Aside from the great weather, the thing I miss most about living in southern California is strawberry season. May on the west coast brings fresh berry festivals and the competition remains fierce for the top strawberry dessert.
Sliced fresh fruit always hits the target on my taste buds, especially in peak berry season. Having a light and airy cake companion that doesn't weigh down the luscious fruit, well that's a bull's-eye.
Yet as a baker it's challenging to shift from wintry desserts that provide a blanket of culinary comfort to the easy, breezy fashion of spring. Too often we pair heavy biscuits or dense cake with fresh berries slathered with whipped cream. In my mind, this version of strawberry shortcake falls short of its warm weather potential.
While angel food cake offers light and airy texture, most recipes and store bought varieties pack a cotton candy punch of sugar that buries the strawberry's natural sweetness.
The secret behind a great strawberry dessert lies in choosing a cake that keeps the sugar under control and still holds together under a fresh berry sauce.
Tucked away in my "got to try this someday" dessert file I came across a recipe for Elvis Presley's whipped cream poundcake. Using heavy cream as the cake's liquid boosts fat content resulting in a velvety texture, but the 3 full cups of sugar gave me pause.
This pound cake delivered exactly what I expected; rich, sweet and dense consistency. Still, I liked what heavy cream brought to the cake's texture and thought I could tweak it into a lighter springtime version.
Like traditional poundcake recipes, this version holds the baking soda and baking powder and relies on eggs to leaven the batter; sugar softens and sweetens the texture. With six eggs in the recipe, I began to understand it needed the hefty amount of sugar.
Scaling back the sweetness meant opening up and infusing lightness into the crumb. Short of folding in whipped egg whites, my best option lied with leavening. My reworked recipe cut sugar to 2 cups and stirred salt, baking powder and baking soda into cake flour. Lower protein cake flour builds structure without toughness.
The first attempt showed I sacrificed moistness for texture. At this point I was open to any combination of ingredients to infuse moisture, but I didn't want to add back any sugar. That's when I realized my laser focus on sugar distracted me from looking at the fats.
All-butter poundcake delivers exquisite flavor, but oil guarantees lasting moistness, so I swapped extra-virgin olive oil for part of the butter. This substitution kept the light crumb moist without sacrificing the buttery taste. Because heavy cream packs a butter-fat punch, I spontaneously reduced the cream to ½ cup and stirred in fresh orange juice. The citrus notes perked up the delicate butter taste and smoothed over any background flavors of the olive oil.
Pair this cake with the season's freshest berries and experience a true springtime treat.
• Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Villa Park. Write to her at email@example.com.