don’t be fooled. this is not a valentine’s day cake.
…yes, it is pink, adorned with strawberries, and accented with white chocolate.
but it is not a valentine’s day cake.
it is simply a timely pink-tinted cake that tastes a little like strawberry shortcake popsicles and a little like strawberry pocky, two flavors that defined my childhood summers. in america, we would begin to perk our ears as the weather warmed, listening for the jangling jingle of the ice cream truck. the truck used to pull up behind my school and we kids would jump the fence, risking the reprimands of our teachers for those magical firecrackers, spongebob popsicles with gum-ball eyes, and strawberry shortcake popsicles. the ice cream man had a crinkled face and even more crinkled money (no doubt from being clenched in the sweaty palms of countless eager children). for change, he would hand out two-dollar bills and half-dollar coins, money that we never even knew existed. even after the ice cream had lost its sticky-sweet allure, we would return to that truck and collect that strange money as trophies.
then at the beginning of summer vacation, like clockwork, the family would fly to hong kong, where we spent our summer almost entirely indoors, wandering for hours through the maze of interconnected malls and restaurants. our parents smoothly navigated the streets and people of hong kong, relaxed in their childhood territory, while my sister and I were buffeted by the crush of crowds, many family conversations conducted entirely in cantonese, and a parade of foods whose names we never learned. (and when we did, it was “the inner lining of a cow’s stomach wall” or “hairy crab balls”, terms that made us feel even more out of place.) we found solace in asian sweets, buying boxes on boxes of koala’s march cookies, pineapple shortcakes, and pocky.
as we grew older, we decided we were too cool for the ice cream truck. we stopped going to hong kong every summer. and slowly, we let the experiences that defined our childhoods became hazy memories.
this is not a valentine’s day cake, not another confection made to celebrate the commercialized yearly obligation to express one’s love with money lavished on flowers and chocolates. instead, this is a cake celebrating love for a childhood spent in two different cultures on opposite sides of the world. love for a time when a few tinny, out-of-tune notes could produce such euphoria, or a small box of strawberry flavored biscuit sticks could bring such comfort.
6 tbsp (86g) unsalted butter, room temperature
6 tbsp (75g) canola oil
1 (200g) + 1/3 (70g) cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp frozen dried strawberry powder
3 cups (360g) cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (240g) milk, room temperature
6 egg whites (save the yolks!)
16oz frozen strawberries (save mashed strawberries!)
5g lime juice
6 egg yolks, room temperature
1 cup (200g) sugar
1/4 cup water
2 cups (453g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbsp frozen dried strawberry powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup strawberry syrup
1/4 cup mashed strawberries
40g milk powder
40g all-purpose flour
55g unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp (10g) milk powder
2 tbsp (8g) freeze-dried strawberries
3 tbsp (90g) white chocolate
joanne chang. flour: spectacular recipes from boston’s flour bakery cafe. san francisco: chronicle books, 2010.
christina tosi. momofuku milk bar. new york: clarkson potter, 2011.
2 using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream together butter, oil, and 200g sugar for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula, mix for a few seconds more, then add vanilla and strawberry powder.
3 sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. on low speed (~2 on kitchenaid), add 1/3 flour mixture to butter-sugar mixture, mix until incorporated. add 1 cup milk, mix until incorporated. repeat alternating additions until well-incorporated. scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula, mix a few seconds more, then transfer batter to large bowl.
4 clean mixer bowl well. using whip attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed (~6 on kitchenaid) for 3-4 minutes, until they hold soft peaks. on medium speed, slowly add remaining 70g sugar, whip for 1-2 minutes until whites are glossy, shiny, and hold hard peaks.
5 using a rubber spatula, gently fold 1/3 whipped egg whites into batter to lighten it. gently fold in remaining egg whites. (don’t over mix! if the batter still appears lumpy, that is fine.) divide batter evenly among prepared cake pans.
6 bake for 25-30 minutes, until each cake layer pulls away from sides of pan and top starts to become pale golden and the middle springs back when lightly pressed. let cool in pans on wire racks for 30 minutes, invert onto racks, peel off parchment, and let cool for another 2 hours, until completely cooled.
strawberry syrup|1 allow frozen strawberries to defrost in a mesh strainer over a bowl for a couple hours. reserve strawberry juice.
2 while cake layers bake, combine lime juice, strawberries, and sugar in medium saucepan. bring to a boil, then simmer for 12-15 minutes, until juice has thickened to maple syrup-like consistency. pour through mesh strainer to mix with reserved juices, pressing strawberries to extract all juice.
strawberry buttercream|1 in small saucepan, bring sugar and water to boil and cook, without stirring for 3-4 minutes. while sugar syrup boils, beat egg yolks with a whip attachment in a stand mixer on medium speed for 3-4 minutes, until pale and light.
2 remove sugar syrup from heat. on low speed, slowly pour syrup into eggs. turn speed to medium and whip for 6-8 minutes, until mixture turns light and fluffy, pale, and cool to touch. turn speed to low and add butter, a few chunks at a time. increase speed to medium and continue to whip for 4-5 minutes. (mixture will break and look curdled initially, but will become smooth and silky.)
3 add salt, strawberry powder, strawberry syrup, and mashed strawberries, then whip until completely combined. (can be stored in fridge for 5 days, brought to room temperature, and whipped before using.)
milk crumbs and assembly|1 preheat oven to 250ºF. in a large bowl, combine milk powder, flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt. add melted butter and toss, using spatula, until mixture comes together and starts to form small clusters.
2 spread clusters on parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes, until sandy. cool completely.
3 crumble any milk crumb clumps larger than 1/2 in diameter. in one small bowl, toss 1/2 crumbs with milk powder and in another, 1/2 crumbs with strawberry powder, until evenly distributed.
4 combine crumbs in one bowl, pour white chocolate over crumbs, and toss until clusters are coated. continue tossing every 5 minutes until chocolate hardens and clusters are no longer sticky.
5 using serrated knife, trim tops of cooled cakes to level them. place first layer on cake stand/plate and brush generously with strawberry syrup. snugly encircle circumference of cake with acetate strip. spread 1/2 buttercream on top, then press 1/2 milk crumbs lightly on top.
6 carefully place second layer on top and press down lightly. brush second layer with 1/3 lemon syrup, spread the rest of the buttercream, and top with the remaining milk crumbs. place in fridge to set for minimum 12 hours.
7 remove cake from fridge and carefully peel away acetate sheet. slice and serve. (cake can be stored in an airtight container in fridge for 5 days.)