A few people have emailed asking about how to make an Asian bakery-style strawberry and cream layer cake. What’s the difference between Asian bakery layer cakes and western cakes? The Asian ones tend to be based on lightly sweet baked sponge cakes whereas the western ones typically involve richer and sweeter butter layer cakes. Both are good types of cakes to prepare and when they’re baking, the entire house smells of butter, eggs, and sugar. What a great air freshener.
When I make a strawberry and cream layer cake at home, I use my French-style sponge cake recipe as that’s what is typically made in the Vietnamese repertoire. You can also use layers of coconut cake for the cake layers; it's a little easier to prepare and richer in taste. Frankly, the cakes at Asian bakeries are so light and tasteless sometimes that all I get is a spongy chew. You can do much better at home! For the filling, I prepare a strawberry and liquor mousse. The use of unflavored gelatin (agar agar doesn’t work well here so resist) prevents the strawberries from weeping their liquid into the cream. I buy 1 pint of heavy whipping cream and that’s enough for the filling and frosting. Should you like to indulge, well whip up an extra 1/2 to 1 cup of heavy cream.
You can make the sponge cake layers several days in advance and refrigerate them, or freeze them. If you do that, the cake comes together very easily. This is a great celebration type of cake, suitable for birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, or just afternoon tea. I recently prepared one to honor one of my husband’s colleagues who is retiring this year. A homemade layer cake is always a showstopper.
Strawberry and Cream Layer Cake
Makes 1 cake, enough to serve 8 to 12
2 (9-inch) round Sponge Cakes (make a double batch of the Homemade Sponge Cake recipe, baking the cakes in high-sided 9-inch round pans for 20 to 25 minutes), or Coconut Cake (make 1 batch of the recipe as prescribed)
Strawberry mousse filling:
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 pint strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
Whipped cream frosting:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. If you’ve made the sponge cakes in advance and refrigerated or frozen them, return them to room temperature.
2. To make the strawberry mouse, put the liquor in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside.
3. Wash and pat the strawberries dry with a dish towel. Hull and cut enough berries into small pieces about the size of your thumbnail to make a brimming cup. Set aside the remaining strawberries for garnish.
4. Put the strawberries in a small skillet and add the sugar, stirring to combine. Heat over medium heat, stirring just until the sugar has melted. Remove from the heat and add the liquor, stirring, until the gelatin has dissolved. Pour into a mixing bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. When the berries have sufficiently cooled, you will be able to mound them with the liquid into a jam-like mixture.
5. While the strawberry mixture cools, whip the 1/2 cup cream using a stand mixer or hand-held mixer until soft peaks form. (Aim for a soft, thick marshmallowlike texture.) Refrigerate until ready to use.
6. For the frosting, combine the cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Then whip using a stand mixer or hand-held mixer until just shy of stiff. Lift up the beaters and nice peaks should form, clinging onto the beaters nicely. In the cake above I whipped the cream about 15 seconds too long and it turned slightly grainy so watch it! Refrigerate the cream until ready to use.(See the comments below on stabilizing whipped cream.)
7. To fill and frost the cake, put the cake on a cake stand or platter, with strips of wax paper or parchment paper underneath to form a collar that will keep the stand or platter dirty clean. (This is a neat cake frosting trick to keep in your back pocket.)
Finish the strawberry mousse by combining the strawberry mixture with the 1/2 cup of whipped cream; a rubber spatula is a great tool to use. It’s okay for tiny bits of red to be suspended in the pink cream. Then spread the strawberry mousse on top of the cake layer. Place the second layer atop. Then frost the cake with the 1 1/2 cups of whipped cream. Use an offset spatula to help you achieve nice straight/level surfaces. (See the photo above to get a sense of what an offset spatula looks like.)
When satisfied, refrigerate the cake for 10 to 15 minutes, then gently pull out the pieces of wax or parchment paper. The cake can be decorated up to 3 hours in advance. Serve with the remaining strawberries on the side.