Strawberry and Cheesecake Cake

by Lauren Matthies


Henry and Derek are getting baptized this weekend and my in-laws and parents will be in town.  It also happens to be the birthday month of both my parents and my mother-in-law.  To celebrate, I decided to make a cake.  It's tailored to my dad (he's a strawberry cake guy), but shh don't tell anyone.

Like I've mentioned before, baking and decorating are much more challenging now that Henry is here.  I call him my sous-chef, but he mostly just likes to cause trouble (sweet boy often falls asleep on me while I'm cooking/baking; check out the montage of my cute sous-chef below).  Even with my sous-chef on board, I decided to make this strawberry and cheesecake cake.  It's pretty and tasty and satisfies both the cheesecake and cake lover (feel free to try it with different cake and cheesecake combinations.  I just decided that I need to try a white cake and chocolate cheesecake combination some day.)

I broke up my baking days so it was less time intensive.  If you want to do that, start with the cheesecake.  Make it on day one, the cake on day two, and assemble on day two or day three.  I made the cake and assembled it on the same day. 

Day One: Making the Cheesecake

The "proper" way to make a cheesecake to prevent cracking is to bake it in a water bath.  I do a semi-water bath because I don't have the proper size pan.  If you are doing a water bath, make sure to coat the bottom of your cheesecake pan with aluminum foil.  I go overboard, but I figure better safe than sorry.  I do four sheets and alternate the direction it goes each time (i.e., long way left and right and then long way up and down)

.I was baking on a timer because Henry was sitting in his high chair (he's a big boy now!) and I didn't know how long he'd stay happy.  To make things easier in case he wanted me to hold him, I went ahead and measured out all my ingredients beforehand.  That's a good tip anytime you bake, but I don't always follow it.

Mix everything together.  First beating the cream cheese, then adding the sugar, eggs one at a time, and finally the Greek yogurt, heavy cream and vanilla (I measured these out in the same bowl because they are added at the same time).

Pour into your cheesecake pan.

Pour boiling water into your baking dish if using a water bath.  You can see how mine doesn't actually sit in the bath, but I figure the steam helps.  The water was so hot, it fogged my camera lens.

And bake.

My cheesecake came out a little ugly on top.  I don't love our oven and I should have covered the cheesecake with aluminum foil towards the end to prevent the browning.  That said, because it is going in the center of my cake, it doesn't matter.  You can use any cheesecake recipe that you like here.  No matter how I make my cheesecake, I always use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. 

After your cheesecake cools completely, you want to put it in the freezer.  You'll get it out later when assembling your cake.  If you are not making your cheesecake a day ahead, make sure you give it enough time to freeze before assembly.

Day Two: Making the Strawberry Cake

Like I said above, my dad loves strawberry cake.  The problem is most strawberry cake recipes call for Jello mix.  There are a lot of reasons I don't like that.  One, I try not to use box mix or oils in my cakes.  And two, Jello has gelatin in it and, as vegetarians, my husband and I don't eat gelatin.  So, years ago I found a strawberry cake recipe that uses *gasp* STRAWBERRIES!  I may play with it to make it my own some day, but for now, here's the original source.  I stick to this recipe pretty closely, but I'll show you where I stray.

Before we get into the baking, this is one of those recipes that calls for most of the ingredients to be at room temperature.  Go ahead and take them out now.  I hate it when I forget and have to wait.

The recipe calls for 24oz of strawberries.  Now that I have my scale, that was easy, but if you don't, it's not a big deal.  I end up with plenty of leftover puree so just guess and you'll be fine.  I'd say it's around 4 cups.

I always start out listening to her instructions about straining the strawberries, but quickly jump ship and microwave my strawberries (I use frozen for the puree and decorate with fresh strawberries) and then puree them.  I've never had a problem with that route so feel free to take the quick and easy way (come over to the dark side).

Here are the strawberries in my Vitamix, which I LOVE.

And after they are blended.  Don't you just want to eat it.  Good news is you'll have leftovers--you can eat it by the spoon, pour it over some vanilla ice cream, or serve it with your cake.

Mix 3/4 cup of your puree with the milk, egg whites, and  vanilla.

Mix your flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in the bowl of your stand mixer and then add in the butter, mixing until crumbs form and you no longer see large chunks of butter.

Then add in your puree mixture and mix until combined.  I wanted to lick it all right here, but I've been staying away from raw batter since Henry (don't worry I ate PLENTY of the frosting).

Divide it evenly into two pans.  To do this, I always just alternate pouring the batter into each pan until they both look even to the eye.

And bake.  It won't look like strawberry cake when you take it out, but I promise it is strawberry.  The original recipe tells you that you can add red food coloring into the batter before baking if you want a pinker color.  You are welcome to do that, but I never do.  If it tastes like strawberry, I don't need it to look like strawberry.

