Finding a suitable fresh strawberry cake recipe can be a lesson in understanding nuances. If you add fresh strawberries to a mix flavored with strawberry gelatin, is that enough? If it’s from scratch but gets its flavor from frozen strawberries, is it still considered fresh?
Cook’s Country magazine‘s June/July issue bemoaned the lack of “fresh” strawberry cake recipes–in other words, not those that use a mix and a box of gelatin for a faux berry taste and are easily found on the Internet. So after multiple takes (as the test kitchen is wont to do), the magazine deemed that the secret to a “fresh” strawberry cake is using the frozen red fruit. (To be fair, sliced fresh strawberries are added between the layers and used as a garnish.)
Seems contrary, I know. I’ve had both versions of the strawberry cake. I made the mix last year while working on a personal cookbook project, and I whipped up Cook’s Country’s recipe just in the last week. While both are quite delicious, choosing between the two could best be determined by your personal preferences.
If you really, really like strawberries, the mix version combines strawberry gelatin and pureed strawberries into the batter, and the result is a very vibrant (some might say overpowering) berry taste. Aesthetically, there’s no mistaking that the very, very pink cake gets its color artificially.
The Strawberry Dream Cake from Cook’s Country is a decidedly more toned down hue, and the berry flavor seems muted as well–or at least in comparison to the mix version. Juice from frozen strawberries (chosen so the cake could be made year-round) that is reduced while cooking gives the magazine test kitchen’s cake its subtle strawberry flavor.
As you might imagine, there are multiple frosting options that, once again, may be determined by what suits your fancy. Fresh strawberries (diced and placed between paper towels to dry so frosting won’t be soggy) add a delicious dimension to sweet buttercream. If that’s too sweet, you may prefer the cream cheese frosting, which incorporates the frozen strawberry solids left over from the cake portion of the recipe.
The Cook’s Country cake employed the latter version, and the combination of the muted berry flavor of both the cake and the frosting yielded a near-perfect balance of light and creamy with a just-enough strawberry taste.
Either recipe takes about the same amount of time, so there’s not really a time savings with using the mix version. For each, drying the strawberries (so the frosting or the cake doesn’t get overly soggy) isn’t a quick process. So really it does come down to personal preference; whether you’ve got a sweet tooth or are trying to cut back, you can find a version of a “fresh” (depending on your definition) strawberry cake that’s just right for you.