A few weeks ago I was invited to be a part of a Swedish Midsummer celebration. The host asked me to make the traditional Midsummer cake, called a jordgubbstårta, after I offered to make something to bring. I had never heard of a jordgubbstårta, much less did I know how to pronounce it, so I did some quick Google research and as luck would have it “jordgubbstårta” literally translates from Swedish to English as “strawberry cake.” I am still not really sure if I can pronounce it properly though. I pulled up a few tabs of different Swedish recipes and quickly came to understand that this was simply a plain vanilla sponge cake layered with pastry cream, or more simply whipped cream, and then topped with more whipped cream and whole berries. It took me about 10 seconds to realize this was essentially the aforementioned cake of my childhood. This cake is what I am all about.
I decided to make a chiffon cake instead of a sponge. My reasoning being that I have more experience making chiffon cakes, and also, I love them the most. In my understanding they are essentially the American improvement on the génoise. Ever heard of an angel food cake? They were invented around the same time and are very similar. Chiffon cakes are easier for me to make as they involve no double boiler and result in a more moist final product due to the higher ratio of eggs and the addition of oil to the batter.
For this cake I used Elizabeth Prueitt’s recipe for “Basic Chiffon Cake” from her first book, Tartine. The recipes in this book are all written in volume measurements as well as weight (which is ideal). It is a voluminous text full of basic bakery recipes and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in expanding their baking repertoire. Instead of listing the recipe and specific directions from Prueitt’s book, which would be considered copyright infringement, I will instead simply cover the steps to make this cake and then assemble its layers. Any recipe for a chiffon should work nicely following these basic steps. If you are interested in attempting this cake I am sure you can find a recipe online or in any basic baking cookbook. If you are low on time and desperate for strawberry cake I would even go so far as to recommend buying a pre-made angel food tube-pan cake from the grocery store, split it into layers, and then follow my filling instructions. Trust me when I say that everyone will be so happy when they taste it they will not even notice you didn’t make the cake yourself. I’ve done it before, more than once.
Step-by-Step Chiffon Cake
Step 1: Set out your eggs overnight. In the morning they will have reached room temperature which helps with separating them AND increases the loft of beaten egg whites significantly.
Step 2. Assuming you have assembled all of your ingredients and read your recipe over: scale out and then sift together all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and I added powdered vanilla bean instead of using vanilla extract). This would also be a great time to preheat your oven to 325ºF if using a removable bottom tube-pan (which I would highly recommend). And whatever you do, DO NOT GREASE THE PAN.
Step 3: Separate your eggs ONE AT A TIME over a separate small bowl to ensure no broken yolks end up in your precious egg whites.
Because sometimes they break, and you make this pathetic derpy face:
Trust me, though, it is worth the anguish when you finally get all of those perfect whites and yolks.
These eggs were locally sourced as part of my weekly CSA subscription. They are THE best.
Step 4: Measure and weigh out the wet ingredients (oil, water, egg yolks).
At this point the recipe called for lemon zest to be added to the wet ingredients but I used a navel orange instead.
Step 5: Mix wet ingredients into dry, until your batter is completely smooth, like so:
Sometimes you have to put a little muscle into it…
Set this aside. It is now time to work on those egg whites.
Despite the baking powder I added to the dry ingredients the majority of the leavening in this cake comes from the air incorporated into the stabilized egg whites, as follows.
Step 6: Using an electric hand mixer beat your egg whites a bit, then add in the cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is a mysterious byproduct of the industrial wine-making process. I don’t know how, or who, but someone discovered that adding cream of tartar to beaten egg whites helps the egg whites hold their shape, especially under the duress of heat. This is especially helpful in instances like baking meringue-topped pies or to help give loft to this cake I am about to bake in a tube pan.
See how in the above picture of the beaters the peaks are a bit droopy like the top of a soft-serve ice cream? Those are soft peaks. We want stiff peaks. So keep beating until your peaks look like this:
Now is the time to add in the remaining sugar to the egg whites. Pour it in gradually as you are whipping the whites. Continue to beat them until the whites are glossy and the peaks are again stiff.
Step 7: Fold the egg whites into the batter, starting with about 1/3 of the total egg whites.
Slide the silicone spatula along the bottom of the bowl and then fold the batter over the top of the egg whites. Rotate the bowl and repeat this action of gently folding until the whites are incorporated.
Add the remaining egg whites all at once and continue this folding method until combined. Resist the urge to stir. The instructions for cakes like this say “gently fold” because if you stir it you will end up destroying all of those tiny pockets of air you worked so hard to create in step 6. Keep in mind that this is a large amount of batter so it is only natural that it should take some time to work all of the egg whites in.
Step 8: Transfer batter into the tube pan. Make sure that your oven is on and has preheated properly. Scrape down edges and smooth top of cake with the rubber spatula to even it out a bit.
Now take a deep breath and then put this thing in the oven.
I always slide oddly shaped pans like this into my oven on a large baking sheet. This method makes for quick and easy removal and helps prevent slipped-oven-mitt burn scenarios. Prueitt’s recipe (that I previously recommended) was not written to use with a tube pan. I thought this was odd because my family always used one when making similar cakes. I was curious, so I called my Dad and asked about using a spring-form pan instead and he said, “Oh God! You don’t want it to collapse!” Meanwhile I could head my step-mother in the background react to him, saying, “She knows what she’s doing!”
So one furious bout of online research later I have compiled the following comprehensive baking schedule to use for my tube pan:
Step 9: Bake at 325ºF for 50 minutes then increase the temperature to 350ºF for 10-12 more minutes, or until your cake looks perfectly golden brown and is just starting to crack on top. Every oven is different, so plan your bake time accordingly. Do NOT open the oven (unless you have to) before the time is up. Let this be a general rule of thumb for any baking instructions I will post.
