Strawberry Cake

It may be a tad early but since strawberries are emerging left and right at the markets these days, it would be fair to admit that strawberry season is upon us.  Last week, I had boxes and boxes of strawberries greeting me at the market entrance.  Most of them are already big, beautiful and crimson, though their perfume and sweetness are rather subdued.  Strawberries are not at the peak of their season just yet, but they definitely shine in this Strawberry Cake. 
Growing up, my grandparents’ garden was vastly populated with gorgeous rows of strawberries.  And every spring I would peek underneath each strawberry patch savagely foraging for the ripest and most perfect exemplars.  The strawberries would reveal themselves like hidden treasures, which only made my thrill and enthusiasm almost palpable.  Now, if you assumed that these splendid fruits found their place into my grandmother’s Strawberry Cake, you would be totally wrong.  In fact, they were all reserved for the express purpose of eating them fresh.
That’s right!  So, this cake, although similar in shape with this glorious summer sensation, is known in my grandmother’s repertoire as a Sour Cherry Cake.  I just couldn’t wait for sour cherries to come into season and decided that strawberries would be the perfect substitute; and they were indeed.   
First, the strawberries are soaked and lightly sweetened in glossy agave nectar; then the exquisite bright red slices speckle the top, and while in the oven they descend slowly into the warm batter.  Out of the oven, the strawberries, just like the sour cherries, still maintain a delicate tartness that plays beautifully against the sweetness of the moist and light dough.  When I first made this cake, I didn’t know what to expect or how the strawberries would hold their shape and aroma; but it was all I hoped it would be – a charming, one for the ages Strawberry Cake!                       
Strawberry Cake
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki
Serves: 32 squares
·         1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
·         1 kilogram (2 pounds) fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
·         2 Tablespoons light agave syrup
·         400 grams (14 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
·         8 grams (2 teaspoons) baking powder
·         6 large eggs, at room temperature
·         400 grams (14 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         100 ml vegetable oil
·         100 ml tap water, at room temperature
·         1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Coat the bottom and sides of a 14 x10 x 2-inch baking pan with butter and flour.
In a small bowl, mix the strawberries and agave syrup and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Then drain the extra syrup from the strawberries.  Keep close at hand.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.  Set aside. 
Separate the egg yolks and egg whites.  In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer on medium-low speed beat the egg yolks, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract for about 2-3 minutes until all the ingredients are well incorporated and the color is light yellow.  Gradually and with the hand mixer on low speed, add the vegetable oil and then the water until well incorporated.  In batches, add the flour and baking powder mixture and beat until incorporated.   
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites and salt on medium-high speed until they hold medium-firm peaks.  In batches, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.   
Pour the obtained batter into the prepared pan.  Arrange the strawberries on top.  Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown, a tester comes out clean and the fruits have submerged into the dough.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack.  Slice the cake into squares and carefully take the squares out of the pan and arrange them on a serving platter.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and enjoy! 
Note:  Feel free to use sour cherries instead of strawberries when sour cherries come into season.  You won’t regret it! 
Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

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