Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July Daring Bakers' Challenge - Fraisier

Man, it has been hot recently! Seriously, record breaking heat in these parts. What could be better, in the midst of a heat wave, than a Daring Bakers' Challenge?

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

The fraisier has three main components - the cake, the filling and the fruit. As the name of the dessert is derived from the French word for strawberry, that is the most traditional fruit to use. The final dessert consists of two layers of cake, each of which is brushed with simple syrup, and between which is a layer of cream and a decorative arrangement of strawberries.

Aside from the actual baking and construction of this dessert, it was evident after reading through the recipe and directions that time management would be a very important factor in creating the fraisier. To help myself, I gave myself two days to complete this challenge.

Day one involved making the chiffon cake and the pastry cream.

Chiffon cakes, as I tend to describe them, are kind of a cross between a regular (batter) cake and an angel food (foamy, made from whipped egg whites) cake. It is a very light, very lovely kind of cake. Making the chiffon cake is straightforward, but requires precision, lots of bowls, and the ability to separate eggs. I thought I had all three. But apparently my egg separating skills decided to take a vacation that day. Seriously frustrating. It took, I kid you not, nine eggs (and a not insignificant amount of angry muttering) in order to yield the three egg yolks and five egg whites required by this recipe. On the bright side, we had delicious omelets for breakfast the next day.

Anyway, once the eggs were separated, little miss helped me to first mix the dry ingredients, then the wet. The only modification that I made to the recipe was to make it a vanilla chiffon cake, replacing the lemon zest called for in the recipe with the seeds of a vanilla bean.

Then we combined the wet and dry ingredients to create our base batter.

Batter mixed, it was time to carefully incorporate the stiffly-beaten egg whites.

The resulting batter was beautifully light and airy. Quickly and carefully, the batter was poured into a springform pan.

About 50 minutes in the oven and voila!

And, to my relief, the cake didn't even deflate after being removed from the oven, which sometimes happens to these delicate and temperamental cakes. Yay!

We set the cake aside to cool and got to work on our pastry cream. Following the modification that I'd made to the chiffon cake recipe, I added the pod from the vanilla bean in to my pot of milk as it heated, to infuse the milk, and thus the pastry cream, with extra vanilla flavor.

The scalded milk was then added to my mixer, in which eggs and sugar were actively being whisked. The mixture was then to be returned to the saucepan in order to cook and thicken. I am not sure if I was whisking on too high a speed or what, but when the hot milk was carefully added into the eggs and sugar, the resulting mixture became very, very foamy.

At this point, I was a little nervous as to whether my pastry cream would even out and become, well, cream, but within a few minutes, everything looked much more as I'd hoped they would.

Once the pastry cream was removed from the heat, the final step was to whisk in some butter, which, from what I have read, is traditional for pastry creams prepared especially for fraisiers.

Cake cooling, pastry cream covered with plastic wrap and placed into the fridge, day one of the fraisier challenge was finally complete.

The next morning, I awoke refreshed and ready to go on day two of this challenge.

To begin with, I made the simple syrup that would be brushed onto the layers of chiffon cake during the construction of the dessert. Like the cake and the pastry cream, I decided to up the vanilla flavor by adding a split vanilla bean to the sugar and water in the pot.

While the syrup cooled, I prepared the rest of my components for the construction phase.

The pastry cream was stabilized with softened gelatin, and then combined with freshly whipped cream to create a very light cream.

Next, the chiffon cake needed to be sliced in half to create two even layers. On my sister's suggestion, I used toothpicks to serve as a guide from my knife, then carefully cut around the cake.

I then prepared the strawberries themselves, washing, stemming, hulling and slicing them.

And then it was time to build.

The bottom cake layer was brushed with simple syrup:

And then a ring of strawberries was carefully arranged around the perimeter of the cake.

Using a piping bag (okay, a ziploc bag with the corner cut off), a layer of cream was piped around the strawberries:

And then more cream was piped onto the cake to cover the bottom layer.

On top of the cream, I sprinkled a layer of smaller cut strawberries.

And then came another layer of cream, which I smoothed over the whole thing to create a flat surface.

The second chiffon cake layer was carefully placed onto that flat cream surface, then brushed with more of the vanilla simple syrup.

The recipe called for the cake to then be covered with a disc of almond paste. I am not a big fan of almond paste, so I opted instead to use more of the whipped cream-pastry cream to cover my cake, and to use more halved strawberries for decoration.

To fill the middle of the cake, I decided to create a flower type design out of chocolate. I melted down some chocolate chips in a double boiler, then started drawing out designs. Little miss, never one to miss out on an opportunity to play with food, decided to help me draw with the chocolate. She said she had a special message for us. Look what she wrote:

So proud of that kid.

The tray of chocolate designs went into the fridge to cool, and, by the time we were ready to bring the dessert over to my in-laws' for that evening's dinner, I was pretty proud of the final results.

