Typically, I do not bake a cake for my birthday because someone else does. But this birthday, because everything was so dismal around me, I felt like baking a special cake to lift my spirits.
Let me provide some context. Two things happened this year — the Covid-19 pandemic, of course, and my mother’s passing. My birthday arrived in this sea of grief, almost like it should not have. But it did, because birthdays cannot skip a year, well, unless you are a leapling — someone born on February 29.
Anyway, after watching an episode of The Great British Baking Show, I was inspired by one of the competitions and baked a Fraisier cake. The cake looked and tasted, amazingly delicious.
This cake has layers of Genoise sponge cake, buttercream and strawberries, and is topped with rolled-out marzipan. It is the combination of these items that makes the cake so desirable, so you cannot write about the history of one without mentioning the histories of the others.
The Fraisier cake was invented in France, possibly in 1860, and the name is derived from the French word ‘Fraise’ for strawberries. Buttercream, called crème mousseline in French and butterkrem in German, was invented in Germany (although both cultures lay claim to this cream) in 1915.
This kind of buttercream is as soft as muslin, hence the name mousseline. It consists of eggs, butter, flour, cornflour, vanilla and milk and, when cooked, is firm but soft. Marzipan, which goes over the Fraisier cake, has its origins in Iran and is thought to have made its way to Europe through the Turks.
5 free range eggs at room temperature 1/2 cup melted butter 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons cornflour 1 teaspoon vanilla or any other essence (I prefer lemon) A pinch of salt
Line a seven-inch round springform baking pan with parchment paper. Rub some oil or butter on the paper and dust some floor onto it.
Break the eggs, and place in a big bowl. Add sugar. Roughly beat both items together with a fork, and then beat the mixture with an electric eggbeater for 10 minutes or until it forms firm peaks.
Sift flour in small amounts over the mixture and stir gently. Keep sifting until all the flour is in. Mix all ingredients, quickly but gently, as you want to avoid beating the air out of the mixture.
Sift cornflour in and add melted butter to the mixture in small portions and stir until they are completely folded into the batter.
Empty mixture into the baking tray and bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. If you see the cake pulling away from the sides of the tray, then it is ready. Cool the cake for a few minutes and remove onto a plate. Later, cut into two equal halves horizontally.
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence 2.5 cups of milk 4 free range eggs (room temperature) 2 egg yolks (room temperature) 1/2 cup of sugar (add more if you like it sweeter) 7 tablespoons of cornflour 5 ounces of butter cut into small pieces 1 tablespoon cherry juice
Bring milk to a boil in a pot and turn the stove off. In a bowl, mix eggs, egg yolks, cherry juice and cornflour thoroughly and beat until the mixture is creamy and without lumps.
Add the milk to this mixture and beat well with a fork. Put this mixture into a clean pot and place on the stove on medium to low heat, stirring all the while to avoid lumps. Let it boil and thicken, then add butter and mix. Turn the stove off. Let it cool and divide into three equal portions.
1.5 cup blanched almonds 1 cup confectioners’ sugar 1-2 teaspoon rosewater 1 teaspoon almond extract The white of an egg 1 drop of red colour to get a nice candy or soft-pink colour
Pulse almonds and sugar in a food processor. Add rosewater, almond extract and the white of an egg and pulse until mixed thoroughly. Marzipan must be dough-like, so add more sugar to reach that goal. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate.
The juice of 2 fresh lemons 5 tablespoons water 4 tablespoons sugar
Place all three items in a small pot, and heat on medium stove for three minutes. Bring to a boil and turn the stove off. Let it cool down.
Assembling the cake
20 strawberries of same height and width, cut vertically into two halves 3 whole or sliced strawberries 1 acetate plastic sheet or parchment paper, six inches in height and approximately 22 inches long 1 clean, seven-inch, round springform baking pan 1 piping bag 3 teaspoons of confectioners’ sugar
Place the acetate sheet or parchment paper around the inside of the baking pan so it fits well against the sides of the pan. The two ends should meet or overlap slightly. Lay one half of the genoise cake at the bottom of the pan and pour half the lemon syrup over it.
Place the cut strawberries on the edge of the cake and against the acetate sheet in a circle with the inside facing out, and the pointed part on top. Make sure they fit tightly together. Put the first portion of buttercream in the piping bag, and first, pipe the gaps between the strawberries, and then over the cake until all the first portion of buttercream is used.
Now place the remaining cut strawberries over the buttercream until you have a full layer. Then top it with the second portion of the buttercream. Now place the second layer of the cake over it and top it with the remaining lemon syrup.
Next, add the last portion of buttercream over this, and make sure, using a butter knife, that the top is smooth and even. Keep the cake in the fridge for two hours. In the meantime, roll out the marzipan to the size of the top of the cake, roughly seven inches in diameter.
Bring the cake out of the refrigerator, remove it from the tin, and carefully strip the acetate sheet off the sides. Place the marzipan over the cake.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar and place the three strawberries on top in any fashion you like. Enjoy!
This piece was first published in Dawn, EOS, December 13th, 2020