A first-class dinner party has to end with a very first-class dessert. For last week’s dinner party, I knew I wanted a fresh strawberry tart as the end piece. I had also suggested that we start with a tart appetizer. What’s wrong with a meal bookended by tart pastry?
Suzen’s eyebrows shifted. I was informed that two tarts was one too many. Out went the opening tart, replaced by an olive appetizer. And, then, somehow, someway, mysteriously, the ending tart went too. Oh, yes, Suzen reminded me our guests had seen a tart from us just a month ago so we needed some else. Something spectacular. Something different. And, with berries, which were already in the fridge.
There is this dessert book I’ve been saving, I guess for such emergencies. Sherry Yard is the pastry chef for Wolfgang Puck, so you know she is first class. Her beautiful book, Desserts by the Yard, is one of those slow page turners. You look at a recipe, or at an incredible picture, and you really sort of mentally digest that one before moving on. If reading added calories, this book would be banned.
And there in Desserts by the Yard is a spectacular 3-layer strawberry cake. A spongy buttermilk cake, made with white chocolate, is baked, then sliced into the three layers. The layers are separated by strawberries buried in a tangy mix of whipped cream and crème fraiche. As the picture here shows, this dessert is eye-stunning. The cake itself softly carries just the faintest notes of the buttermilk and white chocolate. And the filling, with little sugar, bites at your tongue and uses the sweetness of the berries to compose a full flavor palette.
This dessert look beautiful, tastes perfectly, and will impress your guests. With the layers and fillings, it looks complicated — part of the reason you guests will utter an “oh, my,” when they see it. Yet it’s an easy cake to make. The time factor, about 3 hours end to end, simply comes from needing to let the cake bake, then fully cool. It’s a great project to have going while you work on other aspects of dinner. With this cake, you know your evening will end sweetly and sensationally.
Strawberry and White Chocolate Buttermilk Cake
For the Cake:
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
⅛ teaspoon salt
3 ounces white chocolate, preferably Valrhona
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¾ cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
For the Filling and Topping:
2 cups heavy cream 1 cup crème fresh
1 tablespoon sugar
2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered
Make the Cake:
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 12 x 17″ half sheet pan with pan spray and with parchment paper. Spray the parchment.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
Melt white chocolate in the microwave safe bowl at50% power for about two minutes or in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and set aside. Be careful, because white chocolate burns easily.
In a stand mixer fitted the paddle attachment, or a large bowl a hand mixer, cream together the butter and 1 ½ cups sugar at high-speed for two minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beaters and continue to beat for three more minutes, until light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Whisk 2 tablespoons butter into the melted white chocolate until blended. Scrape this mixture back into the butter and beat on low speed until well blended. Add the egg yolks in two editions, scraping the bowl down after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
On low speed, alternating wet and dry ingredients, add the buttermilk and the flour mixture in four additions. Scrape down the bowl.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed with a hand mixer until they form soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining ¼ cup sugar and continue to beat on medium speed. Beat until the egg whites form stiff, glossy peaks. Fold half the egg whites into the cake batter, then gently fold in the rest.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Using a spatula, preferably offset, smear the batter evenly over the pan. Bake, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through, until golden brown and firm to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan. Lightly spray the back of a half sheet pan with pan spray and cover with parchment. Invert the cake onto the parchment covered tray, remove the pan, and peel off the parchment.
When the cake is completely cool, cut crosswise into 3 equal pieces.
Make the Filling and Topping:
Whip the cream, crème fraîche, and sugar together to medium stiff peaks.
Assemble the Cake:
Place the first piece of cake on a serving platter. Spread 2 cups of the whipped cream evenly over the top. Arrange half the strawberries on the whipped cream and then spread a little layer of the cream over the berries. Place a second cake layer on top, repeat with2 cups more cream and the remaining strawberries. Top with the last layer cake and spread the remaining cream on top.
Chill until ready to serve. The cake can be assembled up to 4 hours ahead.
Source: Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard