Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day to you! And to you! And to us all! And Happy Valentine’s Day to those of you who didn’t get my semi-obscure TV show reference, or who hate women’s suffrage. Yes, even suffrage haters deserve love today.
Anyhow. It’s Valentine’s Day. And I have cake, and roses, and lots of strawberries, and a dessert covered in multiple kinds of fancy chocolate. Let’s do this thing.
You can’t tell from the picture, but underneath the coat of chocolate arms is a soft, plush strawberry cake, layered with vanilla bean whipped cream and lots of fresh strawberries. “Fresh strawberries?” you say. “Get a seasonal clue, lady. It’s February!”
Apologies to those of you in cold climates chiseling yourselves out of your ice caves every morning, but we’re “enjoying” really hot weather in southern California right now. And by that, I mean that I hate it and complain about it all the time and I don’t think it should even be legal to have 89-degree days in February, but my congresswoman won’t take my calls anymore and no one will sign my petition because, quote, “Changing the weather by petition isn’t a thing.” Harrumph.
So my seasonally inappropriate cake is covered with white chocolate panels I decorated with pink and red chocolate transfer sheets, and a big flurry of white and pink chocolate curls mounded on top. Speaking of white and pink chocolate curls, let’s make it raaaaaaiiiiiin! (I could watch this in a slack-jawed stupor all day.)
Making the chocolate transfer sheet panels is easy and relatively fast. I didn’t have the chance to shoot a tutorial this time around, but I have an old one on the About.com candy site that might be helpful if you’ve never worked with transfer sheets before. The transfer sheets are from Global Sugar Art.
The chocolate curls on top were purchased at a cake supply store—you can see similar products here (white) and here (pink). <—those are so expensive, don’t buy 5 pounds of them! That’s just for reference, silly.
The cake itself is so dreamy. It gets its flavor from strawberry puree and (brace yourselves) strawberry Jell-o. I’m sorry. I resisted for a long time, but I got tired of making flavorless strawberry cakes. It’s hard to add enough puree to get a really bold strawberry flavor, and I don’t think strawberry extracts are as realistic as the Jell-o flavor. So I done did it, and added that mystery powder to my cake batter, and it made it seriously good. No regrets. YOLO!
There are lots of fresh berries stuffed in this cake too, if you can see them peeking out of the fat whipped cream layers. I used my favorite vanilla bean paste in the whipped cream—there is nothing better than seeing all those specks of vanilla beans in the whipped cream! I stabilized it with just a little (unflavored) gelatin. I like to either use a stabilizer product like Whip It (which is basically corn starch) or gelatin when I’m filling and frosting a cake with whipped cream. Maybe it’s the aforementioned stupid hot climate I live in, but I like my layer cakes to slice cleanly and have a bit of staying power at room temperature, so stabilizing wimpy whipped cream is a must.
In my experience, if you stick the panels on the freshly-frosted cake, before it’s had a chance to really set in the fridge, they’ll stick nicely and you won’t need to do much to secure them (unless you’ll be traveling with the cake or something.) But if you do have trouble, I think wrapping the outside of the cake with a decorative ribbon would be lovely both from a practical and an aesthetic standpoint.
It goes without saying that this isn’t the easiest cake to cut neatly, since removing one slice sends an avalanche of curls down Mount Cake. But if you can get over losing half of your beautiful curls to the plate, then I think you’ll be rewarded with a delicious dessert. It’s fresh and springy and oh-so-romantic. This would also be nice for birthdays, Easter, Mother’s Day, or Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s birthday (November 12!).
Happy Love Day, folks! Thanks for reading, love you, mean it, and other gushy sentiments!
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
- 14 oz (2 cups) granulated sugar
- 3 oz strawberry-flavored powdered gelatin, like Jell-O brand (not sugar-free variety)
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 12¾ oz (3 cups) all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 8 oz (1 cup) buttermilk
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) fresh strawberry puree (See Note below)
- 1 packet (2½ tsp) powdered unflavored gelatin
- 3 tbsp cold water
- 3 cups cold heavy cream
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste, or 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 lb fresh strawberries, washed, dried, hulled, and chopped into small pieces
- 8 oz white candy coating (I like Merckens brand)
- Chocolate transfer sheet (at least 10x16-inches, if smaller use two sheets)
- 6-8 oz white and/or pink chocolate curls
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line four 8" round cake pans with parchment paper, and spray the pans with nonstick cooking spray. (9" round pans can also be used, you will just have thinner cake layers and will need to reduce the cooking time a bit.)
