I’ve always loved baking. Before I decided to take on the exciting task of making my own wedding cake, I sort of developed the reputation for myself as my friend group’s birthday-cake maker. Over the years, I’ve made a ton of birthday cakes for my friends. It’s sort of a win-win situation for everyone – my friends get a birthday cake, and I get a chance to bake and experiment with flavors and decorations.
Last weekend, I made a birthday cake for one of my best friends from college. It’s our first year post-college, not living in the same city (read: not living within three blocks of everyone we know) and it was not only an excellent chance for me to test out another cake recipe and another decorating style, it was also a really great opportunity to bring the friend group back together. Nothing says bringing the friend group together like food, right? I think all of my friends and I have adjusted to moving away and moving forward with our lives and our careers in different ways and it was definitely a really nice chance to get together and celebrate Jane’s birthday and my engagement!
The birthday cake I made for Jane last year
During college, Jane and I both did a semester “abroad” in DC, instead of actually going abroad. For both of us, it was absolutely life-changing (for me, it’s where I met Ben!). Not only did we both have the chance to do amazing internships in the government and take a little break from the chaotic pressure of campus, but we fell head over heels for the DC food game. Our favorite? Baked & Wired Bakery in Georgetown. Many DC-ers will tell you, if you know the DC cupcake game, you know that the much-hyped up Georgetown Cupcake, while also amazing, is second fiddle to Baked & Wired, which is just a few blocks away! After my semester in DC, I used to have Ben bring me and Jane Baked & Wired cupcakes at school when he would visit me. What a way to my heart! Our absolute favorite of the Baked & Wired cupcakes has always been the strawberry cupcake. It’s a vanilla cake base with pieces of real strawberry in it. It is light and airy, buttery, and tastes like real strawberry. There’s just enough strawberry that it really tastes like strawberry, but not so much that you feel like you’re eating a strawberry rather than a cupcake. It’s topped with a delicious strawberry flavored frosting and it is absolutely magical. At graduation, we actually ordered an entire strawberry cake from Baked & Wired and brought it with us to commencement, right on to the field. There are some great pictures of the two of us eating our strawberry cake while our commencement speaker and the university president give speeches in the background.
For Jane’s birthday, it only made sense to try my best to recreate this cake. I used the strawberry cake recipe from Serious Eats. The secret to this recipe? Dehydrated strawberry powder mixed with flour to create a strawberry flavored flour base. It was amazing. It tasted like real strawberries. And while the recipe calls for you to blend your dehydrated strawberries completely to a fine powder, I opted for a mix of courser powder and fine powder. In the end, each bite had a little punch of strawberry in it surrounded by pillowy strawberry flavor. The strawberry flavor was authentic and fresh. The cake is bright pink, which may be off-putting to some, but felt perfectly whimsical and exciting for the occasion. The recipe uses fresh strawberry puree to add to the fresh, strawberry taste!
Overall Pros & Cons:
Pros: real strawberry taste, texture from dehydrated strawberry chunks, moist but not sticky
Cons: bright pink color (although I said for this occasion I liked it, I don’t know if I would want my wedding cake to be bright pink)
Taste Test: A
This cake tasted fantastic. Like I said, the strawberry flavor was so authentic. It tasted fresh. It left that sweet taste in your mouth that you get from succulent fruit. It was a bright, sharp, sweet, strawberry taste as opposed to a heavy, deep, sugar taste.
Freeze Test: Sorry folks, this one was just TOO good to save any to freeze. We had to eat it all right then and there!
Decoration Test: B-
For this cake, I tested out the trendy watercolor cake decorating method. Basically what you do is this: you frost your cake as usual and place dollops of colored frosting around your cake, then you use your cake scraper to smear it out and blend it into the white frosting, creating a pulled watercolor effect. I liked decorating it and it was certainly a really easy cake recipe to decorate. It wasn’t too crumbly and it was easy to handle. I was worried about the pink cake crumbs getting everywhere and thankfully, the cake stayed put. I didn’t do a crumb coat here, as I learned I didn’t have to in my cake decorating class at Oakleaf Cakes.
What I wasn’t so thrilled about was the colors that I chose to decorate the watercolor with. I liked the colors themselves, but I opted for more subdued, pastel colors. In contrast, I think I might have done better with deeper, brighter, more saturated colors. I think the effect was pretty, but in some places it looked a little hesitant, almost accidental. I think that’s because the colors of the pale frosting blended in almost TOO easily to the white frosting on the outside. What I will say, however, is that the swiss meringue frosting that I usually use was perfect for this. Swiss meringue is so soft and silky that it blended beautifully into itself for the water color effect. I would be interested to try this again with a different type of frosting to see if the trick is the Swiss meringue, or if it really is that simple to create. But… then again, if it isn’t broken, why fix it, right?
Batch Test: B
I only made one of these, so I can’t speak to how it was to actually make in bigger batches. What I liked is that the recipe listed gives you three layers. I really don’t love when recipes give you two, because when you’re decorating a cake, you’re almost always going to want three layers, right?! The one difficulty I would caution against in doubling or tripling this recipe is that it takes a lot of crushing of freeze dried strawberries. That isn’t difficult, especially not in a blender or food processor, but it does add another step, another bowl and a whole other large appliance.
Overall Score: B+
For the birthday, this was perfect. I don’t think, because of the pink color and the labor intensive freeze dried strawberry process (which is what really truly makes this cake), that it would be perfect for my wedding cake, though. The taste was so refreshing and bright, however and this cake will definitely remain in my rotation of cake recipes to use for all baking occasions! Something tells me these would make absolutely wonderful, fun, and delicious cupcakes.