Chiffon layer cake with strawberries and whipped mascarpone frosting

I really am trying to teach my children about healthy eating habits and seasonal produce, I promise. But when my son Attilio, who adores strawberries above anything else, asked for a strawberry cake for his 3rd birthday last week, I couldn’t resist. Why don’t you try explaining the carbon-footprint of using fresh strawberries in January to a three-year-old? This three-year-old in particular has the abnormally large eyes of a puppy dog, and adorably omits the “r”s when asking for a “stwawbewwy cake.”

The only appropriate answer in this case is “of course my little prince, anything you like!” So of course I made the tallest, fluffiest, layer cake I could manage, and stuffed it with fresh strawberries and decorated it whipped-cream mascarpone frosting and colorful sprinkles. The cloud-like, light-yet-moist cake layers are made with a chiffon cake batter, but baked in normal cake pans instead of the traditional chiffon tube pan, and the results are as beautiful as they are delicious.

Needless to say, Attilio was thrilled with his cake and ate all the strawberries off the top of the cake first, before I could even cut it. Social niceties and carbon footprints were the farthest thing from his mind as he licked the icing off his fingers, looked up at me with those puppy-dog eyes and giggled “stwawbewwy cake!”

Chiffon layer cake with strawberries and whipped mascarpone frosting

For the cake layers:

  • 2 1/4 cups (310 g) sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g) superfine or regular sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon (12 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) cold water
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 egg yolks at room temperature
  • 9 egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Filling and frosting:

  • 16 oz (450 g) mascarpone cheese
  • 2 cups (460 g) heavy cream
  • 1 cup (120 g) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 quart (700 g) fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced in half vertically (keep a few whole ones for decorating)
For 1 9-inch layer cake, about 10-12 servings

For the cake layers:

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Have two 9-inch round cake pans ready. Cut out a round of parchment paper to line the bottom of the pan, but do not grease the sides. (Alternatively, this recipe yields on classic tube chiffon cake. Leave the cake pan ungreased, and use one with a removable bottom.)

Sift the flour, 1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar, baking powder and salt together twice into a large bowl.

In a another bowl, beat the yolks, water, oil, zest and vanilla on high speed until smooth. Stir into the flour mixture until smooth. In another large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat (with clean beaters!) the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks are formed. Add the remaining 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar, and beat on high speed until the peaks are stiff but not dry.

Use a rubber spatula to fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture to fluff it up, then fold in the remaining whites. Do so gently, only until the egg whites are no longer visible. Overmixing will deflate the egg whites, and yield a denser, shorter cake.

Scrape the batter into the two prepared pans and spread evenly. Bake them in preheated oven until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean 35-45 minutes.

Let cakes cool on a cooling rack for at least an hour. When completely cool, run a knife around the sides to release, then flip out onto a plate.

For the filling and frosting:

Place the mascarpone in a medium mixing bowl and with an electric wire whip or hand mixer start beating. While beating, add the vanilla extract followed by the confectioners sugar. Slowly add the whipping cream while still beating or whisking until the icing becomes light and fluffy. Gently stir in the grated lemon zest.

Arrange one of the cakes on a serving platter, and scoop a generous amount of the whipped cream onto the surface of the cake and spread it evenly to the edges, with an offset spatula. Arrange the halved strawberries evenly over the whipped cream, pressing gently. Add another layer of cream, spreading to completely cover the berries. Carefully place the other cake on top of the berries and cream. Decorate the cake with the remaining frosting, completely covering the top and sides. Garnish with sprinkles and fresh strawberries if desired. Serve immediately, or keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

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