Somehow, even though we're in the midst of smog alert season complete with the type of humidity that lets every ion of petrol-emitted pong hang in the air like undershirts on the neighbour's washline, everything seems to smell a little better this time of year.
No wait, it's the two kilos of local strawberries I picked up at the farmers' market.
It's amazing how these sweet and juicy little berries can fragrance a space, transforming it from soulless, bean-counter approved and cinder block-reinforced to something that seems a bit more human and a lot more comfortable.
June and July are when the local strawberries ripen, giving all of us a quick boot to the backside as a reminder of what strawberries should taste like. All year long we get imports that don't quite cut the mustard in several respects (flavour, texture, price) so when the local producers and farmers appear with punnets, baskets and flats of fresh and tasty berries, more than a few of us tend to go a little berry happy.
My mindset is such that fresh, ripe fruit generaly doesn't need to be fussed with. Just wash and eat. Maybe with sweetened whipped cream or with some ice cream. I really don't want to cook the fruit. Apart from the temperature, Beelzebub has a nefarious history and present with any food that I really, really, really want to turn out well.
All that said, a good quantity of summer fruits will end up bottled and dosed out by the spoonful. Yes, I'm slowly taking over my parent's freezer with fruits I want to turn into jams and jellies. But that's a few weeks out.
So when faced with a dinner invitation and the realisation I offered to make dessert, I gazed into my basket of berries. It became very obvious: a strawberry sandwich cake. My version is two layers of Victoria Sponge, sandwiching a layer of strawberry sauce and strawberry cream, topped with more strawberry cream and halved, hulled berries. Very simple and very pretty.
Most strawberry cream cakes I've seen use either a whipped cream or a pastry cream filling--the snow white contrasts beautifully against the red of the berry. The strawberry cream I use is based on a cream cheese icing, but made pink by using strawberry sauce. Apart from being a bit girly, the cake's berry quotient is boosted slightly. The cream is looser than a standard frosting, so it's better for a filling or to just ice the top of a cake.
240g cream cheese
60g softened butter
60ml strawberry sauce
50-100g granulated sugar (to taste)
Cream together the cream cheese and butter. Mix in the strawberry sauce. Add as much sugar as you think it needs. Let it sit in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes to stiffen a bit before you use it.