strawberries

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Forgive me.

My mother watched a lot of soaps when I was growing up.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

What I’m trying to say is, time is marching on and I’m officially older now than I was when I wrote my last post.

About two weeks ago I celebrated my birthday.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Those of you who’ve been reading along with me for a bit probably know that I look at my birthday as an excuse to make a big ass fancy layer cake.
I’ve heard it all before about how I’m not “supposed to” bake my own birthday cake, but the fact of the matter is that I enjoy baking a good cake almost as much as I enjoy eating one. A grocery store birthday cake pales in comparison to what I can bake myself, and I’d rather bake my own cake than shell out good money for something I’m not going to love.

I bake so many bundt cakes around here that I also relish the opportunity to go all out with sky high layers of cake stacked up with fillings and icings and glazes and decorations and candles, so that kind of seals the deal for me. I bake my own birthday cake, and I like it. So there.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

You’ll also know, if you’ve been reading along with me for a while, that I have a tendency to get inside my own head and overthink things. Like seriously overthink things.

To that end, I’ll be the first to confess that I’ve been planning this cake for at least 6 months. Initially I was thinking about posting this cake, or at least a version of it, around Christmas. When that didn’t work out I thought I’d make it for Russell’s birthday in January. That didn’t end up happening either, so I’ve been sitting on the idea ever since.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

My initial thought was a high contrast black and white cake with layers of deep dark chocolate cake, bright white icing, and glossy dark chocolate ganache. In some circles on the internet this contrasting black on white on black cake is called a “Tuxedo Cake”. Considering my name is Tux, I was all over that business.

Thing is, something magical happened along the way that made me rethink the white in my “tuxedo”.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

A few months ago some friends came to visit us, one of whom happens to be from England and also happened to be celebrating a birthday while he was here. Before his wife finished the sentence, “Tomorrow’s his birth…”, I was in the kitchen preheating the oven.

They were out of the house a lot while they were here, off doing the tourist circuit, and since I didn’t know exactly when they’d be around I opted for cupcakes rather than a big formal layer cake. Since I was baking cupcakes, and since our friend is British, I wanted to go for a kind of American kid’s birthday party theme.
I decided to reimagine my funfetti cake recipe as cupcakes, but wanted to skip the American buttercream frosting and go for something a bit more subtle and a bit less sugary. I thought I’d adapt the mascarpone icing from the gingersnap icebox cake I made last December, but add some strawberries to it to make it fit better with the funfetti cake.
(Have I mentioned that I have a tendency to overthink things sometimes?)

To concentrate the flavor of the strawberries and make them less watery I decided to cook them down a bit with some sugar before mixing them into the icing.
At first I worried that I’d cooked the strawberries too long and was disappointed that they ended up tasting kind of jammy rather than super fresh like I’d hoped, but I forged ahead anyway and once I’d mixed them into the mascarpone and whipped cream…
HOLY SHIT.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Where do I begin?

This icing basically tastes like the freshest, creamiest strawberry ice cream you’ve ever had, but with the texture of fluffy whipped cream. It’s stable enough to be used as a cake icing as well, and just sweet enough to bring out the sweetness of the strawberries without being overly sugary or cloying.

After one bite, all of my big birthday cake plans changed.

My black and white tuxedo cake would be getting a chichi pink makeover.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

As much as I’d like to, you can’t have an entire birthday party and serve nothing but cake, so with the cake as the pièce de résistance we decided to have a barbecue. An amazing sustainably sourced organic butcher recently opened near us, so we got a bunch of homemade bratwurst for the grill and called the whole shindig a “sausage party”.

Still on our German kick after our recent trip to Berlin, we went all out with German potato salad, and gurkensalit (cucumber salad), sauerkraut, and whole grain german mustard. I even drank beer for the night! (I usually stick to wine or whiskey).

The food was a huge hit, and while the bratwurst put up a good fight trying to be the star of the (sausage) party, my foppish pink tuxedo cake definitely stole the show!

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

The tender layers of devil’s food cake are nothing less than super rich and incredibly moist slices of dark chocolate heaven. The strawberry mascarpone icing is ethereally fluffy and impossibly creamy, and even though the strawberries are cooked down, the icing tastes bright and fresh and summery. The dark chocolate ganache is velvety and perfectly rich and bittersweet, with a lovely glossy finish thanks to a touch of honey.

