A Strawberry Cake for Winter: Christina Tosi's Strawberries and Corn Cream Layer Cake with White Chocolate Cap'n Crunch Crumbs

When I asked Dorothy what type of birthday cake she wanted this year, she asked for a strawberry cake. I thought that would be challenging in early February on the east coast, when strawberries are available but they're basically flavorless. Then I remembered a recipe that I had thought about trying a few months ago, Christina Tosi's Strawberries and Corn Cream Layer Cake with White Chocolate Cap'n Crunch Crumbs from Fine Cooking. While the cake does include fresh strawberries, a generous amount of strawberry preserves is responsible for most of the strawberry flavor. And last year Dorothy really liked the Key Lime Pie Layer Cake I made her -- also a Christina Tosi recipe -- so I figured that the strawberries and corn cream cake was a safe bet.

This dessert includes three layers of vanilla cake layered with corn cream, Cap'n Crunch-white chocolate crumbs, strawberry jam, and fresh strawberries. I made the corn cream first since it requires some time in the freezer. I pureed thawed frozen corn and water in the blender; strained out the corn juice; simmered the juice with sugar and salt; added bloomed powdered gelatin; and put the mixture in the freezer for a few hours until it was the consistency of pudding. Then I whipped heavy cream, sour cream, and powdered sugar to soft peaks and folded in the corn pudding.

The method for the cake is typical for a Christina Tosi cake and requires a lot of mixing time. You cream softened butter with sugar and brown sugar; add eggs one at a time; slowly add the liquid ingredients (buttermilk, oil, and vanilla); and add the dry ingredients (cake flour, baking powder, and salt). I poured the batter into three parchment-lined 8-inch pans to bake.

To make the Cap'n Crunch crumbs, you grind the cereal to a powder and mix it with cornstarch, sugar, salt, and melted butter. The mixture forms crumbs that you bake for about 15 minutes; my "crumbs" grew into a single contiguous sheet in the oven. I just waited until the sheet cooled and then broke it up into crumbs, which I coated with melted white chocolate (Cacao Barry Zéphyr 34%).
The recipe says that you're supposed to assemble the cake in an 8-inch springform pan, but my cakes shrank as they cooled and they were smaller than eight inches in diameter. I decided to assemble the cake in a 7-inch cake ring instead, so I just trimmed each cake layer to fit snugly inside the ring. Then assembly was straightforward. I lined the ring with acetate, put in a cake layer, added corn cream, sprinkled on Cap'n Crunch crumbs, spread on strawberry jam, added some chopped fresh strawberries, and then repeated the process for the other two cake layers. The top cake layer was covered with strawberry jam only. Then I put the cake in the freezer.

I had baked and assembled the cake on a Tuesday evening to have it ready to serve on Saturday, because the recipe says that you should start at least four days ahead. That's actually more lead time than is necessary (because if you add up the minimum freezing and defrosting times in the recipe, they total 48 hours), but it was nice to have the cake ready to go so far in advance. I left it in the freezer until Thursday evening, when I took the cake out of the ring -- but left the acetate on -- and moved it to the fridge to defrost.

I left the acetate on until right before serving. When we were ready for dessert, I added more chopped fresh strawberries to the top of the cake as well as some candles, and removed the acetate. The cake looked okay until I started cutting, at which point corn cream started spilling out everywhere. The cake slices were very messy and the cake leftovers were just a big pile of cake and jam and crumbs and cream -- when we scraped them up into a plastic container, it looked like a trifle instead of a composed cake.

But the cake was really good. Every time I make a Christina Tosi cake I never think the cake itself tastes all that great. But somehow once the cake is transformed into truffles or assembled with all sorts of other components into a layer cake, the end product always tastes fantastic. My favorite part of the cake, by far, was the Cap'n Crunch crumbs. They were super crunchy and I loved their distinctive snack food-like flavor. (Which is all the more impressive given how awful I thought the cereal tasted on its own... When I was a kid I ate Cap'n Crunch purely for the crunchberries. I'm not sure if the cereal has changed in the decades since, but I thought the cereal tasted terrible and the remainder of the box went into the compost.)

The strawberry jam did wonders to deliver strawberry flavor even with relatively bland fresh fruit, and the corn cream -- while runny -- added needed moisture and reinforced the corn flavor of the cereal. This whimsical cake was delightful, even if it looked like a mess when I served it. But this recipe also could be assembled into one hell of a trifle!

Recipe: "Strawberries and Corn Cream Layer Cake with White Chocolate Cap'n Crunch Crumbs" by Christina Tosi, recipe available from Fine Cooking.

Previous Birthday Cakes for Dorothy: Key Lime Pie Layer Cake (2019); Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting (2018); White Génoise with Raspberry Cloud Cream (2017); Bananas Cake 2.0 with Cream Cheese Frosting (2016); Whipped Brown Butter and Vanilla Birthday Cake (2015); Lemon Mousse Cake with Fresh Raspberries (2014); Antique Caramel Cake (2013); Grasshopper Cake (2012); Restaurant Eve Cake (2010).