Day Two: Making the Frosting and Assembling the Cake

This frosting is DELICIOUS!  If you like cream cheese frosting and strawberries then you should love this.  I think I ate at least 1/4 a days worth of calories just "tasting" it.  It's that good.  I even used my extra strawberry pieces (the parts I didn't use for decorating) to dip into the frosting.  Yum!  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

And, yes, this frosting is caloric.  Two packages of cream cheese and a stick of butter...it's worth it.

At first I added 1/4 cup of puree, but after adding in a cup of powerded sugar I decided to pump up the strawberry flavor and added another 1/4 cup.  You can play with the amount.  Also, I've mentioned it before, but I like more cream cheese flavor to my frosting so I go easy on the powdered sugar.  You can add more if you have a different preference.

I didn't mention it earlier, but one of my cakes was a bit of a flop.  The middle of it sunk.  Rather than get upset, I used it as a chance to revamp my plans.  I decided to add a layer of fresh strawberries between the cake and cheesecake layer, adding the thicker strawberries in the sunken in part.

Remember your cheesecake, go get it.  It should come out without too much trouble, but even if it does break, that's okay.  It's the middle layer of the cake so it will be hidden.  The outside of my springform pan came off without trouble.  To get the cheesecake off the bottom, I just ran a knife between the cheesecake and the pan.

Before you stack your cheesecake on the first layer of cake, make sure that your bottom cake piece is on the serving platter.  I forgot this step and ended up having to flip my whole cake.  If you forget, you can always do what I did and place the serving platter on the top of the cake and then flip the cake.  Don't try and lift it from one surface to another because it is heavy and you don't want to risk it breaking.

When lining up my cheesecake and cake, I try to line up one side.  The cheesecake is always too big for my cake (depends on the size of the pans you are baking with).  If you're like me, all you have to do is grab a knife and shave off the extra cheesecake.  And if some of it gets eaten along the way, you're just making sure nothing is wasted.

It doesn't have to line up perfectly, just close enough.  From above you shouldn't see any cheesecake jetting out.  If there is still some unevenness between your layers it's not a problem.  I always fill in any gaps with frosting.

After stacking my cake, I did a quick "crumb coat" with the icing.  This is the messy layer that helps prevent your cake from getting crumbs all over the frosting.  After this quick layer of frosting, I put my cake in the refrigerator for a couple hours, allowing the frosting to harden some.

When you're ready, frost the whole thing.  I felt like I used a lot of frosting and still had some extra (more for eating, yay!).  Remember, you can fill in any gaps with frosting.  I don't worry about making it too smooth, I think it adds character, but do what makes you happy.

I like to decorate it with fresh strawberries.  For the bottom layer around the cake, I cut four edges off of the strawberry leaving a triangle core (this is the part I dipped in the frosting and ate) and then overlayed them around the base.  On the top, I just sliced the strawberrries and made a pattern.  Feel free to get creative here.  This is the most fun part in my opinion.

We haven't cut into the cake yet because our families haven't arrived, but I'll come back and post a picture of the center of the cake once we do slice into it.  In the meantime, here's a throwback to when I first made this cake for my dad on Father's Day a few years ago.

 

UPDATE: The cake was a great success.  Everyone loved it.  Here are the pictures I promised of the inside of the cake.  Comparing the pictures, you can see that the cake was much darker this time.  I blame that on my oven, but it still tasted great.  Also, the frosting looks different because I tweaked my recipe (I think for the better) this time.

Recipes

Cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • 2 8 ounce packages of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

  1. Mix cream cheese until smooth and creamy.
  2. Mix in sugar and salt.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  4. Mix in Greek yogurt, heavy cream, and vanilla until smooth.
  5. Pour batter into greased baking pan and bake for 35-45 minutes at 325 degrees, until set (option to bake using water bath).
  6. Allow cheesecake to cool completely.

Strawberry Cake

Ingredients:

  • 24 oz frozen strawberries
  • 1/4 cup milk, room temperature
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1 carton fresh strawberries (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Thaw frozen strawberries and blend to form puree.
  2. Mix together 3/4 cup puree, milk, egg whites, and vanilla.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Add butter and mix until combined.
  5. Add puree mixture and mix until combined.
  6. Divide the batter evenly into two baking pans and make for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees until toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Allow the cakes to cool slightly before removing them from pans to cool completely on wire racks.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients: 

  • 2 8 ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cups strawberry puree
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Instructions:

  1. Beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth.
  2. Mix in vanilla and strawberry puree.
  3. Mix in powdered sugar.
  4. Refrigerate until time of use.