Aug 24, 2009

Red Berry Shortcake

This may be my favorite cake so far. I hedged with that "may," because I wouldn't want to commit myself, but just about everything about this cake is perfect.
Because it's a sponge cake, I was afraid it was taste like those individual cakes you buy at the grocery store. But really, they are so far away from this cake that they're not even in the same dessert universe. This recipe makes a delicious sponge cake topped with a mixture of three bright red berries; all the flavors and textures meld perfectly, and topping it off with lightly sweetened whipped cream or whipped cream fraiche isn't gilding the lily--it's presenting the lily in all its natural glory.
You can make this recipe in a regular 9-inch round cake pan, but you can also buy yourself a German tart or flan pan. Since it cost only $6.99, and because I liked the idea of having my very own Tortenboden, I bought it.

I'm rather impressed with myself. This is the third recipe I've made from the sponge cake section, and I'm getting to be an old hand at it. I'm totally comfortable with the process, but not so comfortable that I don't still marvel at the transformation.
Four eggs and small amount of superfine sugar are heated over simmering water

until they're just lukewarm to the touch.

They're then beaten with the whisk attachment of a stand mixer until they amazingly turn into a thick, rich mixture about four times the original volume.

This cake is made with Wondra flour, which mixes into the egg mixture like a dream.

Add a little clarified butter, which, if you're working your way through a cookbook that has clarified butter in a lot of recipes, you have on hand in your freezer.

Because you can, and should, bake this cake at least a day before you're planning to serve it, it's a recipe that can fool you into thinking there's nothing to it. All you have to do is mix the berries, make a syrup, and whip the cream. When you're ready to serve, you can take the plastic wrap off the cake, and there you are.

The berry mixture should be strawberries, raspberries, and currants in order to replicate the "red fruit" (fruits rouges), which Rose says she first ate at Le Bernardin in Paris. You could use all strawberries, of course, or a mixture of berries, but if you used blueberries, which are in season now, it wouldn't be red fruit.
I didn't know where I was going to get currants, but there was one one-pint box at my neighborhood grocery store. The checkout woman asked me what they were, and I told her they were currants. I also told her that she wouldn't find anyone else more excited at finding currants at the store--ever. She looked at me to see if I was crazy, then decided I wasn't. (One of the side benefits of getting older is that people tend to think you're cute, rather than crazy. Or maybe both, but not dangerous).
The strawberries weren't local--that short season has already passed, but they were smallish, organic, and tasty.
The raspberries were local and luscious. I don't remember where the currants came from, but it was probably somewhere in Central America. Definitely not local. They're kind of a pain. They're so tiny, and you have to handle them gingerly, carefully plucking them from the stems, or they squish between your fingers. But they add a lovely shininess to the more ordinary strawberries and raspberries.
After the fruit is mixed, it macerates in sugar for a few hours, until the mixture gives up about two-thirds of a cup of bright red juice.

The juice gets boiled with sugar and, when it's cool, you brush it on both sides of the cake.

Because the cake is fairly sturdy, despite its delicate appearance, it can sit with berries atop for up to an hour without getting soggy. The picture in the book is decorated with tiny meringue stars. They're awfully cute, but not cute enough to warrant that much extra work. I sprinkled a little powdered sugar on top instead.

You can serve it with dollops of whipped creme fraiche, or just plain whipped cream. I had intended to make creme fraiche, but I forgot about it until the day I baked the cake, so I made do with whipped cream. It wasn't much of a sacrifice.
After I tasted the first bite, I said, "If I were choosing the last meal on earth, this might be the dessert I'd pick." I don't see how you couldn't like this cake unless you hated cake, red fruit, and whipped cream, in which case I'd feel sorry for you. My tasters were as enthusiastic as I was, although they didn't go so far as to say they hoped it was the last thing they ate on earth.
Karen, Jim, and I each had a leisurely piece (Jim had seconds) before we drove the rest of it over to a four-person family with instructions to eat it within the next 15 minutes. They seemed ready to oblige. (Two of the four people are under five years old, which is why I didn't include the optional Chambord liqueur in the syrup).


: "Really loved it. I enjoyed the combination of berries and the texture of the cake. When I signed on for [the tasting panel], I was imagining layer cakes oozing with frosting, but this is far better."

Jim: "The cake held up to the juices--it had good texture and flavor. It stood up to the flavor of the berries but didn't overwhelm them. A nice balance."

