Strawberry cake with strawberry buttercream made from fresh strawberries!
Strawberry cake made with fresh strawberries and no Jell-O? Yes, it’s possible and it’s delicious! The secret is adding a fresh strawberry reduction to your cake batter and mix the rest into your buttercream frosting for a fresh strawberry cake recipe that tastes like real strawberries!
If you’ve been to Pinterest lately, you will have approximately one TRILLION recipes for strawberry cake. I tried a few from some big-name blogs that I thought would for sure delivery and boy was I disappointed. Most recipes contained either Jell-O for the strawberry flavor or the use of a boxed mix.
“silently cries tears of pain”
I just wanted an easy scratch recipe made with real strawberries! Is that not too much to ask?
Now I am definitely not the best baker in the world but I do enjoy a challenge so I set myself up to see if I could make a really good strawberry cake. I gave myself two rules. I had to use real strawberries and the flavor had to taste like real strawberries in the cake alone.
Can you make a fresh strawberry cake without Jell-O?
Now don’t get me wrong. I love me some Jell-O but not in my cakes. Gelatin is not something I would think to add to my cake to make the texture light in fluffy, more like gummy and dense. I think the worst thing about a strawberry cake made with Jell-O is that it tastes like fake strawberries.
Pretty tasty in jolly ranchers but not so much in my cake. So one of my personal challenges was to make a strawberry cake without gelatin.
Fresh strawberry cake tests and fails
So I began testing my own strawberry cake recipes. I have never worked so long an hard on one recipe. SO many failed attempts and I almost gave up. This is probably way more information than you ever needed to know about strawberry cake.
Here are some of the things I tried to make a successful strawberry cake with fresh strawberries.
Can you just add fresh strawberries to vanilla cake to make a strawberry cake?
Have you ever seen a baking video where they just chop up fresh strawberries and add them to the cake batter and claim it tastes amazing? I’m sorry, but that’s a big fat lie.
When strawberries are baked, not only do they lose their strawberry flavor but they turn a really weird and sad grey color. It actually looks like pockets of rotten fruit in the cake batter. NOT appetizing at all!
In my first test, I chopped up some fresh strawberries and drained the juices. I added the chopped strawberries to the batter and the juice to the milk. I subtracted the same amount of milk as the juice that I added so I was not adding more liquid to my batter. I reduced the sugar by 1 oz to account for any sugar in the strawberries.I was pretty sure this would not work but I just wanted to make sure. Just as I feared, this cake was very wet, dense, and brown. Not the pretty strawberry cake I was imagining.
Freeze-Dried Strawberry Cake Test
In this test, I decided to use freeze-dried strawberries. Definitely not as easy to find as fresh but most places carry them. They are not cheap either. 1.7oz bag cost me about $4. I used the whole bag.
I ground up my strawberries in a spice grinder, sifted out the large chunks and added it to my dry ingredients. I had a feeling this cake might need some extra moisture so I upped the liquids and added a little vegetable oil. I also added a touch of pink and red food coloring to counteract the brown.
This cake was really good! The crumb was very nice, the flavor was a very bright, tart strawberry flavor and definitely a win in my book! But I was still searching for that recipe with REAL strawberries.
I decided to do one more test.
Fresh strawberry cake made with a strawberry reduction
I had tried using a strawberry reduction in previous tests but the texture was still really gummy. This time I tried reducing the liquids further to make a really thick reduction. I also added in lemon zest to intensify the tartness of the strawberry flavor.
I also used strawberry emulsion instead of strawberry extract (not necessary but helps with color and flavor). I also added a couple of drops of electric pink food coloring to get that pink color I was looking for.
The result? An incredibly moist and delicate strawberry cake that tasted EXACTLY like strawberries.
I kid you not, I screamed with joy when I cut into this cake! The crumb was PERFECT! The flavor is amazing! I pretty much ran to all the rooms of the house forcing my daughter, husband and assistant to all try the cake immediately. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just going crazy. That this was the real deal!
Rave reviews all around! *self high-five*
How to make a strawberry reduction
- Combine your strawberries and sugar in a medium saucepan. If they are frozen, defrost them first. If they are fresh remove the tops and chop into chunks. Blend with an immersion blender if you prefer a smooth reduction.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to low and let simmer. Occasionally stir to prevent burning.