To top it all off and make it feel even fancier and ever-so-slightly gaudy, I added some white candy beads in varying sizes to the top of the shiny dark ganache. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but why on earth wouldn’t you want to?

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chocolate Tuxedo Cake with Strawberry Mascarpone Icing and Glossy Ganache

  • Servings: 16 to 24-ish
  • Print
Devil’s Food Cake
adapted from Brooklyn Homemaker
makes three 8-inch layers

butter and flour for pans
1 1/2 cups unsweetened natural cocoa powder (I used Double Dutch Process)
1 1/2 cups hot water (or hot brewed coffee for a richer flavor)
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter three 8 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter paper, and dust pans with flour.
Whisk together cocoa powder and hot water (or coffee) until smooth and set aside.
Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.
Beat melted butter, oil, and sugars together on medium-low speed until combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Beat in vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce speed to low.
Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter between pans, and bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.

Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.
To achieve a perfectly flat, professional looking cake, you’ll want to slice the very tops of the cakes off to make each layer completely flat and level. You can do this using a very sharp bread knife, or a cake leveler.

If you’re not assembling cakes right away, individually wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap to prevent drying. Layers can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two, or frozen (wrapped in plastic wrap first, then aluminum foil) for up to two weeks.

Simple Syrup: (optional)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

Combine both ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Strawberry Mascarpone Icing:
1 lb ripe strawberries
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 oz mascarpone cheese
pinch of salt

Hull and finely chop strawberries and place in a medium saucepan with sugar. Stir to combine and once the strawberries begin to give off liquid, transfer pan to the stovetop over medium high heat. Bring to a rolling boil and reduce to a low boil. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy and reduced by about half.
Transfer to a heatproof bowl, cover and refrigerate until completely cool. You can place it in the freezer if you’re in a hurry, but stir often and don’t let it actually freeze.
If preferred, you can substitute 1 1/2 cups good quality store bought strawberry jam to save yourself some time.

Whip cream with a mixer on high just until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla, salt, mascarpone, and strawberry mixture and beat until well combined and mixture stiffens back up. This should only take about 30 to 60 seconds. Don’t over mix or the mascarpone can become grainy. If you’re not using your icing right away you can store it in the refrigerator, but you may want to whip it for another 30 seconds just before icing the cake.

Glossy Ganache Drizzle:
4 oz good quality dark chocolate (60% works well)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
pinch salt

Chop chocolate into small, easily melted pieces and place in a heat proof bowl.
Heat heavy cream, honey, & salt in a small saucepan just until it comes to a light boil, and immediately pour directly over chocolate. Wait 2 to 3 minutes before stirring until completely smooth and melted and free of lumps. If the mixture seems very hot still it may melt the icing as you pour it so wait a few minutes for it to cool slightly. Do not let it get too cool or it will not drizzle nicely and may look messy.

*Do not make the ganache until the cake is completely iced and ready to decorate.

Decorations: (optional)
Various sizes of white candy beads, including:
white sixlets
white candy pearls (sometimes called dragees)
white nonpareils

Assemble cake: 
Place the first cake layer on an 8″ cardboard cake round, serving plate, or cake stand. Using a cake round will make it easier to ice and decorate, especially if you have a revolving turntable for decorating (I use a lazy suzan, but you can also just spin your plate or cake stand while you work).

Using a squeeze bottle or pastry brush, evenly distribute 2 or 3 tablespoons of simple syrup over the top of the cake layer. This step isn’t completely necessary but helps ensure the cake stays incredibly moist. It’s especially helpful if you’re using cake you stored in the fridge or freezer for a few days, or if you plan to wait a day or two before serving the cake.

Once the syrup has absorbed into the cake, place about 2 cups or so of icing on the first layer and spread it smooth and even using an icing spatula. It’s okay if it spreads out past the edge of the cake layer a bit. Add the next layer of cake, looking from directly over the top and from eye level at the cake to make sure each layer is directly one above the other, rotating the cake to be certain. Repeat with the simple syrup and icing again, then add the third and final layer and repeat again. Using the same amount of icing as before, start with the top of the cake but spread the icing thinner and work some of it down the sides of the cake to completely cover the whole cake in a thin, smooth, even coat of icing. This first layer of icing is called the crumb coat, and it seals the cake and keeps crumbs from being visible in the outer layer of icing.

