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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strawberry sumac pie

strawberry sumac pie

A few weeks ago, I shared my recipe for halva cardamom banana cream pie, and declared this my summer of pies. But as it turns out, this isn’t so much the summer of pies as it is the summer of strawberry rhubarb alternatives. First, there was the late-spring combination of strawberry and jarareng, and now I’m posting this strawberry sumac one, inspired in large part by Majed Ali’s cherry sumac date molasses pie and Jerrelle Guy’s strawberry sumac granola tart. As it turns out, sumac is a great way to add some bright berry-like acidity to strawberries, which tend to get that very dull *McDonalds strawberry syrup flavor* when cooked for a long time.

While rhubarb is the more typical antidote to the cooked strawberry dulness, I just never seem to find it. Or, more accurately, I never seem to stumble upon it. In Hong Kong, it’s usually only available through restaurant suppliers or ridiculously fancy supermarkets, and when I’m visiting Chicago, I spend most of my shopping time loitering in the Ziyad aisle of local supermarkets and making quick runs to Trader Joe’s and Target.

Sumac, on the other hand, is available year round, it pretty much never goes bad, it’s something you should have in your kitchen at all times, and it works beautifully in desserts. Sprinkle it on mango slices, make a mountain of fattoush with every meal, and bake this pie for those times when you just don’t feel like making a special trip for a bundle of rhubarb.

strawberry sumac pie
strawberry sumac pie
strawberry sumac pie
strawberry sumac pie

strawberry sumac pie

serves 8
active time: 1 hour
total time: 3 hours 45 minutes
download a
PDF to print


  • 400g all purpose flour (about 3 cups)

  • 7g salt (1 teaspoon)

  • 230g cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks (2 sticks)

  • 120g cold plain yogurt (1/2 cup)

  • 30g cold water (2 tablespoons)

  1. Place the flour, salt, and butter in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse several times, until the butter blends into the flour, and there aren’t any big lumps. Add the yogurt, and pulse 2 or 3 times to distribute. Evenly drizzle on the water. Pulse a few times until it can be squeezed together into a pliable and smooth dough (don’t over-process). If the dough won’t come together, add a few more drops of water at a time.

  2. Shape the dough into 2 equal balls, flatten the balls into discs, cover each with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for just 30 minutes. Work on the filling while you wait.


  • 850g hulled and quartered strawberries (7 cups sliced, from about 900g/2lb whole)

  • 150g light brown sugar (3/4 cup)

  • 20g sumac (3 tablespoons)

  • 1.5g teaspoon salt (1/4 teaspoon)

  • 60g quick cooking minute tapioca (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons)

  • Egg wash: 1 egg yolk beaten with 2 teaspoon cream or water

  1. While the dough chills, combine the berries, brown sugar, sumac, salt, and tapioca, and let it sit for 15 minutes.

  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C) .

  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll a round of chilled dough out to between 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick; it should be quite a bit wider than the pie pan (the dough should be about 13-13.5 inches across).

  4. Once it’s rolled out, gently wrap it around your rolling pin to transfer it to the pie pan. Unroll it onto a 9-inch pie pan and gently press the dough into place so it’s in contact with the entire pan.

  5. Fill the pie shell with the strawberry filling, and spread out into an even layer.

  6. Roll out the other disc of dough into a rounded-off rectangle that’s about 11x13 inches (1/8- to 1/4-inch thick). Cut it into 6 2-inch-wide strips.

  7. Assemble the lattice top: First, place 3 strips going in one direction, with narrow gaps in between them (use shorter strips for the 2 sides). Then fold back every other strip and place another strip perpendicular to them near the edge of the pie. Drape the lifted strips back over the perpendicular strip. Repeat, alternating which of the parallel strips are lifted, adding the next perpendicular strip each time, until the whole pie is covered.

  8. Dab a bit of egg wash under each strip of lattice, to make sure it stays connected to the crust. Use scissors to trim away the excess crust (crimp it if you’d like, or don’t if you prefer this look), and place the pie in the freezer for about 10 minutes (or the refrigerator for about 30).

  9. Once the dough is firm to the touch, brush with the egg wash, and bake for 15 minutes at 400°F (205°C).

  10. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for another hour. If the edges of the crust start to brown too quickly, use a crown of tin foil for the last 20 minutes of baking.

  11. Place the pie on a cooling rack for at least 2 hours, until it comes to room temperature.

strawberry sumac pie

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