- Combine the butter, oil, granulated sugar, and gelatin in the bowl of a large stand mixer. Mix on medium speed with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs in one at a time, mixing well after each addition, then add the vanilla.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl, and in a separate bowl mix the buttermilk and strawberry puree together.
- With the mixer running on low speed, add a third of the dry ingredients and mix until just a few flour streaks remain, then pour in half of the buttermilk. Continue to alternate adding dry and wet ingredients, ending with the drys. Stop right when the flour is mixed in.
- Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula, stirring around the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure that all of the stray flour is incorporated. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. If you have a kitchen scale, each pan should get 13.5 oz of batter. Bake the cakes at 350 F for about 30 minutes, until they start pulling away from the sides and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. These cakes won't dome much, so you won't be able to tell from how much they've rise—better to use the toothpick test here. Let them cool completely before assembling the cake. They can be made in advance, wrapped well in plastic wrap, and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 4 weeks. If frozen, let them partially defrost before assembling.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered gelatin and the cold water, and let it stand until the gelatin absorbs the water. Once absorbed, microwave the bowl for 10-15 seconds, until the gelatin melts. For this recipe, it should be melted but barely warm—certainly not hot. Let it cool if it is too warm.
- Microwave ⅓ cup of cream for 10-15 seconds, until it is room temperature. Whisk the room temperature cream into the gelatin and set aside for just a moment.
- In the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the remaining 2⅔ cups of cold cream, the sugar, and the vanilla bean paste or extract. Whip the cream with the sugar until it starts to thicken and the beater leaves traces in the cream. Pour in the cream and gelatin mixture, and continue to beat until the cream forms stiff peaks. Be careful not to overwhip the cream and cause it to separate. This cream will get stiffer as it sits, so it should be used to decorate and assemble the cake immediately.
- Place one cake round on a cardboard cake round, and top it with a generous cup of whipped cream. Use an offset spatula or knife to spread the cream evenly to the edge of the cake. Top the cream with a third of the fresh strawberries, keeping them away from the very edges of the cake. Press down gently to embed them in the cream.
- Press a second cake round on top, and repeat layering the cream and strawberries. After all the cake layers are added, spread the remaining cream over the top and sides of the cake. If you follow my decorating suggestions the cream will be covered by chocolate panels and chocolate curls, so it doesn’t have to look pretty, but try not to have any bare patches since the chocolate will need something to adhere to.
- Press the chocolate panels into the sides of the cake, overlapping them slightly. They should stick to the whipped cream, but if for some reason they aren't stable, consider tying a ribbon around the outside of the cake to stabilize them and add a pretty touch. Sprinkle chocolate curls on top of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour, so that the whipped cream can firm up and the cake will be less messy to cut. Store the cake in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- If you want to make the optional chocolate panels, first cut your 10x16-inch transfer sheet in half lengthwise, so that you have two 5-inch tall long strips. If there is a border around your sheets, cut it off so the pattern goes to the very edge. Set them rough side up on a long sheet of parchment or waxed paper.
- Melt the white chocolate coating in a bowl in the microwave, stirring after every 30 seconds so it doesn't overheat.
- Pour the coating across the top of the two strips. Use a metal offset spatula to spread it in an even layer across the tops of the transfer sheets, extending past the edges so every bit of the sheets are covered. Carefully lift up the chocolate sheets and scoot them to a clean section of parchment—this will make sure that the sheets have clean edges all around, and it's easiest to do before the coating starts to set.
- Let them sit for another 3-4 minutes, so that the coating has begun to set but is not yet hard, and cut your chocolate panels. Decide how wide you want your panels to be—I went with panels a little less than 2" wide. Using a large sharp chef's knife, press the knife down into the chocolate to cut it into rectangles. If you find that a large amount of chocolate is sticking to the knife, or is being “dragged” through the cuts, wait another minute or two for the chocolate to set further. After you have made the cuts, let the chocolate set completely at room temperature.
- Once set, carefully peel the chocolate off of the transfer paper. The design will be transferred onto the rectangles, and you're now ready to use them to decorate your cake!
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