Rachel: "I thought the cake was fantastic. For me, the berries were the perfect blend of sweet and tart. I don’t like it when the strawberries are too sugary or the cake too wet (I see it’s best eaten right away, before the cake gets soggy), and this had neither. It was really, really good."

David: "Having the cake within the hour was great in terms of getting the moisture just right. I thought the currants were a nice touch -- tasty and a good visual complement to the strawberries and raspberries. And the whipped cream was excellent."


Anonymous said...

Ahhh, now THIS is how I like to get red in my cakes! I think even my OB would approve of this one.

This looks so lovely, and I was really impressed as I was reading along. Heating eggs over a waterbath? Not even a thought of curdling. Clarifed butter? the freezer. Tortenboden (what?!)... oh, I'll just slip out and buy one for $7. Currants? Oh lookie, right here in my neighborhood store. I think you had some really good karma with this cake...or maybe more likely it is your apprenticeship with Rose that is giving you all this confidence and mastery of technique.

I still believe you are eating only one piece of every cake (if you say so), but I do have one question. Exactly how BIG is that piece?

Chris in RI

Anonymous said...

You lucked out with the currants--they are so hard to find. You should go back and get more to put in the freezer for when you do the cover. Freeze them on the stems.

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Excellent job Marie!! I can see your cake baking skills and confidence are both improving!

Marie said...

I am still eating only one piece of cake--after I made such a big deal out of my vow, it's become a point of honor. But I'll tell you, I try to get rid of them as soon as I can. I ferried this cake out of my house not 30 minutes after serving the first 3 pieces.
If I named this cake, I'd call it the Good Karma Cake. Everything went right!

I got the last box of currants--who knows when there'll be another.

I hope I'm not sounding over-confident. That usually means you're riding for a fall.

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

i LIVE for your postings! marie--masterful!!! in every way. i love how you write but then it is a perfect expression of who you are so i guess i'm saying i love YOU. (i haven't had any wine yet, for that matter i haven't even had dinner and it's almost 8:00 but when i saw there was a new posting i decided it would just have to wait. what a reward.)

Melinda said...

I would love this cake. It's a kind of a deconstructed English summer pudding...which I adore.
You did a lovely job and I can see you are a very confident sponge cake maker now.
Do you know what? Those currants could have come from England! We have them coming out the ying-yang here. (If it isn't a raisin, it's a currant.) The fresh ones are beaut.
A tip I learned from a elderly friend here for getting the currants off easily from the stems, is to use a fork and run the stem and fruit between the tines. They fall off easily. Job done. Some of these old folk are really smart!
I love the thought of you running into your friends house and demanding they eat the cake in 15 minutes.
Maybe they thought you were an old cute crazy lady! Cute old crazy ladies in Minnesota obviously bring cake, but usually it is a bundt cake.

Marie said...

I'm always just a tiny bit apprehensive that you'll think I messed up one of your beautiful cakes (which will probably happen yet), so it's nice of you to be so sweet. Which must be who YOU are. And I have had a glass of wine.

You are so funny. I miss your blog. I hope you come back in the fall, even if you only write crotchety pieces about how bad baked goods are for the intestinal tract.
What a clever hint about the currants! I'll definitely try that trick if currants ever come my way again.
I work with Rachel (the friend who got the cake). She knows I'm a little crazy, but she's quite accepting.

evil cake lady said...

You are starting to write about cake the way you do bread, which is to say with confidence and ease! What a fun treat for all of us to witness your evolution as a baker. And this cake! You are killing me lady. I NEED this book! :)

(Melinda, I miss your blog too, and I would happily read your crochety pieces about how bad baked goods are for the intestinal tract!)

Melinda said...

Thanks Marie and ECL. I miss you guys too and I love you and Rose, Jeannette, Pinknest, Jini and Kate.
I haven't had any wine. I am just a naturally soppy old cow.

Marie said...

These compliments are unnerving me. I don't do well with compliments. But thank you. Less than two months until the book is released! I can't wait to see which one you'll try first.

Soppy maybe. Old cow--don't think so.

doughadear said...

What a beautiful cake! You know I used to make a similar cake quite often about 30 years ago and now that I see this lovely creation I wonder why I haven't made one for so long. I still have the pan though it may be rusted in places and in need of replacement. All the cakes you have baked so far have been exceptional! I am really looking forward to getting this book.
I am also sensing that by the time you have baked all the cakes you will have amassed quite a collection of baking equipment.

hector said...

i love this cake, and reason to start using a new pan. so glad this shortcake is really short, much easier to name and explain -)

good job Marie.

