Strawberry Mirror Cake: The Challenge

When we last left our heroine, she was recovering from a harrowing trek home from the farmer’s market with a flat of strawberries and herbs and an excitable German shepherd pup. As it turned out, I had several days to recuperate. The springform arrived on Monday, and I was all set to bake—just in time for the hottest day of the year. By this point, Jeremy had finished sanding and cleaning the floors, and had moved on to varnishing. All our windows and doors were open to facilitate curing and prevent asphyxiation from fumes. The 104-degree heat was just wafting in and out of the house like a convection oven. Needless to say, I chickened out and couldn’t bring myself to turn the oven on. Some Daring Baker I am!

The next day I tried to talk Jeremy into taking me to the store for more whipping cream, but he wanted to wait until it cooled off outside, and by that time his All-Star Game had started. Coincidence? I think not. We didn’t leave for the store until after 10pm, and there was clearly no time left for baking at that point, not to mention that it was still 84 degrees inside and out. The following day, Wednesday, brought Freyja’s first obedience training class, smack in the middle of the evening. I was starting to get really anxious, as my strawberries were starting to look sad and over-ripe, so I made Jeremy get us take-out for dinner on Thursday and settled in to bake that mirror cake or die trying. My dear husband did the smart thing and barricaded himself in the air-conditioned bedroom with the dog and his Playstation 2 while I worked.

The sponge cake was easy to make. I couldn’t find a ruler or measuring tape because of the post-refurbishment chaos, and I spent some time fretting over whether I had the right size jelly roll and the best way to make a correctly-sized template for cutting. Everything worked out fine, though: the cake browned and sprang back after 7 minutes, released perfectly from the pan onto my counter, and was cut into two circles without tearing. I tossed the scraps in a container for later snacking and lovingly centered one layer in my brand-new springform pan.

Sponge cake layers

The Bavarian cream was the thing I was most concerned about making. Clearly it was the single-most important element of the cake, and I kept having visions of the cake whooshing into a pink puddle the moment I unmolded it. Strained strawberry puree sprinkled with gelatin…check. Scalded whole milk…check. Beaten yolks and sugar, tempered with milk and kept beneath the boil…check. Separating custard…check…oh wait, that’s not good! It was just starting to curdle, so I quickly pulled it off the heat and beat it with the whisk attachment of my stick blender. (And let me tell you, that attachment was a lifesaver for this project. I used it more than my stand mixer, and it’s easier to hang onto one-handed than my old hand mixer.) The custard didn’t seem to be a lost cause, so in it went with the strawberry puree-gelatin and another blast of the whisk because darned if that gelatin didn’t set up and get all chunky. It almost looked more curdled after I mixed it all together, but I had faith and plunked the thing down in an ice bath.

While it cooled and set up, I did some cleaning, made soaking syrup, whipped my cream, and sliced up my remaining strawberries for the mirror. I barely had enough, and although many of them had over-ripe soft spots that meant they were no good for eating out of hand, I told myself they would do just fine in their juiced and pureed states…Meanwhile, the Bavarian stuff had set. It seemed to be about the texture described, but there was no way it was going to fold politely into the whipped cream, so out came the stick blender whisk again. Much better! Still, it was thick enough that I started getting paranoid that the Bavarian would solidify before I could spread it over the cake, so I got a move on with the assembly. Very straightforward, though I couldn’t tell how thick my middle layer ended up, or how well the Bavarian filled the space around the sides of the cake, or even how level my layers were. No matter—in the fridge it went.

Bavarian and strawberry mirror

While I waited for the strawberry juice to collect, I proudly smeared a scrap of cake with some leftover Bavarian and brought it in for Jeremy to taste-test. Maybe that was a bad idea. He took a bite, looked at me sheepishly, and handed the rest back, clearly loath to tell me that he didn’t like it. I eventually coerced him into admitting that he didn’t care for the strawberry flavor of the Bavarian and slumped dejectedly back to the kitchen to check on my strawberry juice. When the cake had been in the fridge for an hour or two, and the Bavarian had set up, I got the mirror ready to go. I stood there peering at the little bowl in its ice bath, stirring it more than was strictly necessary and willing it to get syrupy. At this point it was 12:15am, and I’d been working since about 8pm.

It never did get syrupy, but once it cooled down to the point that it was below room temperature, I decided it wasn’t in danger of dissolving the Bavarian, crossed my fingers, and poured. Then I had to carry the darn thing across the kitchen and get it in the fridge without sloshing, which was an anxiety-fraught walk, let me tell you. Somehow I managed it, and dragged myself off to bed. The entire night was spent dreaming of soupy, lumpy Bavarian, and discovering a strawberry juice lake on top of my cake in the morning.

Mirror cake ready to be unmolded

I decided to take the cake to work with me because there was no way I was going to eat that entire thing myself: there’s nearly a pint of cream and a dozen eggs in there! I want to live to make the August Daring Bakers challenge. I unmolded the cake at home before transportation, gently wrapping the springform with warm towels (dampened and zapped in the microwave for a minute) and running a butter knife around the edges of the mirror twice. Then the moment of truth was upon me—I held my breath—and ever so slowly, the cake released from the mold and didn’t look half bad. Getting it onto the cake stand base was another breathless moment, then the careful application of the carrier top, and I could breathe again. I was too emotionally exhausted to bother with any additional decoration on this one, though I had considered some options before Jeremy denounced it.

Strawberry Mirror Cake

That afternoon at work, I asked folks to come in and try it out, and made a little event of it. It held up well, looked gorgeous and relatively well-balanced, and was really easy to slice, which surprised me a little. It seemed to be received well by the folks who came by for the tasting, but then my co-workers are all really polite. Even Jeremy said he liked it better than he had the previous night, but he only ate a few bites; I really appreciate that he came over to my office and tried it again in public, for the sake of solidarity. I came home with a third of the cake left, and did my best to finish it off, but I don’t think Bavarian cream is really my thing.

To conclude this massive tome, I am so glad I had a chance to try making this mirror cake. I never would have considered making something like it if I hadn’t joined the Daring Bakers. This was my first experience making virtually all the components of the cake, and I think—though having never tasted one before, I can’t be certain—that my execution was pretty good for a first shot. I followed the recipe as closely as I possibly could, though I admit I omitted the foil-covered cardboard (that’s why I like glass-bottomed springform pans), and the food coloring and alcohol also.

Ready to eat

I can’t wait to see everyone else’s cakes. Bring on the August Challenge!

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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