Place the cake in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to help set the icing and firm up the cake.
After 30 minutes top the cake with about 3 to 4 cups more icing and spread it over the whole cake the same way you did the crumb coat. Start by smoothing the top and slowly work the icing down the sides to cover the cake completely. Try to get the icing as completely smooth as possible with straight sides and a flat, level top. You may have some icing left over, and I couldn’t blame you if you ate some of it with a spoon. Refrigerate the cake again for another 30 minutes (or up to a day).

Make your ganache just before you’re ready to remove the cake from the fridge.

I find it easier to get an even, professional looking drizzle by slowly pouring the ganache just around the outer edge of the top of the cake, while slowing rotating the cake. Once you’re happy with the amount of drizzle coming down the sides, use the remaining ganache to fill in the center of the top of the cake, smoothing it flat with a clean icing spatula before the ganache sets.

If you’d like to add decorations to the top of the cake, be sure to add them before the ganache sets. I used a mix a mix of multiple sizes of white candy beads, about 2 to 3 tablespoons of each, starting with the largest size and finishing with the smallest.

This cake will keep well in a cake saver at room temperature for a day or two if the weather is not too hot or humid. Otherwise, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

If refrigerating, bring cake to room temperature at least an hour before serving.

Advertisements

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel

I know I’ve been posting a lot of recipes with strawberries lately, but strawberry season is fleeting and I need my fix okay?

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel | Brooklyn Homemaker

I mean, strawberries are pretty freakin amazing so you should probably have your head checked if you find yourself taking issue with my posting too many* strawberry recipes.

*no such thing

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel  | Brooklyn Homemaker

I grew up loving strawberries, and all berries for that matter, thanks in part to my grandfather’s garden. Grandpa’s garden is actually larger than the footprint of his house, and the house itself is actually pretty large.

Several years ago an insurance company flew over his house taking aerial photos of homes in the area after a big storm. Luckily there wasn’t any damage to his property, but they mailed him a glossy 8×10 that he framed and hung over his favorite recliner in the living room. Until then I’d never realized just how big the garden was, but seeing it from overhead really put it’s size into perspective.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel  | Brooklyn Homemaker

In addition to the garden he also has a small orchard filled with apple, pear, plum, & peach trees; a trellis weighed down by grapes stretching the length of his barn; and a separate patch of walnut and chestnut trees shading the lawn behind the barn.

It’s basically my mission in life to eventually have a piece of property as large, beautiful, and bountiful as my grandfather’s little oasis in the Fingerlakes. For now though, I’ll have to be satisfied with trips to the farmer’s market instead.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel  | Brooklyn Homemaker

Within the garden itself he’s always got rows and rows of tomatoes, squash, peppers, and beans, along with a huge strip of asparagus, but his berries have always taken up the largest portion of his plot. He used to have a big stretch of raspberry bushes, but they attracted japanese beetles so he took them out a few years back. His latest and greatest joy is his blueberries, and every time I visit he’s talking about a new soil amendment he’s trying to get higher yields, or a new trick he’s testing out to keep the deer away.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel  | Brooklyn Homemaker

As far back as I can remember, his strawberry patch has taken up almost a full quarter of the whole plot. Growing up we used to spend hours picking strawberries with Grandpa and carrying bowls of them into the house to help Grandma clean them. As soon as they were washed she would hull and slice them, macerate them in sugar, and freeze most of them to eat in the colder months to come. Oddly enough Grandma and Grandpa weren’t big fans of eating strawberries in their fresh natural state, though my sisters and I certainly ate plenty.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel | Brooklyn Homemaker

What better way to celebrate the first official week of summer than combining two of Grandpa’s favorite berries with a simple, tender crumb cake baked in a cast iron skillet?

While Grandpa doesn’t grow basil I decided that I’d try using up some basil sugar in the streusel topping just for kicks. I have a bunch of basil sugar left from my birthday cake experiments, so why not? I thought the basil flavor, rather than using the more traditional cinnamon, might make this cake taste even more summery and bright.

