After living in South Florida for more years than I care to remember, I’ve gotten used to the subtle clues that signify the change in seasons. They’re hard to define, but over time one gets better at identifying them. Some years, however, it seems like Mother Nature is downright schizophrenic. Take this winter, for instance. For a few days at a time, the temperature would dip down into the forties and for the next week or two, it would spike back up to seventy-five. I’d leave my house in the morning wearing a cozy sweater, and by noon I’d be sweating bullets! And, the plants and trees were confused too. I had azalea bushes blooming in January, that were nothing more than a mass of barren, brown twigs by mid-February.
We had no real springtime this year either. By the time St. Patrick’s Day rolled around, my weather thermometer hit eighty and never looked back. I really missed that transition period! But apparently, Summer was in a hurry to get here and would not be delayed. So, while the calendar tells us that we still have another six weeks for it to officially be summer, the weather says otherwise.
There are few things I like about summertime in Florida. It’s miserably hot and impossibly humid. Even abundant sunshine becomes unpleasant under those conditions. And, you can forget about growing beautiful, lush fruits and vegetables in your garden unless you plan to stand outside all day long spritzing them with a hose. It’s just too damn hot! But, there are a few nice things that make the heat tolerable, not the least of which is air conditioning. By the first of May, most of the tourists have evacuated, and I can once again get into any restaurant I want without an hour and a half wait. Another thing that I like about this time of year, is that those ripe and juicy California strawberries start lining the produce aisles in our supermarkets.
You may have heard that Florida is considered the winter strawberry capitol of the world. From December to April, we are lucky enough to have fresh strawberries coming out of our ears. Then, for a month or two after the winter crop dries up, we’re stuck with sad little tasteless berries from Godknowswhere. That is, until those ruby-red California beauties arrive.
One of my favorite ways to use fresh strawberries is in a good old-fashioned, Southern-style strawberry shortcake. Another thing I love to do is bake them into things like muffins and scones. So, when I came across this recipe for a strawberry cake, I was intrigued.
This strawberry cake is pretty simple stuff. It’s a basic, vanilla-scented yellow cake studded with a mass of fresh berries – a full pound to be exact. From just looking at the recipe, you probably wouldn’t guess it would be anything very special. But, after baking one for myself, I am here to tell you that it most definitely is – although you might not realize it right away.
While baking, the cake kind of puffs up and envelops the strawberries, which go all melty and jammy and lusciously sweet. They remind me a little of my roasted strawberries in that regard. The cake itself has a soft and tender crumb, which manages to get the slightest crunch around the edges. It’s sweet, but not cloyingly so, making it a perfect backdrop for the berries ensconced inside. And, the cake really takes no time at all to whip up. The hardest part for me was sniffing around my oven as I waited for it to finish baking. Then, as it sat cooling on my counter, that cake really began to draw me in. I found myself slicing off a tiny sliver every time I walked through my kitchen. I baked the cake early in the morning, and by mid-day it was almost half gone! Try explaining that to hungry loved ones as you present a half-eaten cake at dinner time!
So, while I’m sweating out the next several weeks of almost-summer, it’s nice to know that I can have this strawberry cake to give me comfort. That, and lots and lots of ice cream!
Almost–Summer Strawberry Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch cake pan or pie plate, or a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium-sized bowl.
- Cream the butter and 1 cup of sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and mix in the egg, milk, and vanilla.
- Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add in the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Transfer the batter to the buttered pie plate. Arrange the strawberries on top of batter, cut sides down, as closely together as possible. You may have to jam them in a little. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar over the berries.
- Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F. and continue to bake until the cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 50 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let it cool in the pan or pie plate on a wire rack. Cut into wedges and serve.
- The cake can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Should serve 8, but I make no promises.