birthdays are funny. the whole concept of it. to some it’s a significant day, a reason to celebrate with friends and family… and to others it’s just another day. which is also great, because it is an arbitrary day. i feel like it’s always important to be cognizant and reflective of where you’re at in life. and be consciously grateful to be living life.
i think at 21, i’m not where i want to be. or rather, i’m not who i think i should be. and this is not a novel idea… i think the twenties, for most people, is a time to just figure it all out. if life can be figured out in the first place.
and so that’s my question, how do you reconcile that, living with that divide between who you think you should be or imagine yourself to be, vs. who you actually are?
but if there’s one thing that is certain, it’s change. from dan gilbert–
“human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.
the person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. the one constant in our life, is change.”
ANYWAYS. can i just say though, that this cake is also a reflection of all those feelings? a i don’t know how this is going to turn out but i’m figuring it out sort of cake.
that’s a pretty great title for a cake, actually. if i ever open a bakery, all of the names will be super ramble-y and emotionally charged. the stop tailgating me im already 20 over leave your house earlier blueberry coconut glazed scone. the i wish i knew what you were thinking chocolate chip banana bread. the it’s 1am let’s do laundry and wash dishes oatmeal peanut butter cookie.
BUT I DIGRESS– let’s get into this cake.
since it was my first time conceptualizing it and making it, it wasn’t quite perfect, but it has promise. that’s the beauty about baking though, you can take the same concept and re-tweak it an infinite number of times. and it’ll tell the same story, but in a different way.
the inspiration for this comes from seeing rhubarb on sale at whole foods. rhubarb and strawberries go hand in hand, and they’re both pinkish reddish, which reminded me of rosewater which is beautifully floral and fruity and delicate. pistachios are a garnish to remind you that they’re natural partners with rosewater, and to bring over a middle eastern inspiration. i didn’t know if it would actually work together, but they’re all very pretty ingredients, so why not?
i don’t want to spoil it or anything but i think… i dare say that it does work together. but i’d do a few things differently if i were to remake it, which i’ll talk about.
the cake’s filling is a beautiful roasted strawberry and rhubarb compote, brightened up with lemon zest and juice, and sweetened with maple syrup and honey. quality does make a difference… i know we’re at the end of our summer season, but i find that Driscoll consistently has really really good strawberries that taste like strawberries. i love what roasting does… it facilitates a transformation of sorts, a magical shift in which the flavours get deeper, more mature and just meld together.
it was actually my first time working with rhubarb, and i didn’t expect it to be so sinewy (?) … i thought for a vegetable that looked so much like celery, it wouldn’t be sinewy like celery. but it was (spoiler!). this is probably why most of the time it’s stewed down until soft.
wow i just did a quick wikipedia read on rhubarb and it is actually SUCH an interesting vegetable!
- its leaves are poisonous
- it contains anthraquinones which give it its laxative properties, and its roots have been used as a laxative in traditional Chinese medicine for several millennia
- they have been called “crimson stalks”– so poetic!
- since it was expensive to transport it across Asia to Europe (this is back in the medieval times), its price was several times more than other valuable herbs & spices like cinnamon, opium and saffron. the traveler Ruy González de Clavijo‘s report in 1403-05 said, “the best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand was from China: especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb…”
- some “rhubarb purists” jokingly say that strawberry and rhubarb are “a rather unhappy marriage” … well I, for one, think it’s a lovely marriage
the cake itself is a light fluffy vanilla cake, one that i’ve worked with before. it’s a good, solidly dependable cake base. i briefly considered adding rosewater to the cake too, but decided against it since i wanted more control of how much rose flavour you’d taste by keeping it exclusively in the frosting only. and the frosting whips up like a dream, a light, whipped buttercream tinted rose and flavoured rose.
my favourite part is the assembly, by far. you’re constructing something from nothing. and the decorating… you get to practice your florist skills too! i opted for the “naked frosting” look, which still requires some level of “polish” to it, even though it’s inherently rustic in nature. you do this by running a spatula in hot water, drying it off, then smoothing out the sides with that spatula. works like a charm, every time.
it’s also a lot easier working with a half-frozen cake… there are less crumbs = more aesthetically pleasing.