I was right.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel | Brooklyn Homemaker

The base of this cake is moist, tender, buttery, and perfect. Thanks to being baked in a skillet, the sides are almost as crunchy as the crumb topping. It’s absolutely bursting with fresh ripe berry flavor brightened up with a touch of lemon. There are so many berries that the cake practically fell apart when I tried slicing it before it was completely cool. The streusel topping adds even more warm weather brightness with unexpected hints of fresh green herbal loveliness from the basil sugar (and plenty of butter).

While I think the basil sugar kind of elevates this cake into a whole new level of summer perfection, I know it might sound kind of crazy to some of you. If you’re not feeling quite as adventurous and I was, and would prefer a more traditional streusel topping, feel free to skip the basil and add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon instead.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel  | Brooklyn Homemaker

Mixed Berry Skillet Cake with Basil Sugar Streusel

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Topping:
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold is fine
Pinch of salt

Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, cleaned and dried
1/2 lb (about 1 1/2 cups) fresh strawberries, cleaned, dried, & quartered
1/2 cup buttermilk
confectioners sugar for dusting, optional

Heat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9 or 10-inch cast iron skillet. (or alternately butter and flour a 9 inch round cake pan)

Using a food processor (or mortar and pestle), prepare the basil sugar by grinding the basil into a paste fist and then adding the sugar and pulsing until very well mixed. The sugar should absorb the basil pulp and turn vibrant green with a texture similar to that of brown sugar.

Prepare the topping by mixing the flour, sugar, and salt, then cutting the butter in with a pastry blender or fork (or even your fingertips) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Refrigerate while you make the rest of the cake.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt until well combined. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl with handheld mixer), cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy (about 3 to 5 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Mix lemon juice into buttermilk. Alternate 3 additions of flour and 2 additions of buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, mixing until just incorporated after each addition. The batter should be quite stiff. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to gently fold in berries until evenly distributed.

Spread batter into prepared skillet and smooth it flat. Sprinkle with prepared streusel, breaking it up as you go if it’s clumped together. Bake in heated oven for 45 – 55 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes (an hour is better) before slicing.

Remove the cake from the skillet for storage if there’s any left (there won’t be). Cake should keep, well covered at room temperature, for up to three days (or a bit longer in the fridge).

strawberry basil layer cake

I’ve officially made it through another entire year of life.
(I recently celebrated a birthday.)

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I am a big fan of surprise parties, and I’ve thrown a couple for Russell over the course of our relationship, but Russell can’t keep a secret to save his life. If he ever decided he wanted to throw me a surprise party, he’d probably accidentally let the cat out of the bag before he invited any guests.
He’s the kind of person that wants to give me my Christmas presents the day he buys them, while I am the kind of person who staunchly refuses to even look in the general direction of my gifts until Christmas day. His eagerness and honesty are positive qualities in the grand scheme of things, but, like I said, I am a big fan of surprise parties.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

That means that I am usually responsible, to some extent at least, for the planning of my own birthday party each year. I asked Russell to take the lead in throwing the party this year, but he said he didn’t want to be in charge because I’m “too controlling” about parties. I was pretty annoyed at first, but then realized he’s probably right. I’m such a perfectionist, and love entertaining so much, that I do tend to get a bit uptight about wanting everything to be just right.

After making him feel appropriately crappy for calling me controlling, I assured him that this year I didn’t want to play any part in the planning, save for one single thing.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I wanted to make my own cake.

I know.
I’m weird.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Last year I made my own cake too, a 3 layer funfetti cake with the sides completely covered in tiny rainbow nonpareils. Most people, when told that I planned to make my own cake, reacted with a mix of sorrow and horror.

How depressing? Why?!?!? You’re not supposed to make your own birthday cake. That’s just sad!

But here’s the thing. I love to bake. I just do. It’s one of my favorite hobbies, and I’m pretty good at it. Birthdays are big festive events and I think they call for big festive baked goods. Russell isn’t much of a baker, and I know that anything from the grocery store wouldn’t be half as good as what I could make myself. I also know that a cake from fancy pants specialty bakery here in Brooklyn would cost an arm and a leg.

