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!). 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)


  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

FILLING (for 1 cake):

  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1/2 pint fresh blueberries

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

18 comments to “Once a Year”

  1. I actually made something very similar on the 4th, but I used angel food cake


    I made it around 11pm after a dozen or so drinks, so it didn’t come out quite as pretty as yours :)

  2. Wow. Looks absolutely delicious. Planning on making it, but can you give me an estimate of how long it takes to make? (before placing it in the oven!) Loving your site :)

  3. so festive! perfect for summer! xo.

  4. Ooo0! Yum! Yum! Yum! I want to go into my kitchen this second and make that delicious cake. So wish it wasn’t midnight where I am!

    P.S. Ina Garten – you’ve gotta love her.

  5. I love Ina Garten recipes. They always turn out wonderfully. Your 4th of July cake looks lovely.

  6. I also used to wonder about the same thing when I was a kid. Why not enjoy a good thing more regularly? These cakes look fantastic. Summery and colorful!

  7. I find that I’m having an even bigger problem – I am rarely repeating recipes and most everything i make these days is something i haven’t made before! which sucks, because i’ve made a ton of things i certainly wouldn’t mind having again. i need to have a month of “repeats” i suppose…

    cake looks delish!

  8. Hi Heather, I think it is one of the dangers of what we do. It was part of the reason I started posting less often. I wanted to make the things I love.

  9. Love Ina and love any cake, muffin or pastry that has sour cream in the batter!

  10. berries, cake and cream…oh my :)

  11. I have a lot of dishes or desserts that I make only once per year and actually, I do not find this frustrating, rather exciting …
    but when I was a kid, I was really miserable that my favorite cookies were baked only for Christmas, and so on…
    On the other hand, now, I do not repeat recipes very often; certainly, there are some dishes that I cook on regular basis (otherwise I am sick)…but if one wants to develop in his/her kitchen, one has to sacrify his/her a lot..

  12. Oh those once a year recipes… I know them well.

  13. Looks amazing. You’re invited to my house for the Fourth next year!

  14. Lovely. And very inspiring. Loving your pictures!

  15. Today I also made a strawberry cake I only make once a year for my boyfriend’s birthday. Yours is totally different from my recipe, but it looks incredibly delicious! Of course it would be great to enjoy some of those once-a-year-recipes more often, but it wouldn’t feel like tradition, would it? Greetings from Germany

  16. Thanks, Jon!
    And hello to Kirsten in Germany, thanks for stopping by.

  17. I think it’s quite nice to have a special dish connected to a particular day – doesn’t mean that you can’t eat it any other day of the year though if you are craving it :)

  18. Ive made this cake many time and I love it. So east and flavorful. I usually only use one half and freeze the other. I don’t usually like to freeze things because I find the flavor is lost…but this cake bounces bake terrifically when defrosted. I highly recommend if.

What do you think?