Like Cheesecake, But Lighter and Upside Down: Strawberry Streusel Cake

Last week I was looking for a cake to bring to the office for Administrative Professionals Day, and I decided to go with the "Strawberry Streusel Cake" from Nick Malgieri's Perfect Cakes. I chose this cake in part because I could make use of a cake ring (my new favorite kitchen tool!), and in part because it's touted as "a great make ahead cake -- it keeps well for a full day in the refrigerator." Malgieri says that this cake is loosely based on a cake originated by Pierre Hermé.

The cake has four components: biscuit sponge cake, cream cheese mousse, strawberries, and streusel. First, I made the streusel by stirring together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and melted butter until the mixture formed large crumbs. You are supposed to bake the crumbs for 20 minutes until they are golden and firm. Instead, all of my crumbs grew together in the oven to form one continuous giant sheet cookie. I debated what to do. After the cookie cooled, I decided to break it up with my fingers to form streusel-size crumbs.

To make the biscuit sponge cake, you beat egg yolks with sugar until they are well aerated, fold them into egg whites that have been beaten with salt and sugar, and then fold in sifted flour. You pipe or spread the batter into disks (using circles you've traced out on parchment paper as a guide), and bake.

The cream cheese mousse is simply cream cheese and powdered sugar beaten together, with some kirsch and vanilla added, and whipped cream folded in. I didn't have any kirsch, so I used Grand Marnier instead.

To assemble the cake, you trim your biscuit disk to an inch smaller than the size of the cake ring (or springform pan) you're using. I made two streusel cakes, because the biscuit recipe yields two disks of cake and there wasn't much additional effort required to make a second cake. While I have several cake rings, I don't have more than one of any particular size -- so I trimmed my two sponge cakes to 8 and 9 inches in diameter, and placed them in the bottom of 9 and 10-inch diameter cake rings, respectively.

Then you cover the biscuit with half of the cream cheese mousse, filling the space between outside of the cake layer and the inside of the cake ring. You add quartered strawberries, spread on the remaining mousse, press the streusel into the top of the cake, and refrigerate the cake overnight to set.

Even after the cake had chilled overnight, the mousse was not very firm. It held its shape, but just barely. This cake doesn't look all that attractive before it's cut; it's just a white mass with crushed cookie on top. Individual cut slices are much more interesting, especially with the burst of color from the cut strawberries.

This cake was fabulous. It reminded me a lot of an upside down strawberry cheesecake, except that it was much lighter. The biscuit had the ideal sponge cake texture, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was not dry at all, even though it wasn't soaked with sugar syrup. The mousse was light, creamy, and not very sweet. And the streusel was buttery, crunchy, and delicious -- very reminiscent of the crust of a cheesecake, except that it was on top. This is a light and beautiful dessert, and I definitely plan to make it again; I can hardly wait for strawberry season!

Recipe: "Strawberry Streusel Cake" from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri.

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