In my home, desserts are just as seasonal as any other food.
It would be strange to have a hearty beef stew for dinner in the middle of summer, and it would be all but unheard of (except for a birthday celebration) to have a rich, heavy chocolate cheesecake for dessert. Summer calls for fresher, lighter fare all around…dessert included.
Growing up, summer dessert was usually a popsicle, a freeze-pop (does anyone else have fond memories of Fla-Vor-Ice?), or some kind of fresh fruit, except for at picnics or parties. At just about every summer picnic, potluck, BBQ, or party I can remember, strawberry shortcake was served for dessert.
I have a kind-of sacrilegious confession for you: I have never been crazy about strawberry shortcake. As a kid I hated it outright. There was just something about soggy shortcake that creeped me out, not to mention that as I kid I also hated whipped cream (I’m a total weirdo, I know). So while everyone else would be chowing down on homemade strawberry shortcake, I’d be indulging in a bowl of strawberries.
These days I’d love to be able to say that I’m a big fan of strawberry shortcake…but unfortunately, I’m still not. I am however a big fan of whipped cream now, but it’s still the soggy shortcake that gets me. I’d rather eat my shortcake in cake form and not have it be so soggy.
That’s how this cake was born.
Since it doesn’t have eggs, this vanilla cake is very light in color. It’s a moist, tender layer cake that’s made even better with strawberry jam or fresh sliced strawberries sandwiched inside. I used strawberry jam because I was having a heck of a time finding fresh strawberries that looked good when I wanted to make this cake. Of course if you have access to good-looking fresh berries, skip the jam and go for them instead (oooh, or you could go with fresh peaches!). It’s kind-of nice to know there’s an alternative; even in the dead of winter, you can have a cake that’s reminiscent of summer with the jam-filled version of this cake.
Taking a final cue from strawberry shortcake, I wanted to top it with whipped cream…but not just any whipped cream. Whipped cream can be a finicky thing. Sometimes it keeps its whip for much longer than expected, but other times not so much, especially when it’s hot and/or humid out. I wasn’t taking the chance of having my whipped cream topping lose its whip, so I wanted to stabilize it.
There are a few different methods out there for making stabilized whipped cream, but I usually opt for the gelatin method, which couldn’t be easier. The only tip I have for working with stabilized whipped cream is to work pretty quickly because it will start to set up fairly fast; because of this, I like to have my cake all assembled and ready to go before I start on the whipped cream.
This cake is perfect for bringing to a summer function…it’s sure to please strawberry shortcake lovers and non-lovers alike. ;)
- 2⅔ cups (340 g) all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups (300 g) sugar
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups (475 ml) cold water
- ⅔ cup (160 ml) canola oil
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon butter flavoring (optional, but highly recommended)
- About ½ to ⅔ cup of your favorite brand of strawberry jam or about 1 cup of hulled, sliced strawberries
- 1 tablespoon cold water
- ¾ teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
- 1 tablespoon boiling water
- 1 cup (238 ml) whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Butter (or oil), to grease the cake pan
- Flour, to dust the cake pan
- For the cake, preheat the oven to 350F. Butter (or oil) and flour 2 (8-inch) cake pans.
- Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the water, oil, vinegar, vanilla, and butter flavoring in a medium bowl. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, being careful not to over-mix.
- Pour the batter into the 2 prepared pans. Bake the cakes until golden outside and a toothpick inserted inside comes out dry or with just a couple crumbs, about 25 to 35 minutes. Rotate the cakes once halfway through cooking.
- Place the cakes on wire racks and cool completely.
- Once the cakes are completely cooled, run a knife along the outside of 1 cake and invert it onto a cake plate. Spread strawberry jam onto the inverted cake, leaving about ½-inch along the outside without jam (because it will spread when you place the 2nd layer on top).
- Run a knife along the outside of the 2nd cake and carefully invert it onto the top of the jam layer. Once the cake is assembled like this, go ahead and make the frosting.
- For the frosting, add 1 tablespoon cold water to a small bowl; sprinkle the gelatin on top and stir to combine. Let it sit until it thickens, and then add 1 tablespoon boiling water and stir to dissolve. Let it cool a couple minutes while you whip the cream.
- Add the whipping cream to a large glass bowl and use a handheld electric beater to whip it until it starts to thicken (basically, right before it starts to form soft peaks). Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and whip a couple seconds to combine.
- While whipping continuously, gradually add the dissolved gelatin; continue whipping just until the cream forms stiff peaks.
- Immediately frost the cake (because the frosting will set if left to sit). You can keep the cake at cool room temperature for a couple hours before serving, but any longer than that and it should be stored in the fridge.