In French, ‘fraise’ means ‘strawberry’. That said, this is probably the only thing we know for sure about this cake – and the fact it is delicious, ça va sans dire. Its origin, unlike many classical pastries and cakes, is very much shrouded in mystery. You will come across several variations on the subjects which are not just limited to the overall shape (round, square or rectangular), but also to the number of sponge layers and to the decoration on the top. There are, however, some features which need to be present in a Fraisier cake. First of all, the sponge layers are made of a very light génoise, which is not your conventional Victoria sponge but, rather, a much lighter and fluffier sponge. Then, the filling needs to be crème mousseline, a very thick and buttery pastry cream. Last but not least, there needs to be some marzipan somewhere.
The version below is the same one as made on the GBBO by Mary Berry. I chose it because I had always wanted to give it a try and it is easier than you might think. Just some advice: the cream for the filling really needs to be thick as it will hold the strawberries and sponges together. Therefore, ensure you cook it long enough and that the custard is quite thick (but not lumpy) when you are making it. Choose some strawberries which are more or less of the same height, otherwise you will end up with a wonky cake. Not nice. Contrary to what you might think (or what the recipe says), you don’t need acetate to compose the cake. I used some baking parchment and the result was just as good. Final word of advice: please ensure your cake is thoroughly chilled – best overnight – before unmoulding it.
Ingredients (for the génoise sponge)
- 4 large eggs
- 125g caster sugar
- 120g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 50g unsalted butter, melted but cooled
Ingredients (for the crème mousseline)
- 600ml milk
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 4 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks
- 180g golden caster sugar
- 1 tbsp brandy/kirsch
- 100g cornflour
- 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature and cubed
Ingredients (for the lemon syrup)
- 75g caster sugar
- juice of 2 lemons
Ingredients (to assemble)
- about 600g medium strawberries
- 200g marzipan (white or yellow)
- 100g dark chocolate, melted over bain marie
- Roll the marzipan out onto a worktop slightly dusted with icing sugar, then use the bottom of a 23cm springform tin to cut a circle. Slide onto a baking tray and chill until needed. Grease and line the tin with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
- First things first, start with the génoise sponge. There are two ways to do this. Traditionally, a génoise sponge is whisked over a pan of simmering water to help the eggs become more voluminous. However, if you are using a freestanding mixer (KitchenAid or Kenwood), you can simply beat them on very high speed on there and you will get the same effect. Choose what suits you better depending on the equipment you have:
- If you are doing it with a freestanding mixer (my choice), put the eggs and sugar in the bowl of the machine and whisk over high speed for a good 5 minutes, until the mixture is pale, light, fluffy and has at least doubled in volume. To check that the mixture is at the right stage, stop the machine and lift the whisk attachment from the bowl. The mixture should fall back on itself in a ribbon-like way and you should be able to write a figure of 8.
- If you are doing it without a freestanding mixer, put the eggs and sugar in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (but don’t let the water touch the base of the bowl!). Using a hand-held mixer, whisk the mixture until pale, light, fluffy and has at least doubled in volume. To check that the mixture is at the right stage, lift the beaters from the bowl. The mixture should fall back on itself in a ribbon-like way and you should be able to write a figure of 8. Remove from the heat and continue whisking until the mixture has cooled down to room temperature.
- In a bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Sift 2/3 of the flour over the egg mixture, then gently fold in with a rubber spatula or a big metal spoon. You don’t want to add all of the flour at the same time because you risk forming flour pockets. Adding it little by little ensures an even distribution within the sponge. Add the remaining flour and also fold in, ensuring you scrape the bottom of the bowl. Trickle in the melted butter and gently fold in that too. Try and beat the mixture as little as possible to avoid deflating it. I had to make my sponge all over again because my first génoise was very flat.
- Gently transfer the sponge mixture to the prepared tin. If you notice any flour pockets while pouring the mixture, quickly fold that in with the spatula/spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes until pale golden and the sponge shrinks away from the sides. Set aside to cool in the tin while you carry on with the custard. Once completely cooled, remove the sponge from the tin and wash the latter.
- Now, on to the crème mousseline. Bring the milk and the vanilla bean paste (but you can also use a vanilla pod) to the boil, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. In the meantime, combine the sugar and cornflour in a large bowl, then whisk briefly to combine. This ensures the cornflour won’t go lumpy. Add the eggs and egg yolk, then whisk to combine. Set the bowl over a towel (to avoid it wobbling), then gently trickle the milk while gently whisking. Transfer the whole mixture back to the saucepan you have used to warm the milk and put over medium heat. Keep on whisking/stirring to avoid it going lumpy and/or sticking to the bottom. Cook until very thick (it could take up to 10-15 minutes), then remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Add the liqueur. Transfer to a shallow dish and cover with clingfilm to avoid a skin forming on top. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.
- To make the lemon syrup, put the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan, then heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool. Cut about 12 strawberries in halves (but prepare some more just to be on the safe side), then cut the remaining one in quarters but keep some for the decoration on top.
- When you are ready to assemble the cake, gently oil the sides of the springform tin and line with baking parchment (alternatively, you can use an acetate strip). Slice the cake in half horizontally to make two thin even discs. Set one sponge directly cut side up on the bottom of the tin, then brush liberally with the lemon syrup. Arrange the halved strawberries cut side outwards onto the sponge disc and ensure the pointed end is on top. Try to squeeze them as tightly close as possible.
- Transfer the pastry cream to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle, then pipe a spiral over the sponge base in the tin to cover it completely. Pipe between the strawberries to fill in all of the gaps. Spread the quartered strawberries over the crème mousseline, then pipe another spiral of crème on top of the berries and use a palette knife to smooth it.
- Set the other sponge disc on top (cut side down), then brush with the rest of the lemon syrup. Gently press the sponge layer down onto the crème so that the assembled cake is firmly pressed against the sides of the tin. Retrieve the marzipan disc from the fridge and lay on top of the cake, then chill the whole thing for at least 6 hours, better overnight.
- To decorate the top, melt the chocolate over bain marie. I used a mixture of white and dark chocolate, but you can choose to opt for one or the other. When melted, remove the chocolate from the heat and allow to cool, then transfer to a piping bag with a plain tip. Onto a sheet of baking parchment, pipe some chocolate decorations, then transfer to the fridge to firm up.
- Once the cake has thoroughly been chilled, remove it from the fridge and gently ease it out of the tin. Remove the baking parchment, then transfer it onto a serving platter/cake stand. Arrange the chocolate decorations and the remaining strawberries on top, then serve straight away. If you’re not eating it until later, keep the cake chilled. Enjoy!