strawberry rose cake

strawberry rose cake

A couple years ago, I really wanted to make a simple strawberry rose cake. But things that seem simple rarely are. Whenever I tried using fresh strawberries in the batter, the cake would turn out purple (or on a good day, pasty pink), and if it tasted like anything at all, it was completely soggy and water-logged. Whenever I tried using powdered strawberries, the cake would turn out bright pink, but it would taste super bland. And yes, I tried reducing strawberry purée, I tried adding some jam, I tried roasting the strawberries, I tried adding both freeze-dried and puréed, I tried adding a few drops of pink food coloring, I tried a leavening-free angel food cake to make sure the berries’ red pigment didn’t react with the baking powder… yes, I tried it all.

So after two years of testing every recipe I could find, adapt, or write, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that there’s nothing better than Southern-style strawberry cake made with jello and box mix. It’s just the pinkest and strawberriest, and you won’t catch me trying to make a strawberry cake another way ever again.

strawberry rose cake
strawberry rose cake

You might be picking up on the fact that I’m usually a fan of from-scratch baking, but I finally learned to appreciate the appeal of box-mix while putting together a roundup of Valentine’s Day desserts a few months ago. I included my friend Abeer’s fabulous rose cardamom tres leches, which starts (but certainly doesn’t end) with box mix. The little bit of rosewater she adds to the milk soak turns ho-hum cake mix into something completely new. Her recipe inspired me to try box mix with my strawberry rosewater idea, and I’m so glad I did. It took a little experimenting to get this recipe just right, but I found that adding an extra egg white works perfectly with an added box of jello.

Further inspiration for this recipe comes from Patty Pinner’s fabulous strawberry cake (Sweets: Soul Food Desserts and Memories), as well as Zoë François, whose passionfruit pavlova clearly inspired this cake’s decoration (I’ve got instructions in the recipe, but you can of course decorate it however your heart desires). Anyway, just a few more desserty things for you to check out. On to the recipe, which is certainly as delicious as it is easy.

strawberry rose cake
strawberry rose cake

strawberry rose cake

active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 hour
yield: 8 servings
download a PDF to print

the cake layers

  • 1 15.25-oz box white cake mix (430g) *

  • 1 3-oz package strawberry jello (85g)

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (70g)

  • 4 large egg whites (140g)

  • 1 cup water (230g)

  • 2-3 teaspoons rosewater (10-15g) **

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

  2. Mix together the cake mix, strawberry jello, vegetable oil, egg whites, water, and rosewater.

  3. Line 2 8-inch cake pans with parchment rounds, and spray them with cooking spray. Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans, and bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

  4. Remove the cakes to a cooling rack, and let them cool completely before frosting (careful—they’re delicate).

* If your box mix has a very different ingredients list than this recipe, feel free to follow those instead. Just add 1 extra egg white to compensate for the added strawberry jello packet. I used Duncan Hines white cake mix to test this recipe (not sponsored, just mentioning it for consistency), but any brand will do.

** I use 3 teaspoons (AKA 1 tablespoon), but you should use 2 if yours is particularly strong (or even 1 if it’s extremely strong). If you err on the side of less rosewater, and then regret it later, you can always add a few drops to the frosting, or toss the strawberries in a few drops of rosewater to make up for it (you can always add, but you can’t take away).

cream cheese frosting & strawberry slices

  • 2 8-ounce bricks of cream cheese, softened to room temperature

  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, softened to room temperature

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/2 cups (230g) powdered sugar *

  • 140 g / 1 c 1/4-inch sliced strawberries (do not mix into the frosting)

  • optional: edible rose petals for decorating

  1. Mix together the cream cheese, butter, salt, and powdered sugar over low speed with a stand mixer and whisk attachment. Once the powdered sugar is all mixed in, increase speed to medium-high, and continue mixing until it lightens in color and consistency (this should take about 2 minutes). Use at room temperature.

  2. Place 1 cake layer on a cake stand (or use a rotating turntable and a cardboard cake round). Carefully level it if it has a hump (it probably won’t, because box mix is magical). Cover with a thin 1/8-inch layer of frosting. Top with strawberries. Spoon several small blobs of frosting over the strawberries, and smooth them out into another 1/8-inch layer of frosting. Place another cake layer on top. Dump all the frosting on top of the cake, and use an offset spatula to smooth the frosting down the sides. Decorate it however you’d like.**

* Jello cake tends to be very sweet, so this cream cheese frosting is not very sweet to compensate. If you like super sweet cream cheese frosting, feel free to add more powdered sugar, to taste.

** Feel free to decorate the cake however you’d like, or recreate this look, inspired by Zoë François’ pavlova. Use a rotating turntable and offset spatula to evenly frost the cake. Smooth out the top with your offset spatula while rotating the turntable. Once the top is smoothed out, use your offset spatula to make sweeps up the side, rotating as you go and allowing the sweeps to overlap a little. To make the sweeps, point the flat side of the offset spatula so it’s facing the side of the cake, and place the spatula so it’s oriented horizontally. In one swift motion, sweep up while placing a small amount of pressure on the cake (don’t put too much pressure, or you will scrape off the frosting, which is not what you want to do). Allow the end of the sweep to sort of fall toward the center of the cake (kind of trail off toward the center as your spatula leaves the cake, but don’t scrape the top).

