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Once a Year

Some recipes you make only once a year. As a kid, I found this incredibly frustrating. My aunt was the baker in our family and she made outrageously delicious cookies every Christmas. I never understood why she couldn’t make them on other days. You’re probably thinking something along the lines of: if we had them every day they wouldn’t be as special. I’m only partially convinced by that argument. Maybe we should try and see?

Every year for the last decade or so I have spent Independence Day with the family of one of my best friends. They live in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago. The day starts with an old-fashioned parade complete with marching bands, fire trucks and the Jesse White tumblers (a Chicago thing [1]!). After the parade we all walk back to the house and spend the rest of the day cooking, playing games and catching up. It is one of my favorite days of the year. And you guessed it, I have a recipe that I make on the 4th and only on the 4th. Young Me would be very disappointed.

This is an old Ina Garten recipe that is typically simple and delicious. It makes two cakes, which we need for the 4th because there is always a crowd. If you don’t need both cakes, freeze one—they freeze beautifully. And feel free to make these any day you like, as often as you like. Bastille Day is right around the corner and the colors work for France too. For me, they will remain a once-a-year thing.

Strawberry Country Cake (adapted from Ina Garten)

CAKES:

FILLING (for 1 cake):

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Butter the bottom of two 8-inch cake pans. Then line them with parchment paper and butter and flour the lined pans.

Cream the butter and sugar on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, then the sour cream, zests, and vanilla, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix well. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and combine just until smooth.

Pour the batter evenly into the pans, smooth the tops, and bake in the center of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then remove to wire racks and let cool to room temperature. If using 1 cake, wrap the second well and freeze.

To make the filling for one cake, whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until firm. Slice one of the cakes in half with a long, sharp knife. Place the bottom slice of the cake on a serving platter, spread with 1/2 the whipped cream and scatter with sliced strawberries. Cover with the top slice of the cake and spread with the remaining cream. Decorate with strawberries