry juice with a little sugar and whole milk. And my sisters loved making something similar to this cake, which we called Strawberry Shortcake. So when I saw this cake in the magazine (La Cucina Italiana), memories of the smell and taste returned, and I thought, I have to make it!
Strawberry Cake with Cream (trionfo di fragole)
Recipe adapted from La Cucina Italiana (June 2012 issue)
Makes 1 (8 or 9-inch) layer cake
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing pans
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising), plus more for dusting pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, kept at room temperature for 30 minutes
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup whole milk
5 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup limoncello (Italian lemon liqueur)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 pound strawberries, preferably small ones, trimmed
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Mint leaves for garnish
Making the cake:
Heat the oven to 350° F with rack in middle. Lightly grease 2 (8 or 9-inch) cake pans with butter and dust with flour. Into a medium bowl shift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined, then beat in the vanilla. With mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk in four batches. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter between cake pans, spreading evenly with a spatula. Bake until cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans and testers inserted into centers come out clean -- about 20 to 25 minutes (tops of cakes will be pale in color). Cool 5 minutes in pan on wire rack, then invert onto rack and cool completely.
In a small saucepan, combine 3 tablespoons sugar, limoncello and lemon juice. Heat over medium heat, whisking, just until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. With tops of cakes facing up and avoiding the outer ½-inch border, poke both cakes all over with tines of fork. Brush with syrup.
Slice half of strawberries. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the cream and remaining 2 ½ tablespoons sugar to stiff peaks. Cover one cake with ½ of the cream, leaving a 1-inch border.
Arrange sliced strawberries on top. Top with second cake layer. Cover with remaining cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Top with whole berries, then dust with confectioners’ sugar. Garnish with small mint leaves.