Strawberries are in season, and it is nearly impossible for me to resist picking up a pack or two (or four) from the large displays in our local grocery stores. While delicious on their own, I love playing with strawberries at this time of year when they are seasonally low-priced, perfectly sized and at their best.
One of my favorite strawberry recipes is Martha Stewart's strawberry cake, which I've taken to calling Strawberry Coffee Cake over the years. I confess, I've struggled in the past with some of Martha's recipes, which don't always turn out as expected for me; however, I have made this cake many times and it has never let me down.
The base is a simple mix of standard baking ingredients like butter, sugar, flour and eggs, that come together to create a lovely, not-too-sweet cake. It is almost humble in its simplicity, but the humility stops there, thanks to the addition of a pound of sweet strawberries that fancifully decorate the top and bring the magic to this cake.
The strawberries are dusted with a coating of sugar, which helps to release their jammy juices as the cake bakes. Some reviews I've read have suggested lessening the total amount of sugar in the recipe by a few tablespoons, but if you do, be sure to leave 2 tablespoons for the topping as this little step really makes the strawberries shine.
The strawberries need to be washed and hulled before using, and you can use a special tool called a strawberry huller, or a simple paring knife, to do the trick.
Martha recommends baking the cake in a deep-dish pie plate, which is how I've always done it, and a round 9- or 10-inch cake pan will also work. But stay away from using a regular-sized pie plate, as it will be too shallow for this thick batter.
The cake is baked for a short time at 350 degrees, and then for nearly an hour at 325 degrees. The initial heat helps the strawberries become jam-filled pools of sweetness, and the reduced heat helps the cake bake evenly and develop a delightful, slightly crispy crust. Once done, the cake will appear to have nearly buckled around some of the berries, creating a darling landscape that is sure to delight your strawberry lovers.
This strawberry cake is the perfect treat to serve when having friends over for coffee, and I usually dust each slice with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar before serving. It's also perfect after dinner with a little dollop of good vanilla ice cream, or a large dollop, if you're anything like our 12-year-old son, Gio.
Strawberry coffee cake is delicious, easy to make and can be stored at room temperature for up to two days. But I've never had it last that long, and I'm guessing you won't either. Enjoy.
Strawberry Coffee Cake
Lightly adapted from a Martha Stewart's Strawberry Cake Recipe
Serves: 6 to 8
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (plus more for pie plate)
1 cup plus two tablespoons sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
½ cup milk
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Use room temperature butter to lightly grease a 9 or 10-inch deep dish pie plate or cake pan; set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium mixing bowl; set aside. Put butter and 1 cup sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the butter and beat on medium speed until combined. Add the milk and vanilla and beat on medium-low speed until blended.
Add the flour mixture in stages, beating on low speed just until incorporated, being careful not to overmix the batter for best results.
Transfer batter to prepared pie plate and use a rubber spatula to evenly smooth the top. Arrange the strawberries on top of the batter, cut sides down, placing them as closely together as possible. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 1 hour. Let cake cool in pie plate on a wire rack. Cut into wedges, dust with powdered sugar and serve.
Cake can be stored at room temperature, loosely covered, for up to two days.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.