I had about a month before the party to think about the style and flavors that would be best for this very special cake. It couldn't be some ordinary cake or something that looked like it came from the grocery store. This cake needed to be as beautiful and unique as the love between two extraordinarily creative people and as delicious as the special moment it was made to celebrate. Carrot cake? Too traditional. Chocolate cake? Too ordinary. Red velvet cake? Not special enough. Sheet cake, layer cake, tiered cake, the possibilities seemed endless. I enlisted the help of my friend Suzanne, fellow Bitchin in the Kitchen founding member and expert baker, and she agreed to help me make this piece of edible art. We settled on a jelly roll style cake, which looks more difficult to make than it actually is. I've made rolled cakes for holiday dinners in the past and they never fail to impress. For the flavors, we decided to go with something seasonal, simple, light and fresh - sponge cake with a layer of strawberry jam and lemon curd rolled up inside, topped with sweetened whipped cream. It would look spectacular and taste like a tangy strawberry shortcake.
STRAWBERRY LEMON CURD CAKE ROLL
Lemon curd filling
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 large lemons)
2 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
4 tbsp butter
Strawberry jam layer
2 cups chopped strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp liquid pectin
Jelly roll cake
1/2 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cream of tarter
Whipped Cream Frosting
1 quart heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla
10 fresh sliced strawberries and mint leaves for decoration
Two 17x11 sheet pans
At least two very large mixing bowls
Two large clean kitchen towels
A really large rectangular platter, cookie sheet or cardboard cake holder for final presentation
A lot of patience and maybe an adult beverage or two
If you're ambitious enough to take this on, good for you!! But I think its only fair to warn you that this is a complex project that requires time, flexibility, skill and a bit of kitchen knowledge. Having two people was vital because we coached each other and ultimately made better decisions as a team than we would have independently. We had some bumps along the way that ended up working to our advantage and at times the whole thing felt like it would either be tragic or magic, which was scary and exhilarating. Bottom line - don't take this on unless you're either highly confident in your skills or prepared to ruin a crap ton of ingredients.
Cara was expecting at least 60 people, probably more, so we needed a big cake. We decided to make two rolls, place them side by side and frost them as a single cake, giving us a prettier presentation and a nice flat surface to decorate. I researched a number of recipes, found what I wanted for each component and then doubled the measurements. You could certainly cut this recipe in half for a single roll cake. You could also use jarred strawberry jam and pre-made lemon curd to save a lot of time. But given the high importance of this occasion, I made everything from scratch.
Since I wanted it to be well chilled, firm and spreadable, I decided to make the lemon curd the night before. This is an easy recipe, but not without its challenges, especially since I'd imbibed not long before wandering into the kitchen. Probably should have waited until after I made the lemon curd, but I was a little excited and in a celebratory mood. The only time I'd made lemon curd before, it turned to liquid in the pie shell once the meringue was on top. It tasted good, but was more like lemon soup than curd. The recipe I picked had a generous proportion of cornstarch , the better to assure the proper thick consistency. I separated my eggs, put the yolks in a measuring cup and set the whites aside. I zested and juiced my lemons and had the butter cut into chunks and sitting in the fridge. In a large saucepan, I measured the sugar, cornstarch and salt and whisked it to combine. I added the water to the measuring cup with the egg yolks, whisked them together then added them to the saucepan and turned the heat to medium low. This needs to heat slowly, stirring constantly to keep it from scorching or clumping on the bottom. I used my wire whisk in an attempt to get the smoothest possible results, but it was just not thickening. I switched to a wooden spoon and when the mixture was just starting to coat the back of the spoon, I took it off the heat and mixed in the lemon juice, zest and butter. It was still pretty soupy, but my hope was that it would set up in the fridge overnight and have a nice, custardy texture in the morning. Well, the next morning when I opened the fridge, I found a bowl of lemon soup, but since I was no longer under the influence I was able to think more clearly and realized that cornstarch reaches its maximum thickening power as it comes to a boil. I hadn't boiled the mixture the night before, so I put the whole thing back in a saucepan and on the stove over medium high heat. Sure enough, my curd thickened like crazy as soon as it hit boiling point and I took it off the stove and whisked in another tablespoon each of lemon juice and butter. I transferred it into a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to chill.
Again, jarred strawberry jam is absolutely acceptable for this recipe, but I found a container of strawberries in the freezer that we'd picked ourselves the previous summer and since this was a special occasion cake, I was pulling out all the stops. I put the thawed berries into a small pot and added 4 or 5 of the fresh ones I'd bought to decorate, using a potato masher to crush them up. The sugar went in next and I put the pot over high heat, bringing the berry mixture to a boil and letting it bubble rapidly for a few minutes before adding the pectin. Just another minute of boiling and the jam took on a shiny, dark color and a slight thickness. I removed it from the heat, poured it into a small bowl and set it in the fridge to cool. My prep was completed, so I cleaned up, relaxed and waited for my baking buddy to arrive.
With just three hours remaining before the party started, we entered the kitchen to begin construction. When I pulled the lemon curd out of the fridge, I found a solid block that was easier to slice than spread, the result of too much cornstarch! I was so overly concerned about the curd not setting up that that I overcompensated. For your convenience, dear reader, I have adjusted the proportion of corn starch in this recipe so the same thing doesn't happen to you. You'll most certainly thank me for it later. We conferred and hypothesized and decided that if we beat a little cream into the curd, it would loosen up and become spreadable. Once again, both mixers came into play. We used the Kitchen Aid to make the whipped cream, to which we added the confectioners sugar and vanilla and beat on high until it held hard peaks. In a separate bowl, Suzanne beat the lemon curd with a couple tablespoons of the cream until it was smooth, light and fluffy and it actually improved the flavor. We took the cakes out of the fridge and started lining everything up for assembly and decoration.
That unbelievably gorgeous cake was quite the conversation piece at the party. People could not believe we made it ourselves. As it sat in the kitchen while dinner was served, the cream and curd began to penetrate the spongecake from inside and out and by the time we cut into it, it was the perfect soft texture. The distinctive coiled slices looked impressive on the plates and I made sure every piece had plenty of whipped cream. The bride and groom got the first slice and within half an hour, there was barely a smear of whipped cream left on the platter. Compliments abounded, but honestly the greatest joy comes from making the creative effort to show two people how special and loved they are. At every celebration, great memories are built around the act of sharing food to nourish and sustain the people we care about. It was an honor to present Cara, Michael, their lovely families and close friends with a unique, beautiful and scrumptious piece of art to add to their memories of that wonderful day.