So, the so called “rules” against making your own birthday cake went out the window and it was game on. Again.

 strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’ve been thinking about what I’d do for months, and while I knew that I wanted to include the flavor of fresh strawberries, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d do it. I could bake the strawberries into the layers of the cake, or mix them into the icing, but after some thought I decided to just let them sing as fresh sliced berries stuffed between layers of cake.

Next I had to decide on cake and icing flavors. Originally I thought I might go in a kind of strawberry shortcake direction with yellow cake and whipped cream icing, but then I had to go and turn on the damned TV. There was some show on the cooking channel about a bakery using “basil sugar” made by grinding white sugar and fresh basil together in a food processor. The idea is that since the sugar absorbs the basil’s oils, baked goods made using the sugar taste fresher than they would if made with basil puree.

It didn’t take long for the wheels to start turning about a strawberry layer cake paired with the subtle summery flavor of basil.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Knowing that I wanted this cake to be a real knock-out, I decided to test the idea out ahead of time. I found a recipe for basil sugar online and conducted an experiment with three different batches of cupcakes. The first batch was made with one of my favorite yellow cake recipes, the next with half of the white sugar substituted with basil sugar, and the third with an even higher basil sugar ratio.

To complicate my life even further, the pinterest gods had to go and show me a beautiful layer cake iced with a basil buttercream made from milk and cream steeped with fresh basil leaves.

I decided, just in case, that I should try the basil buttercream out for my “control group” cupcakes, while the two batches of basil sugar cupcakes would be topped with stabilized whipped cream. All three versions were cored and filled with fresh strawberries, and I took a big tray of cupcakes to work and started taking votes.

As much as everyone loved the cakes made with basil sugar (the 1/2 basil to 1/2 white ratio worked best), I was surprised to find that the silky smooth texture and amazing flavor of the basil buttercream won by a landslide. I still love the basil sugar idea, and have a tub of it in my freezer waiting to line the rims of cocktail glasses or get sprinkled on vanilla ice cream or fresh berries.

For my purposes though, the experiment gave me the results I needed and the plan for the cake was settled. Tender yellow cake layers would be stuffed with fresh sliced strawberries and everything would be coated in a satin layer of palest green basil buttercream.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

The day of the party came, and Russell did it up right proper. Good friends, good food, good music, good wine, and good weather on a good night in our backyard. A smoking grill and a big bowl of phenomenal homemade guacamole. Rosé by the bucket. It was perfect. Best husband ever. After all, he puts up with me, uptight perfectionist and all.

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Then, toward the end of the evening, there was the pièce de résistance.

While it’s true that I write a food blog (you may have noticed) and getting feedback and words of encouragement comes with the territory, getting compliments in person tends to make me feel more than a little uncomfortable.

When the cake was served I was made plenty uneasy by the barrage of positivity coming my way. Maybe it was the river of wine and whiskey that was flowing in the yard that night, but people were plenty free with the praise for this cake.
You made this?!?! The crumb is so tender! Those fresh strawberries!! And OMG that basil icing!!!
People are still talking about it almost two weeks later.

Happy birthday to me!

strawberry stuffed yellow layer cake with basil buttercream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Strawberry Stuffed Yellow Layer Cake with Basil Buttercream

Fresh Strawberry Filling:
2 lbs fresh strawberries (plus another 1/2 lb for decorating if desired)
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wash strawberries and place let them drain in a colander or dry on a towel. Working only with the 2 lbs for the filling, hull the strawberries and slice them thinly. Place in a medium bowl and toss with sugar, salt, and vanilla. Allow the strawberries to macerate in the sugar for at least an hour or two at room temperature.
Drain the juices from the bowl into a small to medium saucepan. Over medium/high heat, reduce the strawberry juice by about half or a little more, stirring frequently. This should take about 20 minutes. Cool the reduced juice completely before pouring back over the berries and tossing to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake.

Yellow Cake:
adapted from Epicurious

4 cups cake flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8×2-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper. (I use pre-cut parchment rounds) Butter the parchment and lightly coat the interior of the pans with flour. Refrigerate until ready for use.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium/high speed for 3 minutes or until light and creamy in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and cream the butter for an additional minute.
Add the sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating for 30 seconds to a minute after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. Once all sugar is added, scrape down the bowl and add the eggs one at a time.
Stir the vanilla into the buttermilk. Reduce the mixer speed to low or stir, and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Mix just until incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. If possible use a scale to ensure each pan has the same amount of batter.
Lift up each pan about an inch and let them drop onto the counter top to knock out any air bubbles and settle the batter.
Center the pans onto a rack in the lower third of the oven and let bake 45 to 50 minutes or until the cakes are lightly brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean.

