For the majority of my adult life I’ve gone on a yearly pilgrimage to the strawberry fields wherever I was residing at the time and spent a few hours in the blazing sun or pouring rain, with or without kids eating more than they harvested for the cause, in years where the berries were large and watery or small and concentrated, to haul home an obscene poundage of fresh strawberries for my annual Strawberrypalooza.
Strawberrypalooza 2020, however, is a bit of a different beast. With quarantine in effect, the only berries I can get are from the produce deliveries that come to my house with somewhat embarrassing regularity. Hahaha. Sorry. I am, at heart, a 10-year-old boy in the humor department. If you don’t get my hahaha, congratulations, you are an adult. But I digress.
We have just headed into the best part of the year for produce deliveries … tons of asparagus and early spring greens and strawberries! While there are nowhere near the flats that I would generally bring home after a back-breaking, neck-sunburning, gluttonous day in the fields, there are enough of these lovelies to get in a few of my favorites from years past. Please feel free to peruse my Strawberry Pa Looza! post from 2016 … scones and ice cream and roasted berries, oh my!
This year I’ve decided to pick one very delicious recipe to add to my repertoire o’berryness. It’s a cake based on a recipe from Martha Stewart by way of Smitten Kitchen run through my own brain for good measure. This 9-inch single-layer cake uses an entire pound of strawberries. They must be fresh and they must be very ripe – overripe even – to get the baked jammy goodness that sinks into the cake. Where I diverge from those kitchen goddesses mentioned above is that I like a little texture to the cake so I’ve added semolina. I also looovvveeeee the flavor of Fiori di Sicilia which adds an intense orange-vanilla flavor and goes very nicely with the strawberries. If you don’t have it, no worries. If you do, please give it a whirl.
The cake is quite delish as originally written with basic pantry ingredients (Martha, you goddess!) and you wouldn’t be disappointed, especially if your baking pantry is sparsely inhabited, which mine has waffled in and out of. If you like to experiment with texture, see what other flours you have to play with. The cake needs 1-1/2 cups of flour and I’d stick with 1 cup AP and then try 1/2 cup of whatever fun flours you have. Almond or another nut flour or I’m guessing that a fine-ground cornmeal would add a nice texture as well. The options are mind-boggling. I’ve just wandered off the path. Again. My apologies.
Okay, my cookies … on with the recipe!
This is a quick, simple cake so make sure your berries are washed, hulled, halved and ready to go. Preheat the oven, prep the pan, and within mere minutes you’ll be smelling heaven. The little bottle in the foreground is the Fiori di Sicilia. If you don’t have it or can’t get it, no worries but it is sort of special if you do. I could do an entire blog post on this ingredient but, my track record being what it is, I should stick with the here and now, eh? The weird looking science experiment bottle (back right) is actually vanilla pods in vodka (homemade vanilla extract).
I have made this recipe in both a deep-dish 9-inch pie plate as suggested by Smitten Kitchen and a 9-inch springform pan. I like the texture of the springform cake better. If using a pie plate, serve right from it. If using the springform pan, parchment slings (see above) make getting the cake onto a serving platter so much easier. If you don’t have parchment or don’t want to fuss with it, I’d imagine an offset spatula could help with the transfer to cake plate. Again, the pie pan works just fine. Deep dish. Did I mention that it has to be deep dish. You’ve been warned (and note that dripping strawberry juice makes for a wicked acrid smoke).
The strawberries need to be put on top of the smoothed out cake batter but not smooshed deep down into it. Just firmly settled in. Like how you step your bare feet into a nice thick mud puddle for that warm skooshed feeling and it just starts to suck your toes in but doesn’t quite get to nail-level. I do love a good barefooted stomp in the puddles. Oye… we’ve had so much rain and I hate shoes and, well… you get what I’m saying, I’m sure. If not, you don’t know what you’re missing and shouldn’t wait a second more to experience that joy. And then settle the berries just like that.
Next sprinkle the extra two tablespoons of sugar evenly over the berries. I use sparkling sugar which is coarser because I currently have it and it adds a little extra crunch. Regular sugar works just fine. I haven’t found pearl (Swedish) sugar works too well since it doesn’t melt into the cooked berries. That being said, it would be better than nothing. You do need the sugar on top.
Thank you for your kind attention to my chitty-chat. Please give this fabulous cake a whirl, toast Martha (hey, goddess, love you!), and let me know how it turns out.
STRAWBERRY SEMOLINA CAKE
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup semolina
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
6 TBS unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 TBS sugar (or 1 cup plus 2 TBS sparkling sugar)
1 large egg
½ cup milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp Fiori di Sicilia (optional)
1 pound ripe strawberries washed, hulled and halved
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the center position. Butter a 9-inch springform pan or 9-inch deep dish pie plate. If using the springform pan, add parchment slings for easier transfer to a cake plate.
Put butter and 1 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low; mix in egg, milk, vanilla and Fiori di Sicilia (if using).
While the butter is creaming, put flour, semolina, baking powder, and salt together into a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
When the butter mixture has been combined, reduce speed to low and gently add in flour mixture. Mix only until combined, using a spatula to make sure the bottom is fully incorporated. Put batter into the baking pan (or deep-dish pie plate), gently spreading to the edges. Arrange strawberries on top of batter, cut sides down and as close together as possible. It’s easiest if you start with the largest pieces and then fit in the smaller. They will all fit! Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar over the surface of the batter/berries.
Bake cake on the center rack for 10 minutes at 350F. Reduce oven temperature to 325F and continue to bake until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 1 hour more.
If you are using the springform pan, let cool on a wire rack for ten minutes and then use a small thin knife to loosen the cake and gooey strawberry bits from the side and then release the sides to remove. Let cool until room temperature and then, again using a thin knife, run along the bottom of the pan to release the cake and use the parchment slings to slide onto a cake plate. Holding the cake side with your fingers, gently slide the slings out.
If you are using the pie pan, wait as long as you to cut into the cake (molten berries can be painful). Serve as is, with fresh berries, with whipped cream, with ice cream, with any combination of the aforementioned, or with something new and delicious (please leave me a comment if it’s delicious so we can give it a whirl).
I think this cake tastes even better the next day and chilled in the fridge is special, too. In any case, keep it covered so it doesn’t dry out.