The Cake Therapist: Strawberry Shortcut Cake with Basil Whipped Cream

Doesn't this look delicious?

A really good strawberry shortcake is one of the delights of summer. 

You can make it patriotic, for the Fourth of July, with the addition of blueberries.

And you can make it taste really wonderful with basil-infused whipped cream, which is easy to do. You just warm cream, add basil leaves, cover and let the basil infuse with the cream. Strain out the leaves, chill the cream, then whip it when you're ready to serve.

I have never been a big fan of biscuit-like shortcake, which either goes dry or soggy way too easily. When my sister Julie Fox sent me this shortcut cake recipe, adapted from one by Paul and Gina Neely, I was eager to to try it after she described how easy the spongy yellow cake was to cut in half and how delicious the strawberries were with it. A little hint of fresh basil in the whipped cream makes it all come together.

Strawberry Shortcut Cake with Basil Whipped Cream
Adapted from Bake Happy (Running Press, 2015)
Makes 1 (8-inch) cake
Basil Whipped Cream:
1/4 cup (30 g) packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup (250 ml) heavy or whipping cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Shortcut Cake:
1 cup (125 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (170 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon  baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (57 g) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup (125 ml) whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Rosy Strawberry Filling:
1 pound (500 g) fresh strawberries (reserve 5 berries for garnish)
1 cup bottled strawberry syrup
2 teaspoons rosewater 
Fresh basil or other herb leaves, for garnish
For the Basil Whipped Cream, combine the basil leaves and cream in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Heat until bubbles form around the perimeter of the pan. Remove from the heat, cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Strain out the basil leaves and refrigerate the flavored cream until ready to whip.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch cake pan. Line it with a parchment paper circle, butter the paper, and dust the pan with flour. Tap out the excess flour.

For the Shortcut Cake, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the butter, egg, milk, and vanilla until almost smooth (there can be small lumps). Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Using a knife, loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Rosy Strawberry Filling, set aside 5 strawberries for the garnish. Hull and chop the remaining strawberries finely. Heat the syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbling at the edges. Add the strawberries and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes or until the berries are slightly warm and glisten. Stir in the rosewater. If you like, you can mash them a little bit. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

To assemble the cake, cut the cake in half horizontally, using a serrated knife. Begin to cut the cake in half until you reach the center of the cake, then turn it a quarter turn and keep cutting and turning until you reach your original cut mark. Use the knife to help separate the layers. 

Place the bottom layer, cut side up, on a cake plate. Spread with the strawberry mixture. Top with the remaining layer, cut-side down. Arrange the strawberry garnish on top of the cake.

Whip the flavored cream with confectioners’ sugar until soft peaks form.  Dollop the whipped cream on each slice and garnish with fresh basil or other herb leaves.

And where do you find a novel to read and more delicious, aromatic, colorful, happy recipes to enjoy?

The Cake Therapist: Seersucker Lemon-Blueberry Cake Roll

When you're yearning for spring or want to cool off on a hot June day, the Cake Therapist has just the dessert. In the novel, my pastry chef character Neely features blueberry and lemon as signature flavors for March. She knows we're all yearning for warm weather after the bluster and cold of winter.

But here it is June. It's 95 degrees in the shade in Kansas City. Blueberry season. 

And I want a fresh-tasting lemon and blueberry cake roll with summery seersucker stripes.

I have made my fair share of cake rolls over the years. Some very time consuming, some that stuck to the pan, some that wouldn't roll up. For a supposedly easy cake, there were issues.

Until I found this one.

This recipe is the essence of cake therapy, of baking happy. 

You start out with a template recipe that really works. 

You choose flavors that convey easy-going, fresh, summer--fresh lemon and blueberry. 

You add color and whimsy (check out those seersucker stripes!).

And then you invite people over or take the cake roll to a meeting for others to enjoy. 
This cake roll is also easy to make, in stages, and to roll up. The cake itself (based on the Japanese Deco Roll cake) is very supple, but the trick is to following the timing exactly—7 minutes in the oven, 5 minutes to cool before spreading on the filling and rolling this up. 
Make this a polka dot cake, if you like, by piping dots instead of stripes. The only tricky part of this recipe is that the whole baking sheet needs to go in your freezer for the stripes to set for 30 minutes.
Here is a fun video from blogger Raiza Costa on how to make the cake roll (she did a Valentine's Day version, but the process is the same).  
I have adapted it for Bake Happy, and you'll be happy to make it, show it off, and, even better, taste it!

