Keep her sweet
Today is Mother's Day, the 'greeting card holiday' for which we are pressured to show our appreciation to the woman who raised us. It's better, of course, to show your appreciation year-round, but if you don't, at least take her out for a pleasant meal today, then bring her home and serve her a home-made dessert that you've put a bit of effort into. This cake is light, summery, not too sweet and easy to make. Decorating it isn't quite as easy but, even if it looks 'rustic' and 'home-made', it should still taste good.
Strawberry cream cake
The sponge cake is adapted from a recipe in Saveur magazine. Be sure to set aside small, pretty strawberries to use for decorating the cake. The double cream and cream need to be chilled, or they won't whip properly.
For the sponge cake:
180 grams unsalted butter, slightly softened
150 grams granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
5ml vanilla extract
160 grams cake flour, sifted
For the sugar syrup:
60ml boiling water
60 grams granulated sugar
15ml Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)
For the filling:
300ml double cream, chilled
100ml cream, chilled
About 30 grams granulated sugar, or to taste
About 16 strawberries, or as needed
For the icing and decoration:
250 grams cream, chilled
About 30 grams granulated sugar
4 or 5 small whole (stem-on) strawberries
Toasted sliced almonds, as needed
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Spray pan coating into a 20cm round springform pan that's about 4cm deep. Cut out a circle of parchment paper to line the bottom of the pan.
Use an electric mixer to beat the butter with the granulated sugar, baking powder and salt until light, fluffy and pale yellow. Whisk the eggs with the water and vanilla extract. Turn the mixer speed to low and slowly add in half the egg mixture. Stir to incorporate then add half the sifted cake flour and mix. Scrape the mixing bowl and beaters with a rubber spatula, then stir in the remaining egg mixture. Add the remaining flour, stir to incorporate, then scrape the bowl and beaters with the spatula. Turn the mixer speed to medium (if you're using a hand mixer) or medium-low (if it's a heavy-duty mixer) and beat the batter for five minutes. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake at 180 degrees until fully baked (about 40 minutes). The cake is ready when it's fragrant and brown; it should shrink from the edges of the pan and, when you touch the surface, the cake springs back, rather than leaving an indentation. Cool the cake for 10 minutes then invert it onto a cooling rack and remove the pan. Cool completely.
Make the sugar syrup by adding the sugar to the boiling water. Stir to dissolve then cool to room temperature. Stir in the Grand Marnier or Cointreau, if using.
Reassemble the springform pan (you'll be using it as a mould for the cake). Cut off and discard the stems of the strawberries being used for the filling, then cut the strawberries so they're all about 2cm high (they need to be about the same height at the highest point so the cake is even when assembled).
Trim off and discard the top part of the cake so the surface is flat. Use a long, straight-blade knife to cut the cake into even layers, about 8mm thick (you'll only need two layers; the others can be wrapped tightly in a double layer of cling-film, then frozen to use later). Put one of the layers in the bottom of the pan and brush it lightly but evenly with the sugar syrup. Lay the strawberries quite close together over the cake, leaving a 5mm border around the edge. Gently whip the double cream to soften it (it sometimes separates slightly) then add the chilled cream and 30 grams of granulated sugar (or more, if you like it sweeter) to the bowl. Whip until the cream forms medium peaks. Working quickly, spread this mixture over the strawberries in the pan, covering them completely. Gently bang the pan on the work surface to settle the cream down among the strawberries. Use a metal offset spatula to spread the cream mixture smoothly over the strawberries to cover them by about 5mm. Top with the second cake layer and brush it lightly but evenly with the sugar syrup. You should have some of the cream mixture left over; spread a thin layer of it on the top cake layer and smooth the surface so it's as even as possible. Chill the cake for about an hour; if there's any leftover cream mixture, chill it in a bowl.
Use a damp cloth to wipe clean the strawberries reserved for decoration. Cut them in half through the stem, then lay them cut-side down on a paper towel (this blots up any moisture). Prepare a pastry bag fitted with a decorative fluted tip. Take the cake from the fridge and remove the sides of the pan, but leave the cake on the metal base. Whip the cream and sugar to medium-soft peaks (if there was any leftover filling cream, you can add it to the icing/decorating cream). Spread the cream over the top and sides of the cake to cover it completely and as smoothly and evenly as possible. Use a cake comb to decorate the sides of the cake. Put some of the whipped cream into the pastry bag and pipe a decorative pattern on the border of the cake. Arrange the halved strawberries on the cake. Carefully lift the cake, still on the base, and gently press some of the toasted almonds around the lower edge. Put the cake on a serving plate and serve immediately. Use a long, thin serrated blade to gently saw the cake into slices - if you press down straight with the blade, the filling will squish out.