Storage: This cake keeps surprisingly well in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. If you’re making it ahead for guests, you might want to make all the components and frost it at the last minute. Cake stales faster in the fridge than at room temperature, so if you’re making it more than 24 hours ahead, you can freeze the individual cake layers (wrapped carefully).

strawberry rose cake

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orange blossom fig cake

orange blossom fig upside down cake

Fig season is a little confusing—there’s always a big rush in June, but then they tend to disappear for a few weeks, only to come back in full swing for the rest of the summer and early fall. Apparently this is because they have two back-to-back fruiting seasons. But I’ve been noticing them popping up in supermarkets this week, so I guess fig season is here, at least for now! The next time you spot them at the market, be sure to grab one or two baskets, so you can make this fabulous fig cake, and have plenty to snack on while you wait for it to bake.

orange blossom fig upside down cake
orange blossom fig upside down cake

While I’m usually a big fan of buttermilk in cakes like this one, I decided to go with plain yogurt here, because I wanted to make this a little easier to throw together using ingredients you probably have around the house on a day that you just happen to find some really delicious figs. Like buttermilk, yogurt gives this cake moisture and a little tang, but unlike buttermilk, it’s probably actually in your fridge right now. I mean, that’s what was in my fridge the day that I brought these beauties home from the fruit market and decided to make this wonderfully syrupy orange blossom fig upside down cake. If you happen to have buttermilk, you can instead use 1/2 cup buttermilk in this recipe (instead of 3/4 cup yogurt).

The only ingredient that’s a little hard to find is orange blossom water, but you can get it at a supermarket with a good international food aisle, just about any Middle Eastern market, and of course online. It’s good to have around for Middle Eastern baking, and I strongly recommend keeping a bottle handy (once you do, you’ll start putting it in everything). If you can’t find orange blossom water, this cake is also wonderful with a few drops of rosewater, which is a little easier to find—in addition to Middle Eastern markets, you can also find rosewater in South Asian markets. If you go with rosewater, be sure to use restraint, as it has a tendency to overpower. Or feel free to omit flower-waters altogether, and let the figs speak for themselves.

orange blossom fig upside down cake
orange blossom fig upside down cake
orange blossom fig upside down cake
orange blossom fig upside down cake

orange blossom fig cake

active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 hour
download a PDF to print

fig and brown sugar bottom

  • Butter for greasing the pan

  • 57g melted butter (half a stick/4 tablespoons)

  • 100g light brown sugar (1/2 cup)

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 300g small fresh figs (about 10-11 oz)*

  1. Butter one 8-inch round cake pan. Cover the bottom with a parchment round.

  2. Mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, and salt, and pour it over the parchment-covered cake pan. Use an offset spatula to spread the brown sugar out evenly over the bottom until it's completely covered.

  3. Slice the figs in half. Arrange the figs cut-side-down over the buttery brown sugar.

orange blossom yogurt cake

  • 200g flour (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 5g baking powder (1 1/4 teaspoon)

  • 1.5g baking soda (1/4 teaspoon)

  • 3g salt (1/2 teaspoon)

  • 2 large room temperature eggs (110g)

  • 55g melted and cooled butter (half a stick/4 tablespoons)

  • 150g granulated sugar (3/4 cup)

  • 170g plain yogurt (3/4 cup)**

  • 15g orange blossom water (1 tablespoon)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F convection (177° C).

  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl.

  3. Beat the eggs and butter together until they are very well incorporated. Then add the sugar, yogurt, and orange blossom water, and beat to combine well.

  4. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture, and stir together just until everything is combined. It won't be completely smooth, and there might be some tiny lumps; this is completely fine. Don’t over-mix!

  5. Carefully pour the batter over the figs, smooth out the top a little bit with a spatula, and bake for about 30 minutes. It's done once you can insert a toothpick into the center and batter doesn't stick to it.

  6. Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes in the cake pan. Then trace around the edge with a butter knife to make sure it's loosened from the pan. Place a plate or cake-stand upside-down over the cake. Put on your grippiest oven mitts, and hold the plate and cake together so that your thumbs are underneath the cake pan. Carefully and quickly rotate it away from yourself and give it a quick up-and-down shake to release the cake from the pan. Remove the pan, slice, and serve.

* If you can’t find small figs, you can use larger ones. Just make sure you cut them into about 1/2-inch slices instead of cutting them in half. To get the same look as these photos, slice the figs along their equators instead of stem to end.

** If you have Greek yogurt, you can substitute it here, but make sure you water it down slightly before measuring (using either a little milk or water). It needs to be the approximate consistency of plain, unstrained yogurt (Greek yogurt doesn’t have as much moisture).

orange blossom fig upside down cake
orange blossom fig upside down cake

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