Marie said...

Isn't it funny how you have old favorites that somehow just get dropped off your list? I would definitely recommend making this again, and you don't need the special pan. I am accumulating a lot of equipment, but that's just because I like to. The recipes that specify some piece of equipment always give a standard piece of baking equipment (a 9-inch round pan in this cake) as an alternative.

Thank you! I don't think of this as a shortcake, but it works.

Anonymous said...

Yet another lovely cake! And so seasonal, our shops are awash with all kinds of berries at the moment but by the time we get the book they will be gone, unfortunately.
Can you tell me what is Wondra flour? I don't think we have it here but we may be able to use a substitute.
Melinda is NOT an old cow, believe me she is lovely!

Anonymous said...

Last message was from me, I forgot to put my name.Jeannette.

Marie said...

Wondra is a brand name for a General Mills "instant flour." It's got barley flour mixed in with the white flour. It blends in the egg mixture quite amazingly. If your government won't let you have bleached flour, I'm sure it won't let you have instant flour. The recipe does give you a substitute for Wondra.
This is a recipe that you probably want to make in fresh berry season, not in September or October--but there are also some lovely fall recipes in the cookbook.

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

jeanette, ask kate coldrick, as she thinks there may be a comparable flour that is treated in a similar way to wondra and she has been planning to experiment with it to see if it is heat-treated or needs to be in order to simulate bleached flour. i believe its description is that it is a flour designed to make sauces so it sounds like it could be similar!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Marie and Rose for your kind response to my query. I think I know the flour you mention, Rose, in fact i have used it in the past to make sauces as it mixes well without going lumpy! I'll wait until I get your book and see what you advise as an alternative, I'm getting very excited and impatient, i must admit!

hector said...

i want the absolutely best pan, which one should i get? i am not looking for convenience, but for performance, so i don't mind if i need to care to care not to rust, meaning i love washing and drying by hand some of my best performing pans, so should i get kaiser tin, kaiser classic, kaiser noblesse, or what?

Marie said...

I was planning to get the Chicago Metallic Maryann Cake Pan from, because I'm usually pretty happy with their products, but it's out of stock on amazon. The Kaiser Basic that I ended up buying is pretty flimsy, but it certainly did the job. I don't know how long it will last. If I were buying a pan that I hoped to use a long time, I think I'd go for the Kaiser La Forme flan pan, which is commercial-weight steel, not tin, and has a nonstick surface.

Anonymous said...

Nordic ware makes a nice heavy duty pan like this.

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

i love the nordicware pan too. it's much deeper with basketweave sides and is 10 cup capcity compared to the kaiser which is 8 cup. (that's the one that is 12 1/2" measured from end to end of sides)

Julie said...

Wow, good karma, indeed! That looks like a wonderful cake, you should be proud. You are becoming a talented baker so quickly, it's fun to follow your progress.

Anonymous said...

When choosing your final recipe to post, be aware that three are now posted on Amazon.

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

i looked on amazon and can't find any recipes offered. please tell us where on amazon this would be located. and this is separate from marie's blog so fine to post the third recipe!

jini said...

hi marie.....i keep forgetting to check out the near-by nordicware outlet to see if they have these magic pans. hopefully. this cake sounds wonderful and certainly worthy of a new and lovely pan.
i just realized i have not been reading blogs lately and feel quite behind. i too miss melinda's blogging and adventurous baking. i think it's almost fall so she should be starting again. (hint-hint)
i have been knitting little pink things and should be baking instead.

Anonymous said...

The recipes are under editorial reviews towards the bottom of the page. Red velvet, cheesecake, and whipped cream cake--just so that Marie doesn't duplicate a recipe already posted there.

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

thanks for listing the recipes available on amazon.

Marie said...

Thanks for the heads-up about the possible recipe duplication. I'll post another recipe soon, and will try to take care that I print one that no one has yet seen!

I know that Melinda will start blogging soon when her fan club starts to nag her. Or encourage her, I mean.

hector said...

Hi Marie, just wanted to share with you my 8 cup tortenboden silicone pan made by paderno world cuisine. it baked quite fantastic!

Shirley said...

I wonder if this Maryann cake pan from King Arthur Flour would also work well for this recipe? It has that indentation on the top for fillings.

Marie said...

Yes, I think it would be perfect. In fact, I was planning to order that one, and then I saw this at a kitchen shop, so I just went ahead and bought it.

hector said...

here is my take!

hector said...

and here is Ceci's take of my take