It is not summer yet. In fact, it’s been raining for more than a week, and another week — the one in which I presume we’ll be introduced to our new mosquito overlords — is promised. In fact, it was so cold that I met a friend for lunch today and had to wear both a light wool sweater and a jacket. It’s almost like summer looked at New York City and said “pbbbblt!”
But I know it’s coming. I know it’s coming because strawberries appeared at the Greenmarkets last week and if you think I dork out pretty badly when the first asparagus stalks appear, you ain’t seen nothing like my “the strawberries are here!” dance. (And hopefully, you never will, or at least until Jacob gets his tell-all YouTube channel.) Suffice it to say that it is awkward but that’s almost besides the point. Strawberries — the kind that really taste like strawberries — are always promised for weeks before they appear and without fail, I go overboard when they arrive, bringing home pounds, plural, when a single box would get us through the weekend. When Monday rolls around and the strawberries are on their last legs, if you listen closely to them, they’ll tell you that this cake is how they’d like to go out.
I hope this will be your summer cake. I realize that from the outset it may not look particularly different from a standard fresh berry coffee cake. It aligns most closely with the Raspberry Buttermilk Cake I made from Gourmet two years ago, but what makes it different is the volume of fruit — there’s a pound of hulled and halved strawberries in a cake that can barely handle it. The strawberries take over. Nobody complains. The cake is short on steps but long on baking time, and in that hour that it hangs out in your oven, those strawberries turn into puddles of jam. The batter buckles around and the receding berries, which dimple like a country quilt. The edges of the cake become faintly crisp.
And your apartment will smell like a strawberry patch. Your toddler will have no idea what’s on the counter, only that he must march into the kitchen and blindly grasp at it, retreating to his trike with a satisfied fistful. You’ll also sneak a slice before dinner, ruining your appetite and plotting the next time you’ll be able to make it. We cannot make summer get here sooner, but we can at least lay out the welcome mat.
Strawberry Summer Cake
I recently picked up some barley flour and fell in love with it. We tend to associate whole grain flours with heartiness and heaviness, but this is neither — it’s silky and delicate, like the best cake flour you’ve ever bought, and it has a subtle creamy, nuttiness to it that goes fantastically with berries. This cake works like a dream with 100% all-purpose flour but if you’ve got barley flour around, swapping it in for half the volume is beyond delicious, adding a real depth to a deceptively simple cake.
I am ever-so-slightly on the fence about the sweetness of this cake. I like it, but I wouldn’t hate the batter itself with 2 tablespoons less sugar (i.e. 7/8 cup sugar instead of a whole one). If that’s your inclination, go ahead and dial it back as well. Leave the sugar on top. It contributes to the berries turning into jam.
- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
- 1 1/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour (can swap 3/4 cup or 94 grams all-purpose flour with 3/4 cup or 75 grams of barley flour, see Note)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1 cup (200 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup (118 ml) milk
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 1 pound (450 grams) strawberries, hulled and halved
Whisk flour or flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.
Pour into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer (though I had to overlap a few to get them all in). Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.
Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. (Gooey strawberries on the tester are a given.) Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with lightly whipped cream.
Do ahead: Cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days, loosely covered, but good luck with that.