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Help for a Dry, Dense Strawberry Cake

Catherine says: My daughter wants a strawberry cake for her birthday, and I like the recipe I started with (below).  I need to add either food coloring or gelatin to get the right color, but it came out pretty dense and a little dry.  The self-rising flour is brand new, so the leavening shouldn’t be the problem.  I would be content to tinker and taste until I get it right, but the party is on Friday, so I’m out of time.  Any suggestions would be very helpful.

Strawberry Cake

Nonstick vegetable spray
All-purpose flour, for pans
3 cups self-rising flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup pureed strawberries, strained*
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 large eggs, beaten
red food coloring**

– Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray and flour three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans, tapping out excess flour; set aside.
– Prepare the cake batter; in a large bowl, stir to combine self-rising flour, sugar, oil, pureed strawberries, vanilla, lemon zest, and eggs.
– Divide batter evenly between prepared pans, smoothing with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the tops spring back when gently pressed with your fingertips, 26 to 28 minutes.
– Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto wire rack. Re-invert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.

Baking S.O.S. says: This is a tough challenge, especially since you are out of time for testing the recipe and making any further adjustments.

I will try to break it down into several different problems and possible solutions.

1) You mentioned that you either need to add gelatin or food coloring to get the right color.  I would suggest that you not use gelatin at all and opt for the food coloring only.  Gelatin’s main purpose is to bind and set soft desserts (such as a mousse or Bavarian).  Adding gelatin to the cake would only make it more dense and tough.

2) You mentioned that the cake is dense.  Since you feel confident that the leavening is not the problem, we need to find another way to make the cake lighter and less dense.  One possible option would be to whip the eggs to incorporate air into them.  This is a common technique for adding leavening to cakes to help them rise more.

The recipe calls for beaten eggs, but it doesn’t say how much to beat them.  I would suggest whipping the eggs in a stand mixer with the whip attachment on medium speed (4-6 setting) until the eggs are double in volume.  [If you do not have a stand mixer, you can use a hand-held electric mixer to achieve the same results.]  You would need to do this as a separate step in the mixing process, then fold the beaten eggs into the base cake batter in 3 separate stages.  Fold the beaten eggs in by hand using a rubber spatula and stirring carefully so as not to deflate the egg foam.  Stir until no visible streaks of egg foam remain.  This should help lighten and leaven the cake a little bit.

3) You mentioned that the cake is also dry. In looking at the recipe, there is very little fat in the batter–only 3/4 cup of oil.  Fat lends tenderness and moisture to a cake.  Perhaps this recipe needs more fat.

The recipe also has no other liquid ingredient to give it moisture.  Most cake batters will call for some type of liquid–such as milk, buttermilk, or even water–to make the cake moist and tender.

Because you don’t have any additional time to tinker with this recipe, as you say, I would be afraid to suggest adding a specific type or amount of fat or liquid to this recipe.  It would require many trials (and errors, I’m afraid) to find out just how much additional fat and/or liquid you need to add in order to get the results you are looking for.

The only suggestion I can give that will add moisture to this cake without changing the base recipe is this:

European-style cakes (such as spongecakes) are dry by nature.  These types of cakes are moistened AFTER they are baked by soaking the cake layers with a simple syrup. (a very common technique for making European-style cakes)

Simple syrup is nothing more than a 50-50 ratio of sugar and water boiled together.  So for example:

1 cup of water
1 cup of granulated sugar

Place in a small saucepan.  Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to a boil. *Do not stir once it has come to a boil.  Boil 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.  Allow to cool to room temp before using.

**Simple syrup needs to be flavored to complement the flavor of the cake, as well.  It is used not only to moisten the cake layers, but also to impart extra flavor to the cake.

Since you are making a strawberry cake, I would suggest boiling some strawberries in the simple syrup, then straining through a mesh strainer to remove the strawberry pulp.  You will be left with a pretty pink strawberry-flavored syrup that should help impart some pink color to the cake AND give it additional strawberry flavor.

Simply use a pastry brush to brush the syrup directly onto the cake layers BEFORE you add any icing.  Be generous with the syrup, but don’t drown the cake.  You don’t want it to turn into a mushy, soggy mess. 🙂

I hope those suggestions will help improve the texture and flavor of the cake.  I can’t promise it will be exactly what you want, but it will probably be an improvement over the original recipe.

Good luck!

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