ALISA HUNTSMAN / LOVELESS CAFE PASTRY CHEF & COOKBOOK AUTHOR
"Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes"
Strawberry Surprise Package Cake: Perfect for a birthday, shower, anniversary or even graduation, this stunning cake can be tinted any color you like, or the cake can be "wrapped" with a colored ribbon and bow. If you're artistic, you can even cover the cake with white fondant, and paint it with food coloring. This recipe illustrates a pink cake with a white bow. Fondant takes a long time to dry, so be sure to begin making the bow at least 2 days before you plan to assemble the cake. When you remove it from its drying container, handle the bow very carefully, because it will be fragile. Enrobed in fondant the finished cake keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Note that while this cake looks spectacular covered in a sleek sheet of fondant, you can make an easy facsimile by simply frosting the cake very smoothly and tying it up with grosgrain ribbons and a bow. Makes an 8-inch square triple-layer cake; serves 12 to 16
1 1/2 pounds individually quick-frozen strawberries, thawed, with their juices
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 star anise pod
1 inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Strawberry Butter Cake (recipe follows)
White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting
36 ounces pink rolled fondant
12 ounces white rolled fondant
Royal Icing (recipe follows)
Make a lovely ribbon bow out of fondant as described in the directions in the box on page 000. Let dry thoroughly for at least a day; the bow can be formed up to a week in advance.
In 2 batches, put the strawberries and their juices in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth; no need to strain. There will be about 2 3/4 cups. Set aside 1 1/4 cups of the puree for the Strawberry Butter Cake.
Make a strawberry coulis to use as filling from the remainder: Put the remaining puree in a heavy nonreactive saucepan. Add the sugar, cinnamon stick, and star anise. With the tip of a small knife, scrape the tiny vanilla seeds into the pot; add the pod. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has visibly thickened and reduced by about half to 3/4 cup. To check for thickness, place about a teaspoon on a chilled plate. Set in the freezer for a minute or two and then run your fingertip through the coulis; the track should remain. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick, star anise pod, and vanilla bean pod. Refrigerate the strawberry coulis in a covered container.
Bake the Strawberry Butter Cake as directed below and let the layers cool completely. Turn the cooled layers over so that the cakes are top side up. If the layers are at all domed, carefully trim them so that they are level. Use a long, sharp serrated knife for this step. It's important for the square look of this cake that everything be very neat and trim.
Because the trimmed surfaces will soak up too much syrup, invert the cake layers onto paper-lined cookie sheets so the trimmed side is down. Spread 1/4 cup of the strawberry coulis thinly but evenly over each layer right to the edge. Refrigerate the layers for about 1 hour to make handling them easier.
To finish assembling the cake, begin by stacking two 8-inch square cake boards. Tape them together, making sure that the corrugated tunnels on one are perpendicular to the tunnels on the other; this criss-crossing provides extra strength. If you have a metal serving plate or tray that can accommodate the cake size, the boards are not absolutely necessary. However, the cake will need to fit in the refrigerator, and paper cake boards make this easier to accomplish.
Place one cake layer, coulis facing up, on the cake board. Top with about 2/3 cup of the White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting and spread it to the edge. Repeat with the next layer. Finally, add the third layer and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Use an offset spatula to do this neatly, and be sure to make the surface as smooth as possible, with sharp edges and corners. Refrigerate the frosted cake until firm, at least 1 hour.
On a flat work surface dusted with sifted confectioners' sugar, roll out the pink fondant to an 18-inch square less than 1/4 inch thick. Dust with confectioners' sugar and gently roll loosely around your rolling pin like a piecrust. Lift the sheet up over the cake and unroll the fondant, draping it over the cake to cover. With your hands, gently smooth out the fondant, beginning on the top and pressing it neatly down the sides. Use a small knife or straight pizza wheel to trim the bottom.
Roll out the white fondant similarly and cut into 4 ribbons about 1 inch wide and 9 inches long . Lightly dab one side of the strips with Royal Icing and press into the cake to attach like ribbons on a package. Using more icing, glue the bow on top. Allow the entire cake to dry thoroughly before transporting, about 3 hours. (The cake covered with fondant will hold well at room temperature for up to 2 days.)