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.

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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).