How To Make the Best-Ever Strawberry Cake (with Fresh Strawberries!)

updated May 10, 2020
summer
How To Make Strawberry Cake

Most strawberry cake recipes use strawberry-flavored gelatin to give the cake its fruit flavor, but this cake has fresh strawberries baked right in.

Serves10 to 12

Makes1 (8-inch) layer cake

Prep1 hour 15 minutes

Cook1 hour 10 minutes

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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Looking for the perfect Mother’s Day gift? Despite what the advertisements say, your mom doesn’t need a mug to be reminded that she’s #1. Instead, show her how much you love her with a pretty pink cake made from the freshest strawberries the season has to offer.

What Makes This the Best Strawberry Cake?

It starts with fresh strawberries, not gelatin. Most strawberry cake recipes use strawberry-flavored gelatin to give the cake its fruit flavor, but this cake has fresh strawberries baked right in. You’ll simmer the fresh berries with salt and sugar to make a ruby-red sauce, mashing the berries as they cook until they’re thick and jammy. A splash of balsamic vinegar intensifies the fruit’s sweet and floral flavors.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

What Gives This Cake Its Naturally Pink Hue?

I hate to break it to you, but the color of most strawberry cakes probably comes from a bottle. But the rosy hue of this cake is created naturally, thanks to freeze-dried strawberries. Once a specialty item, freeze-dried fruits are now widely available — look for them at Target and Trader Joe’s and most grocery stores. You’ll use a food processor to grind the freeze-dried strawberries into a very fine powder that incorporates seamlessly into the dry ingredients.

You may also be surprised to learn that in addition to reacting with baking soda to help the cake rise, buttermilk and lemon juice also play a role in maintaining the cake’s pink color. In the same way that cooking red cabbage with acid keeps the cabbage red (and not a drab blue-gray), adding acid to the cake batter helps stabilize the berries’ color pigment.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How Do I Make Sure My Cake Is Tender, Not Dry?

Most cake batters are made by creaming together butter and sugar until lightened in color and fluffy — a mixing method called the creaming method. This strawberry cake is assembled with the reverse creaming method, in which the sugar is mixed with the dry ingredients first, then creamed with the butter. This coats the flour in fat, resulting in less gluten formation when the wet ingredients are added — and giving you a tender cake with a fine, velvety texture.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

What’s the Best Frosting for Strawberry Cake?

Classic American buttercream — a simple mix of whipped butter and powdered sugar — is the perfect finishing touch for this cake. For extra strawberry flavor and a pretty pink color, mix in some of the same fresh strawberry sauce used in the cake. Buttercream, no matter the style, can be cloyingly sweet, so you’ll also add freshly squeezed lemon juice and salt to balance the sugar and amplify the strawberry flavor.

Credit: Joe Lingeman
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Start this strawberry cake with a fresh strawberry sauce that will be used in both the cake and frosting.

How To Make Strawberry Cake

Most strawberry cake recipes use strawberry-flavored gelatin to give the cake its fruit flavor, but this cake has fresh strawberries baked right in.

Prep time 1 hour 15 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 10 minutes

Makes 1 (8-inch) layer cake

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the strawberry sauce:

  • 1 pound

    fresh strawberries, stems removed and chopped

  • 1/4 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon

    balsamic vinegar

For the cake:

  • Cooking spray

  • 3 cups

    freeze-dried strawberries (2.4 ounces), such as Trader Joe’s

  • 3 cups

    cake flour, such as Swans Down

  • 1 1/2 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

  • 2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 5

    large egg whites

  • 3/4 cup

    buttermilk

  • 2 tablespoons

    vegetable oil

  • 1 tablespoon

    freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 16 tablespoons

    (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature

For the strawberry buttercream and decoration:

  • 1 pound

    (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 2 1/2 cups

    powdered sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 8 ounces

    fresh strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced, plus more for the top of the cake

Equipment

  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

  • Medium saucepan

  • Silicone spatula

  • Shallow bowl or pie pan

  • 2

    (8-inch) round cake pans

  • Parchment paper

  • Food processor with blade attachment

  • Electric mixer with paddle attachment

  • Mixing bowl

  • Whisk

  • Microplane

  • Kitchen scale (optional)

  • Toothpick

  • Wire cooling rack

  • Cake plate

  • Offset spatula (optional)

Instructions

Make strawberry sauce:

  1. Cook the strawberries, salt, and sugar until reduced to 1 cup. Place the strawberries, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often and mashing the berries with a spoon until the strawberries break down, the foam subsides, and the sauce is reduced to 1 cup, about 30 minutes.

  2. Stir in balsamic vinegar. Pour into a shallow bowl or pie pan, stir in the balsamic vinegar, and refrigerate to cool completely, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Make the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven and prepare the cake pans. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F. Coat 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottom of each with a parchment paper round; set aside.

  2. Grind the freeze-dried strawberries into a powder. Process the freeze-dried strawberries to a fine powder in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Wait 30 seconds to let the strawberry powder settle, then pour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.)

  3. Combine the dry ingredients. Add the flour, sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, salt, and baking soda to the stand mixer. Mix on low speed just until combined; set aside.

  4. Whisk together the wet ingredients. Place the egg whites, buttermilk, oil, lemon juice, vanilla, and 3/4 of the cooled strawberry sauce in a large bowl and whisk to combine; set aside.

  5. Cream together the butter and dry ingredients. Add the butter to the flour mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated and the mixture looks like coarse sand, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

  6. Add the buttermilk mixture. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the buttermilk mixture. Once it is completely incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the batter is light and thick, 1 to 2 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

  7. Pour the batter into the pans. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans, about 1 3/4 pounds batter per pan.

  8. Bake for 40 minutes at 325°F. Bake until the cakes pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 40 minutes.

  9. Cool the cakes. Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely on the wire racks.

Make the strawberry buttercream:

  1. Cream the butter and sugar. Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Add the sugar and beat on low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and beat until lightened in color and texture, about 1 minute.

  2. Beat in the strawberry sauce and flavorings. Add the lemon juice, salt, and remaining cooled strawberry sauce and beat on medium speed until combined, 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Frost the cake and decorate:

  1. Frost the cake. Scoop a tablespoon of the buttercream onto the center of a cake plate. Invert one cake layer onto the plate. Spread 1 cup of the buttercream on the cake in an even layer. Arrange the sliced strawberries in a single layer on the buttercream. Invert the second layer of cake over the strawberries. Scoop the remaining frosting on the cake and spread evenly over the top of the cake and down the sides. Decorate with more fresh strawberries.

  2. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes before serving. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes before slicing.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The cake is best eaten the day it is made.

Storage: Store the cake in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; let warm up to room temperature before serving.

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