Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Strawberry Gal

When I was a child, I read a series of "regional America" books by Lois Lenski, who wrote about girls and boys in and around the South and other areas of the country. I remember reading Strawberry Girl when I was about 8 or so, and thinking that I was glad I didn't have neighbors like the Slatterys, and that I didn't have to pick strawberries...even though I like to eat them.

Florida strawberries seem to be in season now--my local Publix has them for 3 quarts for $5.00. The berries are a nice deep red, and more importantly, they smell like strawberries. It's sometimes a crap shoot as to whether or not they taste as good as they smell, and the ones I've had lately have been pretty good.

Then, I was reading Slashfood last week, and they had a link to this page with a very, very attractive fresh strawberry Bundt cake. It looks beautiful and sounds pretty simple...which is where I always get into trouble with the baking, you know.

I had strawberries, I had a lemon and eggs, so why not whip it up? So, I start working on the puree--about 1.5 quarts of strawberries will make 1.5 cups of pureed strawberries. That might not be an exact ratio, because at first, it was seeming like 1 quart of strawberries = 1.5 cups of puree, but then I read the recipe again and noticed the part where Dash of Sass says to strain the puree. Strawberry seeds are crunchy little buggers when appearing in quantity, so I'm in agreement that it's probably a good idea to strain.

I get out my little wire mesh strainer and it's not fine enough. I try another strainer, and again it seems not to be working. I rummage around in the kitchen gadgetry and find a package of cheesecloth. I take a square of it and put it in the strainer and start trying to strain out the seeds again. This is so not working like I envisioned it. The puree is thick and doesn't want to drip out in a nice rapid fashion and leave the seed behind...and this makes me impatient. 'Cause I'm not the most patient of bakers, I start trying to speed up the process.

I think that maybe I gather up the edges of the cheesecloth, forming a little pouch, and gently squeeze it to force more of the liquid and solids out, leaving the seeds behind. Yeah, great theory. I squeeze and the top of the little pouch explodes, and my kitchen counter starts looking like CSI: Muffin Man.

Let's just say that I probably have more seeds in the batter than one would ideally like to have in the batter, but we'll just call it Rustic Strawberry Cake and let it go. (And this was why it took a half a quart more of strawberries for the puree.)

Like Dash of Sass, I only had all-purpose flour, so I hit the Internet and found a formula to add baking powder and salt to my AP flour to get self-rising. And, I was out of red food coloring, so my batter was not as pretty in pink as hers. But it was in the pink family (pinkish-beige is pink, right?), and since it was pink, I decided to make it in a rose-shaped Bundt pan that was a Christmas gift from Linna several years ago.

Granted, the first time I made a cake in the rose pan, I didn't get all the nooks and crannies properly oiled and floured, and it was an unmitigated disaster trying to get the cake out. Now, that I have discovered Pam for Baking or Baker's Joy, both cooking sprays with flour designed for baking, I feel much more confident in getting things out pans now. (And, I don't care about the naysayers who say that the cooking spray with flour thing is bad for your baking, blah, blah, blah...these people have never had to chisel cake out of a rose-shaped pan. And, using a cooking spray is the absolute least of my worries with baking...the very least.)

I don't seem to have as much batter as the recipe's author seems to think I should--3 round pans worth? So, I start to worry that I screwed up the converting of plain flour to self-rising flour, but there does seem to be too much for the Bundt pan. So, I grab a muffin tin and make 6 cupcakes as well...which probably would be good with the cream cheese frosting listed in the recipe, but who thinks ahead to the frosting part, when whipping up that spur of the moment cake? Most people do, I'm sure.

Besides, it's a Bundt cake... I really just need a glaze, right? Right?

So, I pop the cake out when the cake tester comes out clean, having taken the cupcakes out a little earlier, and after cooling in the rack for 10 minutes, it popped right out of the pan, rose petal detailing intact. Whoo hoo! I think...this is going great!

I mixed up a little sugar glaze and dribbled it over the cake...which was really more beige than pink by now, and got ready to eat a slice. Yeah, that whole picture worth a thousand words thing? or launching ship or something? I should just stop with the baking attempts and stick to desserts that don't have to rise or bake completely, etc. With this pan, I think I needed to put the cake tester in closer to the tube, because the part closest to the middle...still a little underdone.

And the cake itself was just bleh. It smelled like strawberries, but it just sort of underwhelmed me with the flavor, or lack of flavor. Maybe, the strawberries weren't as ripe as they looked and smelled, although the ones I tasted were pretty sweet. Of course, that didn't stop me from eating about half of the cake, but that was in the interests of science, I tell you...Science!

But all was not lost, culinarily-wise last week...I made a rockin' sausage lentil soup in the Crock-pot that I'll write about later. It was most redeeming.

1 comment:

LinC said...

We had a large strawberry bed growing up, and I spent many hours bent over under the hot sun picking berries. But those strawberries were very sweet when enjoyed later with whipped cream. Or at least they are sweet in my remembering.

I'm sure your cake was beautiful, if a bit bland. You can probably blame the strawberries -- commercial strawberries don't have the flavor of home grown. They fertilize them to make them grow fast and large, and that hampers flavor. That's why most strawberry cake recipes work from strawberry jam. Is there such a thing as strawberry flavoring?

I had the same problem with doneness the last time I made a Bundt cake. The toothpick came out clean, but the cake was raw. I now rely on my nose more. If the cake is starting to smell carmelized, it's more likely to be done than when it only smells like warm bread. (Or if I can smell it in the bedroom, it's done.) I wonder if there's a temperature I should be aiming for on a probe thermometer (similar to testing a piece of meat).

I laughed out loud at your strawberry squeezing disaster!