April 3, 2012
Strawberry Equinox

Two weeks ago we had a mess of friends over to celebrate vernal equinox.  Equinox parties are something my parents have done since we were young and I figured it was about time I carried the baton.  First of all, who doesn’t like a good party and the coming of spring?  Secondly, who the hell has ever heard of an equinox party?  Precisely.  While others vie for attention on say New Year’s Eve or the Fourth of July, equinox is virtually wide open on everyone’s calendar.  Double score.

I put the landlord in the poor house with the copious amount of booze I bought.  (Whoopsies.)  I’m pretty sure the dude at the liquor store thought I was throwing a frat rager.  All we were missing was the keg.

As for munchies, I put together a smorgasbord of tasties: a gorgeous array of cheeses, charcuterie, plump honey-injected apricots, assorted nuts, olives and pappadew peppers, deviled eggs, radish coins paired with parmesan, spicy date and lemon spread, fig and olive tapenade, sun-dried tomato pesto, and no shortage of baguettes and crackers to slather with all of the above.  I made almost everything myself, shy of the meats and cheeses and assorted accoutrements.

For the sweet tooths I made chocolate chip and lemon cookies and piled them high on virtually every surface in the apartment.  Who doesn’t love a cookie to wash down their bourbon?

The crowning glory of the evening was the strawberry cake, whose very existence the landlord was against from the get-go.  “No one will eat it.  What if it’s dry?  Who eats fruit desserts?  Why cake?”  But my mind was made up.  I wanted something sweet and spring-like and a bit different and special.  Yummy as brownies are, they’re not particularly attractive or unique.  I wanted something memorable.  This cake delivered.

Essentially a vanilla cake with fresh strawberries baked into the top, this cake is simple and straightforward.  The ratio of effort to reward is well in its favor.

About an hour into the party, someone said they couldn’t take it any longer and could they dive in?  So I sliced this baby up and passed it around — it really is beautiful and alluring.  Guess who came up to me almost giddy with approval.  “You have to try it.  It’s moist and sweet and perfectly baked — it’s amazing.”  Mmhmm.  High praise from the chocolate lover.

It’s basically the cake you want to give to someone to showcase ripe spring or summer fruit as well as your baking prowess.  What?  Sometimes it’s good to impress people.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup spelt flour (can substitute barley or all-purpose flours)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a 10-inch pie plate or a deep 9-inch pie plate.  The cake will also work in a 9- or 10-inch springform pan but will not work in a regular 9-inch pie plate (it will overflow).

Whisk flours, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.  In another bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes.  Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined.  Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until smooth.

Pour mixture into buttered pie plate.  Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter in a single layer.  Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 325°F and bake until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes.  Cool completely on a rack.  Serve with lightly whipped cream or a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

So. Crazy. Good.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

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