- Once the strawberry reduction is thick like tomato paste, you’re good to go!
- Mix in the lemon zest, juice and salt.
- Let the strawberry reduction cool before using it in your cake batter. I use half in the batter and half in the frosting!
How to make your strawberry layer cake
If you need more information on how to frost and fill a cake, check out my how to make your first cake tutorial
- Make sure your cakes are chilled or even partially frozen when stacking so that they are easier to handle. Trim off the brown edges and tops if desired.
- Make your buttercream and fold in the leftover strawberry reduction for a fresh and tasty strawberry frosting!
- Put your first layer of strawberry cake down and then spread on a generous layer of frosting. Try to keep it flat.
- Place your next layer of cake on top and repeat with remaining layers.
- Cover the whole cake in a thin layer of strawberry buttercream and then chill in the fridge for 20 minutes until the buttercream is firm. This is called the crumb coat.
- Frost the cake with a final layer of buttercream and decorate as desired! This cake should be refrigerated until serving. Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for 2 hours before serving. Cold cake doesn’t taste very good!
I hope you enjoy this recipe! Please link to this recipe if you make it so that I can see your creations!
Fresh Strawberry Cake With Strawberry Buttercream Recipe
Fresh Strawberry Cake Ingredients
- 14 oz AP flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 8 oz unsalted butter room temp
- 10 oz granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp lemon extract
- 1 1/2 tsp strawberry extract
- zest one lemon
- 6 oz egg whites room temp
- 4 oz strawberry reduction room temp
- 6 oz milk room temp
- 1/2 tsp electric pink food color
- 16 oz frozen strawberries
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 pinch salt
- 4 oz sugar
Easy Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
- 4 oz pasteurized egg whites
- 16 oz unsalted butter
- 16 oz powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 oz strawberry reduction
Strawberry Reduction Instructions
- Defrost strawberries if frozen or cut up strawberries if whole. Blend strawberries if you prefer a smoother texture of strawberry reduction.Place into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over med heat. Add in sugar if desired. Once bubbling, reduce heat to low and let slowly reduce until berries begin to break up and liquid is almost gone. Occasionally stir the mixture to prevent burning. You should end up with about 1 cup of thick strawberry reduction that looks like tomato sauce. Add in lemon zest, juice and salt. Transfer to another container and let cool before use. Store extra in the freezer for up to 6 months
Strawberry Cake Instructions
- NOTE: It is SUPER IMPORTANT that all the room temperature ingredients listed above are room temperature and not cold or hot. If your ingredients just came out of the refrigerator or the strawberry reduction is too hot, your mixture could curdle during the process of making the cake batter and become ruined.
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350ºF/176ºC.
- Grease three 6" cake pans or two 8" cake pans with cake goop or preferred pan release
- Add butter to stand mixer and beat at medium speed until smooth and shiny, about 30 seconds. Gradually sprinkle in the sugar, beat until mixture is fluffy and almost white, about 3-5 minutes. Add the egg whites approximately two at a time, beating 30 seconds between.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest in a medium bowl.
- Combine the strawberry reduction, milk, vanilla extract, lemon extract, strawberry extract and food coloring in a separate medium bowl.
- With the mixer at the lowest speed, add about a third of the dry ingredients to the batter, followed immediately by about a third of the milk mixture, mix until ingredients are almost incorporated into the batter. Repeat the process 2 more times. When the batter appears blended, stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake cakes until they feel firm in the center and a toothpick comes out clean or with just a few crumbs on it, about 30-35 minutes.
- Transfer pans to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack and pop cakes out of pans. Cool completely before frosting.
- Place egg whites and powdered sugar in a stand mixer bowl. Attach the whisk and combine ingredients on low and then whip on high for 5 minutes Add in your butter in chunks and whip with the whisk attachment to combine. It will look curdled at first. This is normal. It will also look pretty yellow. Keep whipping.Let whip on high for 8-10 minutes until it's very white, light and shiny. Add in strawberry reduction and continue whipping until incorporated.Switch to a paddle attachment and mix on low for 15-20 minutes to make the buttercream very smooth and remove air bubbles. This isn't required but if you want really creamy frosting, you don't want to skip it.