Alexander Turns Seven!: Classic Strawberry-Marzipan Cake (Fraisier)

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with my young friend Alexander about what type of cake he wanted for his birthday party this year. He of course requested his favorite -- carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. But when Alexander's younger brother Liam complained that he doesn't like carrot cake, I offered a second cake as well (this is routine; I made two cakes for Liam's birthday party last month and three cakes for Alexander's birthday last year). It took some negotiating before we found a flavor that the two of them could agree on: strawberry.

The first idea that came to mind was the strawberry and white chocolate-buttermilk cake I made earlier this summer, but Alexander reminded me that he doesn't like whipped cream. When I showed him a picture of the fraisier I made last year, he was sold. Since I always like to try new recipes, I decided to use a different fraisier recipe from Baking by James Peterson.

One thing I love about molded cakes is that you can get a lot of bang for your buck -- for instance, this cake is not difficult at all, but it looks pretty dang impressive. That said, it has a lot of different components and it takes some time to put them all together. The cake part is straightforward. I made a batch of Peterson's "Cream and Butter Sheet Cake" (cake flour, baking powder, eggs, sugar, heavy cream, lemon zest, and melted butter), which I baked in a 13-inch by 17-inch sheet pan. When the cake was cool, I cut two 8-inch round cake layers out of it.

To make the mousseline filling, you first make pastry cream by bringing milk and vanilla to a simmer; adding in a tempered mixture of sugar, eggs, and egg yolk; and cooking until the mixture thickens. You cool the pastry cream, put it in a mixer, and beat in cubed butter and strawberry puree (which I made by blitzing strawberries in the food processor and straining out the seeds). The remaining components are flavored simple syrup (simple syrup with strawberry puree), rolled marzipan (I used store-bought marzipan, kneaded in some green coloring, and rolled it out), and halved and chopped strawberries.

Once you have all of the components ready, the fraisier is easy to assemble. You put one cake layer in a cake ring, brush it with simple syrup, and then arrange halved strawberries around the perimeter of the ring with the cut sides facing out. You fill the space inside the strawberries with mousseline, spread on the chopped strawberries, cover them with more mousseline, and then put the other cake layer on top. After brushing that cake layer with syrup, you spread on a little more mousseline, lay the marzipan on top, and trim the marzipan to the size of the cake. After a few hours of chilling, the cake is ready to unmold and serve.
Alexander's birthday party was at the National Zoo, and the paper plates that were there happened to be a vibrant shade of leaf green that was pretty close to the color of the marzipan on the cake. I was shocked when Alexander requested a slice of the fraisier instead of the carrot cake. The cake sliced easily and cleanly, and all of the layers held together well for serving. I thought it looked beautiful.

I liked this cake a lot, but I thought there was too much mousseline -- it was quite rich and it was difficult (at least for me) to eat entire mouthfuls of it. But I did like the light strawberry flavor of the mousseline, and the moist cake was excellent. The other party guests really enjoyed the cake, with a couple of notable exceptions. Alexander and Liam each left their slices of cake essentially untouched, which made my heart sink a little. However, they filled up on ice cream and seemed to be no worse for the wear.

Even though it wasn't a hit with the birthday boy, I consider this cake a success!

Recipes: "Classic Strawberry-Marzipan Cake (Fraisier)," "Cream and Butter Sheet Cake," and "Classic Crème Mousseline," from Baking by James Peterson.

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Louise said…
This looks beautiful. Sorry the boys didn't like it, but I guess it's no real surprise.