One of my favorite things about summer is the fresh, light deserts. I especially love fruit-forward desserts that are still decadent. The 4th of July was the perfect excuse for a cake featuring strawberries, blueberries, fluffy cream cheese frosting, and a pun.
I planned on making a red, white, and blue cake with the red being a layer of strawberry cake, the blue being a layer of blueberry cake, and the white being the icing. I wanted a cake base that was light and fluffy and really let the fruit shine through, but still had some flavor and substance. And while I love the flavor of cream cheese frosting, I didn’t want a heavy red-velvet-style frosting. The solution to both: lots of meringue. There were a few mistakes my execution, but the end result is a light-but-decadent, fresh, fruity cake that’s perfect for summer.
First, lets have a look at how pretty it is! I love decorating cakes with berries, because it always looks fancy but is actually super easy. As a relative novice to the cake decorating world, berries are a godsend. They also add some color to the cake without having to deal with food coloring.
For the cake itself, I wanted something more substantial than an angel food cake, but with a similarly airy quality. So I took the part of angel food that makes it airy, and combined it with a more typical cake recipe. This creates a light and tall, but sturdy, cake. I also omitted butter so that the cake would be whiter and show off the fruit more. Yes, that’s right.I replaced the butter with fruit. This is basically a health food, right? Of course, once we cut into the cake, we see things didn’t exactly go as planned…
Turns out my last minute idea of mixing some slightly pureed strawberries into one layer and throwing some blueberries into the other wasn’t as genius as I anticipated. The strawberry puree was too much liquid, and too heavy. The strawberry layer still tastes great, but it is much denser. I had wanted some bits of strawberries throughout the cake, but the chunks all sunk to the bottom (notice the ombre effect on the top layer of cake). To be perfectly honest, I would probably omit putting the strawberries in the cake and instead layer them with the icing between the cake layers. If I were going to try the strawberry cake again, I’d use about 3 strawberries rather than 7. I’d also puree them to a much finer consistency.
The blueberries also sunk to the bottom, but since they weren’t pureed, they didn’t mess with the consistency of the cake. While it didn’t look as pretty as I’d hoped, the blueberry cake actually turned out heavenly. The top of the cake was light and airy thanks to the meringue, and the layer of baked blueberries at the bottom provided a nice punch of fruit. The blueberry cake also ended up twice as tall as the strawberry cake. To make the cake look a little more even on the inside, I simply cut the blueberry cake in half and a made a 3 layer cake instead of 2. In hindsight, I’d have put the blueberry layer in the middle as well, so that it would be easier to get some blueberry in each bite of cake.
But even with all of these mistakes, this cake is something special. The texture is a cross between angel food and your classic white cake. The cake really lets the fruit shine, without being bland. And the frosting is to die for. Instead of being a dense mix of cream cheese and powdered sugar, it is a play on a fluffy Swiss meringue buttercream. The meringue lightens up the consistency, and allows you to use less sugar. The result is a silky smooth, not-to-sweet icing that pairs perfectly with both the cake and the fresh fruit.
So, without further ado, here’s the recipe!
This recipe makes 2 6-inch cakes (which can be cut and layered to make a 3 or 4 layer cake) and serves 6 (hefty slices) to 10 (skinny slices). You will probably have quite a bit of extra frosting, but there is plenty for a four layer and getting creative with your piping, if that’s your thing.
For the Cake:
1¼ c. cake flour
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¾ c. sugar
½ c. buttermilk
3 tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs (separated)
3 additional egg yolks
½ c. blueberries
- Set the rack to the middle of the oven and preheat to 350º. Grease and flour 2 6-inch pans or line pans with parchment.
- Whisk the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and ½ cup of sugar together in a medium-large bowl and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, mix the buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and egg yolks together.
- In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites starting at a low speed and gradually increasing to high speed. On my Kitchen Aid, I take it from stir to 8 over the course of about a minute. When the egg whites reach soft peaks, gradually mix in the remaining ¼ cup sugar and whip until the whites reach stiff peaks, giving you a firm meringue that needs to be removed from the whisk with a spatula or few bangs on the side of the mixing bowl. Scrape out the egg whites into a spare bowl and set aside.
- Fit your mixer with the paddle attachment and the empty mixing bowl. Add your flour mixture, and with the mixer on low, slowly add the yolk mixture. Once the mixture is mostly incorporated, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue mixing on medium speed until the mixture is fully incorporated and smooth. Fold the egg whites into the batter and mix until just incorporated.
- If adding strawberries to the cake, pour half the batter into one pan, and then mix the strawberry puree into the remaining batter. Once incorporated, pour the batter into the second pan. If not adding the strawberries, just evenly divide the batter between your two pans. Gently tap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles. Place the blueberries in an even layer on top of the batter in one pan (the non-strawberry pan).
- Bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for ten minutes. Remove cake from the pans (discard parchment if used) and place them back on the wire rack to cool completely. If the top of the cake baked into a dome, place the dome side down to help flatten.
For the Frosting:
½ c. + 1 tbs egg whites (140 ml, roughly four large egg whites)
1 c. granulated sugar
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (!)
1½ tsp vanilla extract
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature (!)
- In the mixing bowl for a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until slightly foamy on top. Add in the sugar and whisk until incorporated. This can be done by hand.
- Bring about an inch or two of water to a boil in a large pan, and place the mixing bowl in the pan, creating a double boiler. The water should barely touch the bottom of the mixing bowl.
- Whisk the egg whites over the pan until the sugar is completely dissolved. You can test by placing a drop of the egg white mixture between your fingers. When done, the mixture will be warm to the touch and you won’t be able to feel any sugar granules. The egg whites will cook before the sugar is completely dissolved, so if you don’t have any sugar granules, you know the eggs are cooked (and your frosting won’t be gritty).
- Place the mixing bowl back on the stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip the egg whites starting at a low speed and gradually increasing to high speed. On my Kitchen Aid, I take it from stir to 8 over the course of about a minute. Whip until the whites reach stiff peaks, giving you a firm meringue that needs to be removed from the whisk with a spatula or few bangs on the side of the mixing bowl.
- Let the meringue cool completely. Most of the heat will have dissipated while you were whipping the egg whites, but I find I need to let the meringue sit for about 5 more minutes. Replace the whip with the paddle attachment.
- While the meringue is cooling, stir the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla together. The butter and cream cheese should be soft enough that this is easy to do, but not liquid at all.
- Once the meringue is cool, turn the mixer on low and mix in the butter and cream cheese mixture one big spoonful at a time. Once all of the butter and cream cheese mixture has been incorporated, turn the mixer on medium-high and mix until the icing is smooth and creamy.