Perhaps coming by its name through a translation error, or maybe an evolution of an earlier Western recipe, Japanese strawberry shortkeki bears little resemblance to the dessert of the same name eaten across America and the UK, and has grown to become the nation’s most widely purchased cake. A celebration, no matter how small, would be incomplete without a gleaming snowy-white, cream-covered, red berry studded shortcake; it is even the Christmas cake of choice and a flood of signs reminding you to order yours pop up in bakeries from October onwards.
The cake is, in its purest form, an incredibly light and fluffy genoise sponge in two or three layers, filled with silky whipped cream and juicy strawberries, and iced with more of the same. The success of such a simply presented cake depends greatly on the quality of its ingredients: enormous, fragrant Amaou strawberries from Fukuoka, the finest eggs from free range chickens fed on speciality grains, the richest, tastiest cream from Hokkaido, and flour and sugar with refined flavours far surpassing those you would normally expect from basic ingredients. Getting hold of Fukuokan berries in England is nigh on impossible, we’re in luck though since Britain grows some of the finest strawberries in the world and the first crops are just starting to come into season, meaning right now is the perfect time to enjoy this most Disney princess-like of confections.
Sponge cake ingredients.
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 175g caster sugar
- 165g low gluten flour/bun flour
- 80ml milk
- 50g salted butter
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- Line the bottom and sides of a deep, 20cm fixed base cake tin with greaseproof paper. Don’t grease the paper or tin as the cake batter needs to be able to ‘grip’ onto something in order to rise well. Preheat the oven to 170°C, using only top and bottom heat rather than fan-assisted if you have the option.
- Put the milk and butter into a small saucepan and warm over a low heat until the butter has melted. Add the vanilla extract, then set aside and allow to cool slightly.
- Whisk the egg whites at a low speed in an electric mixer until they start to become foamy, then add half of the sugar and increase the speed to high for thirty seconds until the sugar is incorporated; add the remaining sugar and continue to whisk at a high speed until the meringue starts to become glossy and firm. Turn the mixer speed down to low and whisk until the egg whites have reached firm peak stage- finishing the meringue at a slow speed helps to break down any larger bubbles in the foam, ensuring that the finished cake is smooth and fine textured.
- Beat the egg yolks then add them to the whites, mixing at a low speed until they are fully combined. Sift the flour into the egg mixture, and fold it in gently by hand using a spatula. Slowly add the cooled milk and melted butter into the batter, continuously folding the mixture gently as before. When all the milk is mixed in, pour the batter into the lined cake tin, drop the tin onto the counter a couple of times to remove any large air bubbles and place it into the preheated oven.
- When the cake has cooked for 45 minutes and is a golden brown colour on top, test the cake with a skewer to check that it is fully cooked; if not, bake for a further five minutes. Take the cake out of the oven and immediately drop the tin again onto the counter from a height of around 30cm to prevent the cake from shrinking. Leave for a few minutes until the cake pan is cool enough to handle, then remove the cake from the tin and peel off the greaseproof paper. Place the cake on a rack, then cover with a piece of damp- but well-squeezed out- kitchen roll and leave to cool completely.
Strawberry shortcake ingredients.
- Cake from above recipe
- 300g strawberries
- 500ml double cream
- 40g icing sugar
- Pour the cream into a large bowl and whip until it has become thick and frothy. Add the icing sugar and whip again until the sugar is completely mixed in and the cream forms soft peaks.
- Wipe the strawberries clean with a damp cloth then dry carefully; remove and discard the leaves and hulls of the fruit and slice them in half lengthwise.
- Cut the cake into two even halves then, using a palette knife, smear a thick layer of the whipped cream onto the the bottom half of the cake. Arrange half of the strawberries on top of the cream saving the most attractive berries for later, then add more whipped cream and top with the upper half of the cake.
- Spread more cream on the top and sides of the cake, smoothing to an even layer, then decorate with the remaining halved strawberries and piped rosettes of whipped cream.
- Refrigerate the strawberry shortcake for about an hour to help the cream firm up slightly before serving.
Serves 8 people.