so the verdict… it’s good. quite good. the compote filling is a bit on the tart-er side, so i would scale back on the lemon juice and zest by 1/2 if you are adverse to sourness. the rosewater was so, so lovely in the frosting; it had a little lychee vibe to it, and i understood why it’s such a natural pairing for pierre herme to work with. since there is very minimal frosting, the rose flavour might not shine through as strongly, so next time i would consider brushing a rose syrup onto the cakes as they cooled. this will also increase its moistness!
yes there’s a lot of photos this time but i had fun shooting it. i was racing against the disappearance of natural lighting, though, which is why the lighting is sort of inconsistent in these photos.
honestly sometimes i feel like baking something just so i can toss a bunch of flowers around it and shoot moody cake photos. #moodycakes.
i hope everyone is having a fantastic summer and is making the most of each day!!
PS i have already started seeing mentions of “pumpkin spice” and it makes my head explode (kaboom)
cheers to an everlasting summer– 🙂
Strawberry Rhubarb Rosewater Cake
Fluffy Vanilla Cake
- 5 large egg whites (150 g), at room temperature
- 1 whole egg
- 1 cup whole milk (237 ml), at room temperature
- 2-1/4 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups (345 g) cake flour, sifted
- 2 cups (400 g) sugar
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
- 12 tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 24 even pieces
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
- 585g strawberries, halved
- 5 stalks (420g) rhubarb, chopped
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup honey
- zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp salt
Whipped Rosewater Frosting
- 3 sticks + 2 tablespoons (375 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
- 3 cups sifted (375 g) confectioners’ sugar (icing, powdered)
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) milk
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) rosewater, to taste
- pinch of salt
- 1.5 drops liquid red food colouring
To assemble (optional, really)
- sugar pearls
- strawberry halves
- chopped rhubarb
Fluffy Vanilla Cake
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment, and flour two round 6-inch pans.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites, whole egg, 1/4 cup of milk, and vanilla.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed for 30 seconds.
- Add the butter one piece at a time, about every 10 seconds, ensuring it’s cold. If your kitchen is warm, keep some butter in the fridge while you’re adding pieces. Mix on low until the mixture is a fine crumbly texture.
- Add milk and mix on low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches, mixing until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl again and fold the batter a few times to ensure the batter at bottom of bowl is incorporated and it’s all homogeneous.
- Divide the batter between the two pans, evening out the tops with a small offset palette knife. It’s most accurate to use a kitchen scale and weigh the two pans.
- Bake until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs when inserted into the center, about 35 minutes. To avoid over-baking (and consequently a dry cake), check the cake at 25 minutes, but not before, and then check about every 5 minutes. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small metal spatula, and invert onto greased wire racks. Gently turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.
- Wrap tightly and freeze for 1-2 hours– this will make splitting the layers a lot cleaner.
- It can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. It’s best eaten the same day as baked.
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
- Toss everything together in a large bowl, then spread it evenly on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Roast it at 350°C for 40 minutes, or until the juices are bubbly and you see some caramelization going on.
Whipped Rosewater Frosting
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed (speed 4 on a KitchenAid). Butter should be pale & creamy.
- Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy and fluffy.
- Best used right away. If you make it ahead of time, you can keep it in the fridge, and take it out and re-whip it in the mixer when ready to be used.
- Take the cakes out of the freezer and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to make it slightly easier to cut.
- Slice each of the cakes in half, for 4 layers in total. Choose the prettiest layer, and reserve that for your top.
- Spread 1/4 cup of the whipped rosewater frosting on the bottom layer. Spread an even layer of strawberry rhubarb compote– I just put enough to evenly cover the entire area. Top with the next cake layer, and repeat!
- Evenly frost the sides with a thin layer of frosting. It’s really up to you how “naked” you want the cake to be, just be reminded that all the rosewater flavour is in the frosting!
- For a polished look, dip a spatula in hot water, dry it off, then smooth out the frosting around the sides and top.
- Now the most fun part– decorate it how you like! I’m always a bit iffy when it comes to putting fresh flowers on cakes (as is so terribly trendy on instagram) but you can always scrape off the top layer of frosting that has come into contact with the flowers when you dis-assemble it and are ready to serve it. I don’t know how professional that advice is. Don’t trust me. (but empirically, I have eaten it and am still good and well).
- Best enjoyed with good company 🙂