OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Paint the season pink with sweet strawberry cake

Strawberry Cake With Strawberry Icing (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Strawberry season arrived a bit later this year, but local berries are well worth the wait (and the 25-minute drive to the strawberry farm).

To celebrate the season — and (more so) to celebrate the fact that my parents, my husband and I are all fully vaccinated against covid-19 and it is now safe for us to gather indoors and hug cheek-to-cheek once again after more than a year of distancing — I made this cake, which I adapted from King Arthur Baking Co. I'd been holding on to the recipe since February, waiting for our strawberry season to get here.

The texture of this cake is reminiscent of tres leches cake. But instead of three milks, it gets its moistness from a butter-rich confectioners' sugar icing infused with fresh strawberries. The icing is poured over the warm cake; as the cake cools, the icing soaks into the crumb.

The original recipe calls for a box of strawberry-flavored gelatin but I had only plain gelatin, so that's what I used. To give the cake a pop of pink, I added a few drops of gel food coloring to the batter. I did not adjust the sugar, which turned out to be a good thing as this recipe makes an extraordinarily sweet cake — some may find it too sweet.

If you want to reduce the sweetness, I recommend adding just 2 tablespoons of sugar to the sliced strawberries and reducing the confectioners' sugar in the icing to about 3 cups. It will still be sweet, but not necessarily sugar-coma-inducing sweet.

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Strawberry Cake With Strawberry Icing

  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, capped, hulled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons to ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Cake:
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 (.25-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • Red food coloring, optional
  • Icing:
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 to 4 cups confectioners' sugar, divided use
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, toss the sliced strawberries with 2 tablespoons to ¼ cup sugar and the lemon juice; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and mix until the mixture is crumbly. Add the gelatin, eggs, vegetable oil and ½ cup water and whisk until combined. Add about half the strawberries (no need to be exact) and stir until thoroughly combined. If desired, stir in a bit of red food coloring to achieve desired color. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it smooth with a rubber spatula.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool slightly (10 to 15 minutes) while you make the icing.

To make the icing: In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, about half of the confectioners' sugar and salt and beat on low speed until well combined — mixture may be a bit crumbly depending on how soft the butter is. Add the remaining strawberries and the remaining confectioners' sugar and beat until smooth. The icing will be thin and may look separated; that's OK.

Pour the icing over the warm cake and then cool to lukewarm at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving.

Store the cake in the refrigerator.

Makes 1 (9-by-13-inch) sheet cake.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Baking Co.