Friday, June 29, 2012


Roasted strawberries! I had never heard of such a thing before, but of course it makes perfect sense. (More sense than strawberry pizza, anyway.) After a sojourn in the oven with sweetness-boosting syrup and savoriness-boosting oil and salt (I know it feels weird to be putting oil and salt on berries, but just roll with it), they break down into a magical, deeply concentrated, intoxicatingly perfumed, almost jammy concoction that’s then tossed in balsamic vinegar for a final flavorful coup de grace. Is there any food that can’t be improved by roasting? I don’t want to know the answer to that.

This recipe from Joy the Baker isn’t perfect, or at least my execution of it wasn’t, but it won me over nonetheless. The strawberries came out wonderfully, although given the volume of the cake I would be tempted to use even more of them next time; the result was more “cake with occasional strawberry” than “strawberry cake.” The cake itself doesn’t contain a lot of butter or sugar, which is great, but my batter turned out worrisomely thick and floury-tasting (I’m an inveterate batter-sampler and usually think it tastes even better than the cooked version, but this one was not very delicious). I’m fully willing to believe that I mismeasured the flour—I do remember being in a rush and resorting to the scooping method rather than the more accurate spoon-in-and-level—but it still made me nervous. When the cake had cooled I cut myself a slice and was underwhelmed. I loved the roasted strawberries, but overall the cake seemed too dense and blah. I stuck the rest of the cake in the fridge and went to bed, telling myself that I’d just have to roast strawberries and eat them in other ways (on yogurt? over ice cream?) while sticking with my favorite tender, moist, lemon-spiked berry buttermilk cake.

The next day, I tried another slice and…it was pretty good! I know that many foods are tastier the next day, but I don’t usually think of cake as one of them. While it still wasn’t ultra-flavorful, the cake now seemed like a worthy vehicle for the strawberries, and I suddenly liked it enough to revise my initial “not worth making again” judgment. Over the next couple of days, I even found myself savoring a slice for breakfast (with a wholesome side dish of yogurt), and I have never been a cake-for-breakfast eater, not even doughnuts or muffins or cinnamon rolls or other socially accepted cake-like foods. That should give you an idea of how not-very-sweet this cake is. I grew to like its not-sweetness, and even its sturdiness, which kept the berries from sinking to the bottom. Maybe it was Stockholm syndrome, but by the time the cake was gone, I’d decided I would definitely make it again. Maybe even specifically for breakfast.

I made no changes to the recipe beyond using a few more strawberries (I’ll use even more next time, possibly even doubling the whole roasted-strawberry recipe), baking it in a 12-inch skillet instead of an 11-inch, because that’s what I’ve got (the cake still seemed plenty thick, regardless), and using granulated sugar on top because I didn’t have turbinado (it was fine, although I’m sure turbinado would add more crunch). I used vanilla but might try almond next time to see if it adds a more discernible flavor (or maybe I’ll use both). Next time, as I mentioned, I’ll measure my flour more carefully and err on the scant side. I’m also tempted to throw all the strawberries onto the cake before baking, instead of adding half then and half later, because that didn’t seem to make much difference in flavor or texture.

8 ounces (or more) medium strawberries, hulled
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pinch of salt + ½ teaspoon, divided
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1½ cups buttermilk
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar (or just granulated sugar) for topping

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. (The strawberries get juicy, so a rimmed baking sheet is important.)

2. In a large bowl, whisk together maple syrup, olive oil, and salt until completely incorporated. Cut each strawberry in half and place in the bowl. Toss well until each strawberry is coated. Arrange strawberries in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.

3. Roast strawberries for 40 minutes. (The juices will thicken, but remove the strawberries from the oven before the juices begin to burn.) Remove the berries and juice from the pan while still warm. Place in a small bowl, stir in balsamic vinegar, and set aside.

4. Increase oven heat to 400 degrees. Butter an 11- or 12-inch cast-iron skillet. (You can also use an 11-inch round tart or quiche pan, or a 9×13-inch pan, although the cake will be thinner and you’ll need to keep a close eye on it in the oven.)

5. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

6. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and butter. Whisk in the vanilla or almond extract.

7. Add the buttermilk mixture all at once to the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined and no lumps remain. Spoon batter into the prepared pan and top with half of the roasted strawberries and juice. Sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.

8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. (Keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t overcook and dry out.) Allow cake to cool to room temperature before slicing to serve. Serve with the remaining roasted strawberries on top.

Serves: About 8
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: OK; cake will last in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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