“Whoah,” you’re probably thinking, “am I on drugs? What’s going on here? That picture, it’s so good, so professional, so unlike any picture I’ve ever seen on this blog before. What gives?!”
I’ll tell you what gives: I didn’t take that picture! (Collective gasp.) No, that picture was taken by my new best friend for the next year or so. Say hello to Elizabeth Leitzell (here’s the link to her website), the new snapshot photographer who’ll be coming along with me taking pictures of me cooking with famous chefs for the cookbook I’m writing for Artisan. Last week, I cooked a dinner for her and my book intern Tyla Fowler (the blogger behind Without a Microwave) as a gesture of good will before the cookbook work begins.
Here’s a picture I took (as if you couldn’t tell) of our distinguished guests; Elizabeth on the left, Tyla on the right:
The rest of these pictures are Lizzie’s (her preferred nickname.)
To start, I served my new favorite appetizer–something I picked up at Franny’s–of sugar snap peas on a bed of whipped ricotta (I’ll blog about that separately next week.) The entree was one of my go-to staples, Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic:
I served it with cous cous and the guests were happy. Even Lolita seemed to approve:
But the star of the show was the strawberry shortcake, actually a “Strawberry Country Cake” from one of my Barefoot Contessa books:
The strawberries, which are now right in season, came from the Union Square Greenmarket and they were small and jammy and just perfect little specimens. I washed them and prepped them before everyone got there:
If they weren’t as sweet as they were, I might’ve sprinkled them with a little sugar as they sat, but these didn’t need it.
As for the actual cake, this is a pretty wonderful recipe. It makes two cakes and that’s perfect because you pop the other one in your freezer (after wrapping it well in plastic) and if, as happened to me, you have company coming over a few days later, you defrost it, slice it through the middle, fill it with cream and berries and you’ve got an instant, impressive dessert.
These cakes have a terrific texture too (perhaps from the cornstarch?); an almost crunchy outer layer, and a buttery inner layer. And the lemon zest and orange zest add a lot, so don’t skip them.
Here’s how you make it.
Strawberry Country Cake
from The Barefoot Contessa Parties!
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
For the filling for each cake:
1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy cream, chilled
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter the bottom of two 8-inch cake pans. Then line them with parchment paper and butter and flour the lined pans.
Cream the butter and sugar on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, then the sour cream, zests, and vanilla, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix well. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and combine just until smooth.
Pour the batter evenly into the pans, smooth the tops, and bake in the center of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then remove to wire racks and let cool to room temperature. If using 1 cake, wrap the second well and freeze.
To make the filling for one cake, whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until firm. Slice one of the cakes in half with a long, sharp knife. Place the bottom slice of the cake on a serving platter, spread with 1/2 the whipped cream and scatter with sliced strawberries.
Cover with the top slice of the cake and spread with the remaining cream. Decorate with strawberries and serve.
Those are some gorgeous pictures and that’s one terrific cake. Thanks, Lizzie, for letting me post them on my blog; and thanks, Ina, for another killer recipe.