Strawberry shortcake

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There’s a tradition at work that whenever it’s someone’s birthday on the team, they get to request any cake they want – whether it’s fruity, chocolate, or some weird combination, they get to choose. 

I’ve gotten some extravagant and indulgent requests in the past, but this time around, it was for someone whose favourite cake was a Victoria Sponge. I know right, so…unexciting. There’s just something I can’t get on board with about the cake to filling ratio (needs more layers of cream, fresh cream at that), and not to mention the density of the sponge.

So the closest thing I could think of that’s close to a Victoria Sponge was a strawberry shortcake. Vanilla sponge, fresh strawberries, layers of whipped double cream – all related to the essentials of a Victoria Sponge, just a bit lighter and fresher.

What gives this cake its personality though isn’t the the strawberries that are soaked in a Grand Marnier-infused concoction before making their way into the layers of whipped double cream, but the cake’s base.

Strawberry shortcake is what I would consider a pretty simple cake, a safe option, an easy crowd pleaser. When you add a layer of meringue though, oh my gosh, it does wonders. The meringue base gives this classic summer favourite a deliciously welcomed, sweet crunch amongst the layers of soft cream and vanilla sponge. Think of this version of strawberry shortcake as a bit like receiving a respectable-sized gift as a child (nothing too fancy with the wrapping, and nothing that would give the gift away), and then opening it to find the toy that’s been at the top of your wishlist for ages. 

And that’s what the secret to my dad’s Strawberry shortcake is – that layer of meringue, tucked under what you would stereotypically expect, and wrapped away in whipped cream. 

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE

Serves 12-14.

Part 1: Meringue

This can be prepared a couple days ahead of time, and warmed up in the oven to take any moisture out the day of assembling your cake.

87 ml            egg whites

66 g              caster sugar

57 g            caster sugar

41.5 g           ground almond

15 g              corn starch

10 g              coarsely chopped pecans

  1. Set the oven at 120⁰C/250⁰F.
  2. Trace a 9” tin on parchment paper with pencil. Flip parchment paper over, pencil mark down, and place on a flat baking tray.
  3. Place egg whites and first portion of caster sugar into a mixing bowl, using a hand mixer, whip until hard peaks are formed.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix remaining dry ingredients until well incorporated.
  5. Slowly fold in dry mixture into egg white mixture in thirds. Careful to not over mix, otherwise the egg whites will lose their stiffness.
  6. Spoon mixture into a piping bag with circular, medium sized nozzle.
  7. Pipe the outline that you previously traced.
  8. Spoon remaining mixture into the middle of the circle. Using a palette knife, spread the mixture evenly within the outline, ensure that the top is as even as possible. You will want it to be no more than ¾ inch thick. To reduce any air bubbles, use the tip of the palate knife to tap various areas of within the circle, and use your palate knife to smooth it back out.
  9. For any remaining mixture, spoon onto any space you can find within the baking sheet, making small dollops.
  10.  Place tray in the middle of the oven, bake for 2 hours. Make sure you turn the tray 1 hour into baking.
  11.  Check the meringue base by lightly touching the middle of the meringue, it needs to feel dry and solid.
  12.  Set aside and cool.

Part 2: Sponge

This can be made up to two days in advance, wrap in cling film/saran wrap and store in the fridge to keep.

4                   eggs

1                   egg yolk

120 g            sugar

140g             AP flour

10g               melted butter, cooled.

½ cap           Vanilla flavouring

  1.  Set oven at 175⁰C/325⁰F
  2. Grease a 9” tin, then lightly coat with flour. Shake any excess out.
  3. In a bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolk and sugar with a hand mixer until the mixture doubles in volume, and forms a thick mixture. The more air that is beat into the eggs will help make the sponge rise.
  4. Slowly fold the flour into the egg mixture until just incorporated. Careful of over mixing here as it could deflate the eggs.
  5. Take the melted butter and slowly pour it in, while folding, add half a cap of vanilla flavouring and keep folding until incorporated in.
  6. Pour mixture into your greased tin and place within centre of oven to bake for 45 minutes – hour
  7. You may need to turn the tin 20-30 minutes in depending how even the baking is. To check if the sponge is ready, use a sharp knife, or toothpick, and stick it in the middle of the sponge. If it comes out clean it’s ready.
  8.  Set aside and cool.

Part 3: Assembly

2-3                pints of strawberries + more for decorating (save about 10 of the pretty ones)

750mL         fresh double cream

300mL         whipping cream

3 tbsp           sugar

100mL          boiling water

150g             dark chocolate

                    Grand Marnier to taste

  1.    In a small bowl or cup, pour the boiling water over the 3 tbps of sugar, mix until dissolved and set aside to cool. You can always make this ahead of time, or put it in the fridge to chill faster.
  2. Melt the chocolate in a bowl, once ready, paint meringue with it and set aside to dry (or in the fridge). Don’t worry about cracks, you can always use the chocolate as a glue! Once dry, trim the sides to match the same size as your sponge.
    1.    NOTE: if you’ve prepared the meringue a day or two before and it has managed to gather moisture, pop it in the oven for a couple minutes on 100⁰C/212⁰F
  3. Using a medium sized bowl, prepare the strawberries by cutting off the leaves and chopping the strawberries into small chunks.
  4. Add a capful of Grand Marnier to the bowl of strawberries and give it a mix. The Grand Marnier will help give this cake a boozy kick! Cover and set aside in fridge.
  5. Cut off the topping from sponge cake (as thin as you can!) horizontally, slice the sponge into 3 even layers. I find it helps if you start slowly cutting into the side, making your way around before cutting into the middle.
    1.    NOTE: if you don’t want your cake to be as high, 2 layers will do
  6. Whip fresh cream and whipping cream on high until semi-stiff peaks form.
  7. Take the meringue base and cover with 1cm of fresh cream.
  8. Use a handful of strawberries and spread evenly on top of the cream. Take another scoop of fresh cream and spread evenly so that the strawberries are just covered. Do your best to make sure that the surface is even – otherwise you’ll have a lopsided cake!
  9. Take the bottom layer of the sponge, and using a brush, carefully dab the sponge to lightly moisten the surface with the sugar water mixture.
  10.  Cover bottom layer with fresh cream – about 1cm.
  11.  Repeat steps 8-10 with the second layer of sponge.
  12.  Place your last layer on top, and dab with sugar water.
  13.  To finish your strawberry shortcake, evenly cover with cream – the cream should be no more than 1cm thick on the top and side. Or go for a more rustic look on the sides if you’re running low 😉 
  14.  Decorate as you wish – here, I’ve crumbled some extra meringue around the ring of strawberries around the edges.
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