Strawberry Mascarpone Layer Cake and Homemade Vanilla Extract

21 November 2015

Today we bring you this fantastic dessert from one of our favorite local chefs/food bloggers Leen Al Zaben

It has been a frozen February. The air has a biting iciness to it and it has sent me straight into the arms of my kitchen for some warmth and goodness. It’s been six months since my last post—I have been in lack of inspiration. Probably because I’m on a complex gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free diet which has limited me tremendously, but with time I have grown accustomed to it, and I have found my ways to culinary satisfaction.

 

Vanilla strawberry cake has been a long-time favorite of mine. It has the ability to transport me back to my childhood, specifically to the mornings following my birthday when all I had for breakfast was strawberry cake. I remember savoring every slice as I watched the cake diminish in size at the back of the refrigerator.

Vanilla strawberry cake has been a long-time favorite of mine. It has the ability to transport me back to my childhood, specifically to the mornings following my birthday when all I had for breakfast was strawberry cake. I remember savoring every slice as I watched the cake diminish in size at the back of the refrigerator.

Now, I’m lucky that I can make my own personal version of the strawberry cake and have it whenever I want. Well, not whenever since my diet has been very limiting. But hopefully I’ll have a slice soon.

For me, there is nothing more satisfying than the process of baking. I find solace and comfort in knowing that when combined, ordinary ingredients such as flour, sugar, eggs and butter (well, butter is definitely not ordinary) can make a cake that for moments can take you back to a different time and place.

I decided to make strawberry cake for a friend’s birthday a few weeks ago. I found plump, beautiful strawberries at the green grocer’s. I know, I know, they are not in season, but their fragrance beckoned me, and I just couldn’t refuse. And to be fair, I wanted a little taste of summer. It took me several trials before I put together the perfect recipe for my very own strawberry cake: perfectly moist, intoxicating vanilla cream and cool tangy strawberries.

On a recent trip to India, I came across fleshy and aromatic Keralan vanilla beans that I stocked up on, so ever since then, all my desserts have been jam-packed with hundreds of flecks of vanilla seeds. I’ve even made my own vanilla extract too (recipe to follow). It will be ready in just a couple of months and I just can’t wait to put it to use.

I decided to make this cake with a twist, adding Italian-inspired elements to it. For the frosting, I decided to go with creamy mascarpone because it has a subtle richness that is not overpowering, and I thought it would marry well with the macerated strawberries. For the filling, I wanted to enhance the flavor of the strawberries as much as possible and I thought nothing could highlight them more than aged balsamic vinegar. I used a 30-year-old bottle; the balsamic vinegar is thick, tangy and sweet – ideal for desserts and macerating fruit.

If you don’t have vanilla beans on hand don’t worry, any good vanilla extract will do – it’s just so much more fun splitting the bean and scraping all the tiny seeds out and combining them with the sugar.

Anyway, without further ado, I present you with the recipe for Strawberry Mascarpone Layer Cake.

 

Recipe

Ingredients

For the Moist Vanilla Bean Cake

  • 2.5 sticks (250g) butter (room temperature)
  • 2 cups (450g) granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs (room temperature)
  • 3 cups (450g) flour
  • 4 tsp (16g) baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp (12g) fine sea salt
  • 1 cup (250ml) fresh milk (room temperature)
  • 1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

 

For the Macerated Strawberries

  • 3 pints fresh strawberries, reserve a few to top the cake
  • 2 tablespoons (24g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tsp aged balsamic vinegar

For the Mascarpone Frosting

  • 2 cups (500ml) whipping cream
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 400g mascarpone cheese (room temperature)
  • 1 cup (160g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Method

For the Moist Vanilla Bean Cake

  •     Preheat oven to 180C.
  •     Grease 2 8-inch cake pans and line with baking paper.
  •     If using a vanilla bean, slice open the pod and scrape the vanilla seeds into the sugar, massage them in to make sure they are fully incorporated (If using vanilla extract and not a vanilla bean, you will need to add it at a later stage, along with the eggs).
  •     Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and sift into a bowl.
  •     In a mixer, beat the butter until creamy (about 1 minute).
  •     Add the sugar and continue to cream for 5 minutes.
  •     Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is well incorporated before adding the next one.
  •     If you did not use a vanilla pod, add the vanilla extract at this stage.
  •     Add the flour mixture milk (alternate each one, starting and ending with flour).
  •     Pour the batter into the prepared baking tins.
  •     Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until done.
  •     Cool in pans for 5 – 10 minutes.

For the Macerated Strawberries

  •     Slice the 2.5 pints of strawberries and place in a bowl (about 4 cups, sliced).
  •     Sprinkle strawberries with confectioners’ sugar.
  •     Add the balsamic vinegar and gently toss.
  •     Cover the bowl and let the strawberries macerate in the fridge while you prepare the cake batter.

 

For the Mascarpone Frosting

  • In a mixer using a whisk attachment, whisk the cream and vanilla on medium speed until stiff peaks form (make sure you don’t over whisk the cream or it will split).
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the mascarpone and confectioners’ sugar until smooth.
  • Gently fold the cream into the mascarpone mixture until they are fully incorporated.

Assembly

  • Once the cakes have completely cooled, horizontally slice through each one.
  • Place the base layer flat on a plate.
  • Spread some frosting on top.
  • Add some strawberries.
  • Top with the upper layer.
  • Frost the upper layer, repeat.
  • Top the cake with the uppermost layer.
  • Frost the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting, this is called the crumb coat.
  • Place the cake in the refrigerator for 10 minutes until the crumb coat firms up.
  • Next frost the cake with the remaining frosting, making sure you fill any gaps and holes.
  • Slice the remaining pint of strawberries in half  (lengthwise) and arrange them on top of the cake.

(Keep the cake refrigerated)

Vanilla Extract Recipe

Ingredients

  • 12 vanilla beans
  • Vodka

Method

  •     Place the vanilla pods in a sterilized jar.
  •     Fill the jar with vodka until it covers the tops of the vanilla beans.
  •     Seal the jar and let sit for 4-6 months in a cool dry place away from sunlight.