Spring might be here, officially, but the produce… not so much. There’s just something about spring flavors that makes me want them before they're ready. Sure, we can get rhubarb from the Pacific Northwest or strawberries from Florida, but we’re still a month or more away from getting deeply red, deeply local strawberries at the greenmarket. And I just cannot abide a sub-par berry.
So here’s my solution: add freeze-dried berries to your pantry-based baking. I love using freeze-dried fruit in baking. Freeze-dried fruit packs a huge flavor punch with zero added moisture, and it’s never out of season. My favorite freeze-dried berries come from Trader Joe’s; they’re affordable and reliably available.
This cake is based on a favorite of mine from the MeMe’s Diner days. The version at MeMe’s had food coloring, but I decided it was time for a break from that for a bit. It's a buttermilk cake base with ground, freeze-dried strawberries. Even though the cake doesn’t look pink, you’ll be shocked at the depth of strawberry flavor the berries give. If you don't have a spice grinder, get one. They are inexpensive, small, and exceedingly useful. We’ve got a Cuisinart model that was highly-rated by the product testers at Epicurious. But if you don't want to add another small appliance to your arsenal, you’ll be just fine crushing the berries up in a ziplock bag, using your rolling pin.
Here I’ve paired the tangy strawberry cake with a malted milk buttercream; incidentally, malted milk is another of my favorite baking pantry items. The buttery, nutty, toasted flavor of malted milk is so satisfying. There is a lot of malted milk in this buttercream, so you can adjust it down if you think it’s too much. (I would politely disagree.) The key here is to beat your buttercream until the malted milk powder has completely dissolved into the buttercream and there is no grit remaining. I iced this one right in the pan and topped it with some more crushed freeze-dried berries. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself snacking on a few berries in the process.
Strawberry Snack Cake with Malted Milk Buttercream
For the Cake
1.2-ounce bag of freeze-dried strawberries
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup sugar
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
For the Buttercream
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons - ¼ cup malted milk powder, as desired
1 teaspoon salt
Make the cake:
Grind ¾ of the bag of freeze-dried strawberries in a spice grinder until they’re a fine powder. Reserve remaining berries for garnish.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground berries, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between. Scrape the sides and bottom and beat until fully combined.
Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk, mixing on low. When streaks of flour remain, remove from mixer and finish mixing by hand, as to not over mix.
Scrape into a greased 9x9 square pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until a pick comes clean from the center and the cake springs back when lightly pressed.
Cool completely in the pan.
Make the buttercream:
Beat the butter until pale and light. Add confectioner’s sugar, malted milk, and salt. Mix on low until combined.
Beat the mixture on medium-high until very pale and fluffy, with no grit remaining.
Spread the buttercream onto the cool cake. Garnish with reserved berries, lightly chopped.
I’ll be doing a week-long dinner pop-up at Winner, in Brooklyn, as part of their Friends and Family Meal series. It starts this upcoming Monday, April 5th. Look out for the menu announcement in the next few days. (OH! And I’ll be doing vegetarian pizza babka muffins as part of the menu.) It’s preorder only, and you can preorder by email. There are lots more details on their site.
Our friend Miguel de Leon wrote a really great piece for Bon Appétit that came out this week: “From My Grandmother’s Kitchen to NYC’s Best Restaurants, My Life in Rice.” It’s about his personal connection to the grain, and what it means to so many people.
My neighborhood is getting a new slice shop and we couldn't be more excited! The folks behind Greenberg’s Bagels are opening a new spot called Frankie & Vali’s Pizza in the storefront next door. They’re slated to open in mid-May, so keep an eye out for me waiting patiently outside until then.
If you’re on the free tier of this newsletter, you’re missing out! On like, three more recipes a month! And it’s finally getting warm enough to comfortably make my Grilled BBQ Chicken Wings, a subscriber-only recipe.