Seersucker Lemon Blueberry Cake Roll
During the holidays, some bakers like to make a pumpkin cake roll or the fancier bûche de Noël, or Yule log cake roll. But there is a lot to be said for a summery version, too, in stripes of pale yellow and deeper blue. With a blueberry-studded lemon-scented filling, this cake has the look and taste of summer. Adapted from a recipe idea from Raiza Costa, who blogs at Dulce Delight.
Makes 1 cake roll to serve 8

Lemon Blueberry Filling:
1 (8-ounce/226 g) package cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (120 g) confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups/300 g fresh or frozen blueberries

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Blueberry Stripes:
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (75 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, or more, if necessary
Blue and black gel food coloring

Lemon Cake Roll:
4 large egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (112 g) granulated sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons (45 g) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup (85 g) unbleached all-purpose flour

Mint sprigs, for garnish

Line a 17 by 11-inch baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
For the Lemon Blueberry Filling, place the cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon zest in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Arrange a piece of parchment paper on a flat work surface and dust with confectioner’s sugar.
For the Blueberry Stripes, whisk the egg whites, sugar, butter, and flour together until smooth and thick. Color with gel food coloring until you get a dark blue. Put the mixture in a squirt bottle with a 1/8 to  1/4-inch opening at the tip. Squirt squiggly blueberry stripes, about 1 inch apart, across the short side and down the length of the prepared baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer and let the stripes set for 30 minutes.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until foamy in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Then add half of the sugar (5 tablespoons/75 ml), 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high speed, until white, billowy peaks form. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks, with the remaining 4 tablespoons sugar, melted butter, and flour together until smooth. Add half of the beaten egg whites and fold them in with a spatula or large metal spoon until the color is uniform. Add the rest of the beaten egg whites and fold until the color is uniform.
Remove the baking sheet with the blueberry stripes from the freezer. Spoon the cake batter over the stripes in a thin layer. Smooth the batter with an offset spatula or flour scraper. Using your forefinger, make a clean channel along the perimeter of the cake batter so that the batter does not touch the sides of the pan.
Bake for 7 minutes or until the cake feels firm when you press it in the middle and the edges are just starting to turn golden.
Immediately invert the cake onto the confectioner’s sugar-dusted parchment paper. Peel off the parchment paper from the top of the cake and discard. Place a new sheet of parchment paper over the cake. Holding the cake at both ends, carefully and quickly turn the cake over again and peel off the parchment so that the confectioner’s sugar-dusted side is up. Let cool for 5 minutes.
Spread the cake with the filling and sprinkle with blueberries. Starting with a short side, carefully and firmly roll up the cake.
To serve, transfer the cake to a platter and serve with a scattering a blueberries and fresh mint sprigs. If necessary, trim the ends a little bit with a serrated or cake knife to make a more attractive cake roll.

The Cake Therapist: How to Kickstart Creativity

Cake doesn't always mean big layer cake.

"Cake" can mean cupcakes, cakelets, a snack cake, or the soft and cake-like texture of a tender sugar cookie, madeleine, or brownie.

Whatever size or shape you make it, "cake" is a great vehicle for adding a little color and flavor to your life.
In The Cake Therapist, my debut novel, the main character Neely uses flavor--and her baked goods--to propel her bakery customers and wedding cake clients through the year. 

Take-charge coffee and chocolate at the start of the new year, blood orange and raspberry that together create a romantic and aromatic coral color in February, and so on.
Flavor, color, and aroma can also be wonderful ways to kickstart creativity. 
(And I needed every iota of creativity I could muster, writing a novel, a barbecue cookbook, and a baking cookbook that are all out at the same time!)
Here's how I discovered the secret.

“There has to be a better way!” I said to myself. I was at a brainstorming meeting. To help us along, the group brought out a plastic tray full of pallid sugar cookies that tasted as uninteresting as they looked. One tiny bite and I was all out of ideas. 
I went home and took out my little bottle of Aura Cacia “Creative Juice,” a blend of non-culinary essential oils that includes bergamot, citrus, and cardamom. I opened the bottle and sniffed its wonderful aroma. The light bulb went on, and the result is these soft sugar cookies, flavored with cardamom and topped with an orange glaze and a sweet gremolata of citrus zest, fresh mint or orange mint, and natural sugar (which has a larger crystal than granulated sugar). 
The Cake Therapist would definitely approve.

Creativity Kickstarters

The final touch to this soft, glazed sugar cookie is an aromatizing gremolata with citrus zest, orange mint, and natural granulated sugar that practically shouts “fresh and new.” The cardamom in the cookie itself follows and then lingers on the taste buds a bit. If the ideas don’t flow after that, it’s not my fault.

Adapted from Bake Happy (Running Press, 2015) by Judith Fertig.

Makes about 36 cookies

Soft Sugar Cookie Dough:
23/4 cups (335 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (121 g) sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon ground cardamom

Orange Glaze:
1 cup (120 g) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons orange juice

Sweet Orange Mint Gremolata:
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh orange mint or mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup (50 g) natural granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

For the cookies, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream the sour cream, butter, and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Beat in the egg, vanilla, and cardamom. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients, a third at a time, until you have a smooth, soft dough. Pinch off a 1 tablespoon-sized ball of dough, roll gently in your hands and flatten into a 1-inch thick disc. Place each disc 11/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until just firm to the touch and slightly golden at the edges. Let cool in the pans.

For the Orange Glaze, whisk the confectioners’ sugar, orange zest and juice together until smooth. Turn each cookie upside down and dip the top in the glaze. Turn upright and place on the baking sheet again to dry. 

For the Gremolata, muddle the orange mint , citrus zests, and sugar with a muddler or with the handle of wooden spoon in a medium bowl until the sugar is suffused with color and aroma.  

Sprinkle the gremolata on the glazed cookies and leave until the glaze has set, about 30 minutes.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Recipe from Bake Happy, where many more recipes with flavor, color, aroma, and more await!