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Almost-Summer Strawberry Cake

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 [1]. 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 [2] 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 [3] 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!

I can see this cake being made with various other fruits as well.  I suspect that blackberries, peaches [4], nectarines [5] or plums would all be wonderful.

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!