Let cool on a rack for about an hour before removing from pans. Leave parchment rounds on the bottoms of the cakes until assembly, and return layers, parchment side down, to the rack until completely cool to the touch.

Basil Buttercream
adapted ever so slightly from the Vanilla Bean Blog

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh basil leaves, well packed
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (three sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces (about 70 degrees – butter should be  soft enough to mix well, but firm enough to give some structure to the buttercream)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Combine milk, heavy cream, and basil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat gently, until just simmering, and remove from the heat. Let cool for about 30 minutes and pour the mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Process for about 30 seconds or until the basil is well chopped. Scrape all basil and liquid into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or ideally overnight.
Pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small heavy bottomed saucepan. Use the back of a spoon to squeeze any ‘basil juice’ from the leaves into the milk/cream mixture. Whisk in the flour and sugar, and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 or 15 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Place a kitchen towel over the top of the mixer to prevent splashing. Beat on high speed until the mixture has completely cooled, about 7-9 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. At first it might not look right, but just keep going. Increase the mixer speed to medium/high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about another 2 minutes.
Add the vanilla and mix until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Assembly:
1) Level the tops of the cake layers using a cake leveler or a very sharp serrated knife.

2) Place the first layer on an 8″ cardboard cake round or on a cake stand.  Place the round or cake stand on a revolving turntable or lazy suzan.

3) Fill a piping bag with about one cup of the basil buttercream icing. It isn’t necessary to fit the bag with a decorating tip.

4) Pipe a tall border around the perimeter of the first layer, using about 1/2 of the icing in the bag.

5) Top the first layer with about half of your strawberries and reduced juice, staying within the icing border. Try to even the berries out so they’re in an even level layer.

6) Center the next layer over the first, checking from several angles to be sure the layers are perfectly lined up straight and evenly.

7) Repeat steps 4, 5, & 6.

8) Using about 1/3 to 1/2 of the remaining icing , cover the entire outside of the cake with a thin crumb coat using an icing spatula. I like to pile the icing at the top of the cake and work it down the sides little by little, turning the turntable as you go, until the entire cake is coated. I find that an offset spatula is easier to use, but that’s up to you.
This step ensures that any crumbs coming off the cake will be captured in this first thin layer of icing and will not show on the finished cake. I find it also makes it easier to get a smooth profession looking final layer of icing.

9) Refrigerate the entire cake for about 30 minutes to an hour. This step sets the crumb coat so it doesn’t mix into your final top layer of icing. I also find that it helps steady the filling and makes the layers of cake less likely to slip and slide around while you’re trying to ice or decorate.

10) Using the remaining icing, coat the entire cake using an icing spatula in the same way you did the crumb coat.

11) Try to smooth the icing as much as possible using your spatula or a straight bench scraper. I find that holding the spatula straight up and down, almost stationary, while turning the cake is the easiest way to get a smooth finish to the sides.

12) If desired, top the cake with the remaining 1/2 cup strawberries and a few leaves of basil. I think it looks more attractive if the stems and leaves are still attached to the berries, but that’s your call. It will mean that your guests will have to remove the stems themselves if they plan to eat the berries along with the cake.  If you’d prefer to do a piped icing border you will need to reserve some icing, or increase the recipe slightly.

For a more in depth tutorial, see my funfetti birthday cake recipe from last year. For an AMAZING how-to video on how to get a smooth and professional icing job, check out this “modern buttercream” class, completely free, from Craftsy.

If you need to refrigerate the cake, I recommend letting it chill in the fridge for about an hour to set the icing before covering in plastic wrap (so the wrap doesn’t stick to the icing and ruin the smooth coat you worked so hard to create.) This cake is at it’s best the day it’s baked, but once covered, it can be refrigerated for a day or two. The fresh berries may lose their freshness the longer it’s held. Bring completely to room temperature before serving, at least an hour or two.