Step 10: Remove from the oven when it look like this:
Now carefully grab the sides of the pan (with oven-mitts), lift the entire thing up, and invert it, threading the center hole onto the neck of a full bottle of wine (or in my case an empty vodka bottle from my recycling that I cleaned and filled with water for this specific purpose). Let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes inverted like this to ensure that it does not collapse under its own weight. The cake will cling to the edges of the pan, and this is what we want. The stuck edges actually help the cake to retain its structural integrity. Once it has cooled completely it will easily come out with a little help from a thin spatula or a butter knife worked delicately around the outside edge.
Now this is the easy part. While your cake is cooling, assemble the ingredients and follow the directions below to prep the layers.
Strawberry & Whipped Cream Layer Prep and Assembly
- 2 large mixing bowls
- hand-held electric mixer
- measuring spoons: 1/4 tsp, 1 tsp, 1 tbsp
- serving spoon or ladle (for sliced berries)
- large plastic (disposable) piping bags and your preferred large tip OR a plastic gallon bag with the tip cut off will work just fine
- butter knife or any thin flexible pastry spatula
- sharp serrated knife (like a bread knife)
- cake plate or any platter large enough to fit your cake
- (optional) a Lazy Susan, or any spinning table apparatus, to aid in exterior piping and decorating
- 3 quarts fresh ripe strawberries
- 3+ tbsp granulated sugar – eyeball the amount here, based on the sweetness of the berries.
- 3 pints heavy whipping cream
- approximately 1/2 cup powdered sugar – eyeball the amount here as well, to taste.
- 1/2 tsp vanilla bean powder OR 2 tsp real vanilla extract
- (optional) 2+ tbsp full fat cream cheese
First wash a bunch of strawberries, remove the green tops and core out the stem bit, and then slice them up. You could use any combination of juicy fruit here (but if you want to make a jordgubbstårta, strawberries are all you need).
Be sure to reserve the most pristine whole berries for decoration.
Add about 3 tbsp of sugar to the berries, and mix with a spoon until they start to let off some of their juices and begin to macerate in the sweetened juice. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside. The sooner you do this during the cake baking process, the juicier the layers in your cake will be. The longer those berries macerate the better.
Once the cake has cooled for at least 30 minutes it is time to remove the cake from the tube pan and slice it into layers. To do so I simply turned the cake right side up onto the vodka bottle, ran a thin spatula (or you could use a butter knife) around the edge of the sides, and loosened the sides of the pan from the cake with a twisting-down motion. The cake will remain on the tube bottom piece, supported by the vodka bottle as pictured below.
I used my spatula to clean up the edges a bit, and then I slid it under and around the bottom, so I could remove the entire cake from the pan.
Using a pastry mat or clean counter as a work space flip the cake upside down again, so that the puffy top becomes the base of the cake. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the cake into 3 or 4 layers, holding the knife as steady and even as possible. As you can tell from the following images, I did not do a great job at keeping them even. In instances like this if it tastes the same, and it doesn’t stress me out at all, then I count it as a win even if they are lop-sided. Stack the layers on top of each other again to await filling.
Now it is time to make the semi-stabilized whipped cream filling.
Add a heaping 1 tbsp whole fat cream cheese, roughly 1/4 cup powdered sugar depending on how sweet you want your cream, and 1/4 tsp vanilla powder (or 1 tsp vanilla extract) into the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Open a pint of whipping cream and add about a tbsp or two into the bowl as well. Hit this with your electric beaters until the cream cheese is softened up a bit, then add in the rest of the pint of heavy cream and add about half of another pint. These figures do NOT need to be exact. As long as you keep with the roughly 1 tsp cream cheese : 1 cup cream ratio this whipped cream filling should hold shape nicely for piping, as long as you keep it cold.
Once your whipped cream is thick and stiffened significantly scrape it into a piping bag fitted with your preferred round tip or dump the whole thing into a large plastic zip top bag. Twist up or otherwise seal the bag and cut the tip off with sharp scissors.
Take the bottom layer of cake (which was the top during baking) and lay it on your cake plate so that the cut side is facing up. For a 3 layer cake, ladle a little over 1/3 of the sliced berries onto the cake round. Be sure to drizzle some of the strawberry juice over them as well. Pipe a significant layer of whipped cream on top of that, like so:
Place the middle slice on top of the cream and press down slightly with your fingertips to make sure it is secure. Repeat the layering of berries and whipped cream again.
Now you should have a little less than 1/3 of the berries left. Ladle them down into the center hole of the cake, and pour the remaining juices in too, and all over the top.
Use the remainder of the whipped cream in the piping bag to cover the berries. When your piping bag is empty it is time to put the final layer on top, press down slightly to adhere, and then put it in the fridge.
While your cake is in the fridge make a second batch of stabilized whipped cream to pipe onto the exterior. Follow the same basic guidelines as before. I chose a star shaped tip and I piped simple vertical stripes up the side of the cake, with points all around the base and top edges of the cake.
Now is the easiest part of all. Remember those perfect berries you reserved for decoration?
I tried to make the arrangement as symmetrical as possible… but then I was left with two fat berries. This just didn’t sit right with me. So I added them too.
I told my partner Chad that I had a feeling that this cake was going to be so good it might cause some exclamations, and I wasn’t disappointed. After we all ate way too much from the dinner smörgåsbord I sliced the cake into 20 pieces and plated them. When I was about half way through slicing the cake, I heard a friend (who had presumably just taken her first bite) shout, “Oh fuck me!” I just looked over at Chad, who had already finished his slice, and smiled.
Photos by Simon Hua, 2016