I didn’t know Imitation Strawberry Extract was in season.
That was Bryan’s response to the McCormick bottle sitting on our kitchen counter.
It’s always in season.
Admittedly, it was an odd sighting in our apartment. It was even an odd sighting on the pages of a Saveur. Most contemporary recipes don’t call for imitation anything—it just isn’t cool anymore. But not so long ago, it was very cool. So modern! I am sure we consume more flavorings and colorings now, we just don’t like to talk about it. At least not those of us that read magazines like Saveur. I don’t have any major philosophical issues with a teaspoon of artificial extract, so I decided to give this crazy strawberry cake a try.
When I walked into the dining room with carrying this beauty, I was greeted by a chorus of “whooooah”—and I don’t think they were entirely positive “whoa’s”. There was some level of concern. Cakes that look like this, often don’t taste very good. It looks artificial. But this one managed to defy its tawdry exterior and was actually quite delicious.
The recipe is from Bertha’s Kitchen, a soul food restaurant in South Carolina. Showstopping layer cakes are common in the South. They are often as sweet as they are beautiful. This cake features two fairly standard cake layers robed in a cream cheese frosting that is flavored with a hint of strawberry extract. The end result is a pleasantly nostalgic eating experience. Even the skeptics were won over by the flavor.
I’m not sure if I’ll be buying another bottle of imitation anything anytime soon, but I’m glad I did. And some of you might try to make a less-imitation version of this cake, but I doubt it will taste as good.
Strawberry Cake (adapted (just barely) from Saveur)
- 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing pans
- 3 cups flour, plus more for pans
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup seedless strawberry jam
- 3 tablespoons red food coloring (optional, also amounts will vary depending on the dye you use)
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 eggs
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon strawberry extract
Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9″ round cake pans; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Whisk together milk, jam, and 2 tablespoons food coloring in a small bowl; set aside. Beat together sugar, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and smooth, 2–3 minutes. In 3 additions, alternately add dry and wet ingredients to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with dry; mix until combined. Divide batter between prepared pans and smooth tops; bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of cakes comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes, unmold, then cool completely.
In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese on high speed of a mixer until smooth and fluffy, 1–2 minutes. Add remaining food coloring, confectioners’ sugar, and strawberry extract; beat until smooth. Place one cake upside down on a cake stand, and spread 13 frosting over top. Cover with second cake, top side up; frost top and sides of cakes with remaining frosting; refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. Serve at room temperature.