I woke up this morning to discover that the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. It’s a shocking result, that leaves me feeling like the whole world has gone utterly mad.
Even as an American, I’ve been able to enjoy the benefits of open borders between EU countries in my travels and the economic stability the EU has provided in the global market. In the West, it has been so easy to take Europe for granted. And now, suddenly, after one referendum, it isn’t.
And now I sit here, writing about a strawberry fraisier, a traditional French dessert featuring the strawberries and cream combination so famous at England’s Wimbledon, which starts in a couple of days, and I feel as though it is nothing but froth, a tiny triviality in the churn of global events.
And yet, what else can I do? I want to send everyone in the UK a piece of this cake, which, by the way, is lovely and delicious.
The light chiffon cake is flavored with Lillet blanc, which brings in notes of wine and honey and citrus fruits. The pastry cream is flavored with a vanilla bean, then stabilized with gelatin and lightened with whipped cream. The strawberries are nestled into a thin layer of that cream and blanketed with a whole lot more of it.
Calling it a strawberry fraisier is probably redundant, because fraisier (pronounced like this), comes from fraise, the French word for strawberry. It’s a bit like a strawberry shortcake dressed up in formal attire. And unlike some of my other fancy-pants cakes, it can all be completed in the course of a single day (though you could spread it over a couple of days if you prefer).
It requires a few pieces of special equipment: a 6-inch cake ring, a quarter sheet pan, some acetate sheets, but nothing impossibly exotic. And while I think the Lillet makes this extra special, you could replace it with water if you don’t have any or have trouble tracking it down.
If nothing else, let this be a tiny distraction from the events in this crazy world.
Strawberry Fraisier with Lillet Chiffon Cake
Lillet chiffon cake
- 70 grams all-purpose flour (1/2 cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 70 grams sugar divided roughly in half (1/3 cup)
- 30 grams neutral oil (2 tablespoons)
- 1 egg yolk
- 45 grams Lillet blanc (3 tablespoons)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 245 grams whole milk (1 cup)
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 50 grams sugar (1/4 cup)
- 2 egg yolks
- 25 grams unsalted butter (2 tablespoons)
Citrus soaking syrup
- 65 grams sugar (1/3 cup)
- 60 grams water (1/4 cup)
- zest of half an orange
- zest of half a lemon
For the filling
- 300 grams strawberries hulled and sliced in half (2 cups)
- 3/4 teaspoon powdered gelatin
- 15 grams warm water (1 tablespoon)
- 235 grams heavy cream (1 cup)
- For garnish: assorted small flowers optional
Make the cake
- Preheat oven to 325°F and line a quarter sheet pan with parchment paper (do not spray or grease the pan).
- Sift together the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl and add the salt and about half of the sugar.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolk, Lillet and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and whisk until the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened.
- Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, and whip on medium-high speed until the egg whites are beginning to look frothy, about 30 seconds. With the mixer running, slowly add the remaining sugar and continue whipping until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks.
- Fold about 1/3 of the egg whites into the flour mixture to lighten the mixture. Then gently fold in the rest of the egg whites until combined.
- Starting in the corners and working toward the center, spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.
- Bake until the cake is set to the touch in the center, 20-25 minutes.
- Let cool on a rack in the pan. (If making a day ahead of time, wrap the pan with the cake still in it tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature.)
Make the pastry cream
- Set a fine mesh sieve in a heat safe bowl next to the stove.
- Add the milk to a small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half with a paring knife and scrape out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the pod to the milk. Add the salt. Heat the milk over medium-high heat, just until it begins to bubble around the edges.
- Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Then add the egg yolks and whisk until smooth.
- When the milk is beginning to boil, remove from heat, discard the vanilla bean pod, and slowly pour about 1/3 of the milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.
- Pour the mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the milk and whisk over medium heat until the custard just barely begins to bubble, about 2 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat and strain through the sieve into the bowl.
- Let cool for about 10 minutes, then whisk in the butter.
- Cover with plastic wrap (be sure to press the wrap right up against the pastry cream to prevent it forming a skin) and refrigerate until cold.
Make the soaking syrup
- Add the sugar, water, and orange and lemon zest to a small pan. Bring just to a boil and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Let cool.
Assemble the cake
- Using the cake ring as a cutter, cut 2 6-inch circles out of the cake (leave the cake in the pan).
- Line a 6-inch cake ring with acetate and tape the edges of the acetate together to hold it together. Place on a cardboard cake board or another portable flat surface, such as a plate.
- Carefully peel one cake circle off of the parchment paper and place in the bottom of the cake ring. If the cake tears as you transfer it, don't worry, just patch it together as best you can. Brush liberally with the citrus syrup.
- Have the hulled and halved strawberries ready. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the tablespoon of warm water and let soften for a few minutes. Add a few inches of water to a small saucepan and rest a heat-safe bowl (stainless steel or tempered glass) in the rim of the saucepan, not touching the water. Bring to a simmer. Add about 1/4 of the pastry cream to the bowl and whisk until hot to the touch, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the gelatin until smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the rest of the pastry cream.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the heavy cream, and whip until the cream holds medium peaks. Immediately fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream.
- Spoon enough filling to to create a 1/4-inch layer over the cake and smooth with an offset spatula. Stand the strawberries upright with the cut side facing out against the acetate around the edge of the cake and press gently into the cream. Add the remaining strawberries to the middle and top with 3/4 of the remaining cream. Smooth the top with a spatula.
- Gently place the second cake circle on top and brush with syrup. Top with the remaining cream, which should form a thin layer over the top of the cake.
- Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
When ready to finish and serve the cake
- Remove from the refrigerator and gently slide off the metal cake ring. Carefully peel away the acetate to expose the strawberries. Top with flowers if you like. You can serve the cake or keep it refrigerated for up to 3 days.