As impressed as the family was upon seeing the dessert in the pan, the reaction to the cake being unmolded was wonderful.

And as for the taste? Wow. This is an absolutely wonderful dessert. Each component on its own was delicious, but all together, the whole was even better than the sum of its parts. Neither the cake nor the cream was overly sweet, which made it very pleasant to eat, and also allowed the fresh, wonderful flavor of the strawberries to shine. The chiffon cake was deliciously light and the dessert was a huge hit.

Jana, I can't thank you enough for this wonderful challenge. I don't know that I ever would have had the courage to try such an ambitious dessert without this challenge, and the result was a cake more impressive than I ever would have believed came from my own kitchen. Thank you so much!

To see the other amazingly beautiful cakes baked in the Daring Kitchen this month, check them out here.


  1. Hey Shelley!
    You did an extraordinary job on the Fraisier, everything was perfect, the chiffon cake (I don't recall seeing one that did not deflate at all!), the perfectly decorated sides and the touch of chocolate were amazing. Your little miss is such a cutie!

  2. Your in-laws are very lucky people! I agree that when all the components come together, the cake is just heavenly. Your chiffon sponge looks so fluffy and light, and the decoration is beautiful. :)

  3. I almost always go for the chocolate desserts, and then get overwhelmed by too much chocolate (Evan teases me about this all the time). This cake, though, might change my mind. Looks fantastically delicious and beautiful to boot.

  4. Wow everything in perfection, neatly done and step pictures are too too good. The outcome is amazingly beautiful.

  5. Your challenge turned out beautifully! I'm gonna remember that "toothpick trick" next time I have to cut a cake in half. =)
    Happy Wednesday!
    Cookin' for my Captain

  6. I love your chocolate flower on top! That looks beautiful. Nice job on the challenge!

  7. I can't believe you were able to get such a perfect cake! Great job! I'm sure it tasted wonderful with all that vanilla in it! It sure looks delicious!Love your step by steps pics too! I'm so impressed when people are able to make such wonderful looking things AND take pictures at the same time! Thanks for the great comment on mine!

  8. Thanks for the tip about using toothpicks as a guide when cutting the cake! I am super impressed with your chiffon cake - mine got all cracked on top. Your final result looks delicious and I love the swirly chocolate on top! And great in-progress photos, too - they tell a nice story :)

  9. Wow- your chiffon cake came out of the oven perfectly even- good work!. Your step by step photos are really nice as well.
    Best, Sandie

  10. Great job on this challenge. Love you chocolate design on top.

  11. You did an amazing job Shelly..
    I have never seen a chiffon that did not deflate and the decorations on top look so elegant..
    the message your little one wrote was heart warming :)

  12. Lovely job!

    Yes, most pastry creams will foam like that when you reheat them to thicken them up. All you can do is keep stirring and stirring, eventually it goes away.}:P

  13. Great process photos and your finished cake looks amazing! It's been extremely hot here too, and you're right, this was the perfect dessert. I can't wait to make one with raspberries.

  14. Superb post as always - your fraiser looks wonderful and thanks for the toothpick tip, I'll try that :)

  15. Beautiful! Love the chocolate decor on top!

  16. That's a beautiful cake! Love looking at your step by step pictures, great job!

  17. Shelley,loved your decorations, looks very yummy

  18. I was eyeing your cake on the DB site before we launched the post. Your flower design with chocolate is pretty and the addition of vanilla bean I'm sure was extra tasty.

  19. Your Fraisier is beuatifully decorated and presented. I would so like a slice of it now!

  20. Beautiful job, Shelley!! Your frasier is just stunning, and I love that you infused vanilla into every component! Well done!!

  21. Your fraisier turned out perfect and the photos are awesome! Those chocolate designs are lovely, but not as lovely a 'Mom Dad' by your little helper. SO sweet! The heat wave was soo awful, even melted my carrot cake frosting, the rosette piping keeling over and plopping off or melting into itself! Regardless, your fraisier was not marred one bit by it..absolutely exquisite!

  22. Wow!! Shelley! What an incredible job on this challenge - your cake looked absolutely perfect and I love the chocolate design you made to go on top of the dessert. It really finished the fraisier off beautifully! :)

  23. Gorgeous cake! I love the chocolate design on top and I HAVE to remember the toothpick trick for cutting the cake in half.

    As for the egg separation, that happens to all of us on the best of days! Glad to see it worked out properly after 9 of them :D

  24. Simply gorgeous! I love the step-by-step photos too.:)

  25. Love the decoration and the little tips you give along the way (especially the toothpics). Bravo!

  26. wooo... amazing step-by-step pictures!! Strawberry's the best :D

  27. Your cake is so light and fluffy. Looks great!

  28. Very beautifully decorated, adore the chocolate flower at the top!


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