Strawberry Country Cake -Gluten-free, Dairy-free


FOTCM Member
For his birthday cake a colleague asked for a Strawberry shortcake like the one his aunt used to make. It turns out that it was not a traditional North American shortcake, that of sweetened biscuits (a crumbly bread leavened with baking powder or baking soda), instead it was sponge based. Traditionally, the sweet biscuits are split in the middle and filled with freshly whipped cream and strawberries, and the top is covered with more strawberries and whipped cream. In this gluten-free sponge cake version, a layer of sponge cake replaces the split biscuit layer, the filling and topping follow a similar pattern, except that freshly whipped cream is replaced by a classic crème mousseline that is dairy free. It uses Hemp milk. A sponge cake is an acceptable and alternative version of a shortcake, as is the case here with the Strawberry Country Cake.

The gluten-free ‘shortbread’ sponge cake is based upon a gluten recipe posted by Ina Garten on food network (//, although the method used here is different. It is a Pound, or American butter layer cake. The Classic Crème Mousseline recipe is based upon the dairy recipe given in Baking, (Berkeley, Ten Speed Press, 2009) by Peterson J, although a different method is used for combining the custard and butter. This combining method is given in Roland Mesnier’s book Dessert University, quoted in Corriher S O, BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes, (New York, Scribner, 2008). This version is baked using 23cm (9in) sandwich tins, rather than 20cm (8in) sandwich tins.

The cake uses sour cream as one of its ingredients, if using the Hemp milk alternative, this will need to made beforehand, as sour cream is considered a store, or stock item.

Hemp milk sour cream
Soured cream has approximately 18% fat, and a pH of approximately 4.6. Soured cream is mildly acidic, semi-solid, and has a buttery aroma. Soured cream has a fat content of between 18-20%. If not using this option skip to the cake itself.

Ingredients: (yields approx. 230g)
Butter (82% fat) 66g (sliced)
Hemp milk 195g
Apple Cider vinegar 1Tbsp (15g)
Gelatin 8g (2 sheets)

Place 66g sliced butter in the top bowl (1) of a double boiler, gently heat until three quarters of the butter is melted, stirring and further chopping up, with a spoon.
Remove from the heat and melt the rest of the butter with a spoon. Set aside to cool.
Place the Hemp milk in a saucepan (2), add the Apple Cider vinegar, and warm to finger warmth (36 -38°C), then then remove from the heat.
Pour a quarter of the cooling melted butter (bowl 1) into the soured milk mixture (bowl 2), and combine with a whisk.
Pour the soured milk-butter (bowl 2) mix back into the warmed butter (bowl 1) and combine with a whisk.
Soak 2 sheets of gelatin in a small bowl (3) of water for 10 minutes, then drain off the excess water before melting the gelatin in a microwave oven, with 2 – 3 x 10 second bursts on full power.
Pour the melted gelatin into the soured milk–butter mix (bowl 1) and combine.
Transfer the thickened, soured milk–butter mix (bowl 1) into a tall storage jar (4).
Blend with an immersion, hand, or stick, blender for 5 minutes, to disperse the butter fully into the milk, to produce Hemp milk Soured cream. Place a lid on the storage jar.
Leave the Hemp milk Soured cream in a cool place (not the refrigerator) for 12 hours, or preferably, 24 hours before using. It will keep in a refrigerator for 3 - 4 days. Stir well before use, as it likely that some separation will have occurred, this is normal.

Moving on to making the Strawberry Country cake itself, first the sponge cake.

Ingredients (sponge cake): (23cm (9in) sandwich tins (2))
Gluten-free Flour mix* 340g
Bicarbonate of soda 1tsp
Salt 1/2tsp
Butter 180g
Cane sugar (superfine) 400g (blitz cane sugar in a coffee grinder to superfine)
Eggs 200g (4 large)
Sour cream 170g (or use Hemp milk soured cream alternative)
Grated orange zest 1/2 tsp
Grated lemon zest 1/2 tsp
Vanilla essence 1/2tsp
Hemp milk 1 – 4Tbsp (as required)

Cream filling (approx. 510g)
Strawberries 500g (fresh)
Cream topping (approx. 510g)

*Gluten-free Flour mix: 440g Brown Rice flour, 125g Sweet Rice flour, 45g Potato starch, 95g Tapioca starch, and 55g Arrowroot. Total weight: 760g

Method (cake):
To achieve as much volume as possible in the final baked cake, the batter used needs to stay just above 15°C during the whole mixing process. To help this process, place the stand mixing bowl in a freezer for 15 minutes before using.

Preheat the oven to180°C for a minimum of 45 minutes.
Grease, with room temperature butter, the inside of two sandwich tins, and then line them with parchment paper, so that it protrudes up 12.5mm (1/2in) above the top edge. The parchment paper liner should then be greased.

In a medium sized bowl (1), sift in the Gluten-free flour mix, add the baking powder, and the pinch of salt. Whip with a wire whisk to fully combine, periodically using a spoon to turn the outside flour into the middle of the bowl, and whisk again, rotating the bowl at the same time, until the components are fully combined. Set aside.
In the cold bowl (2) of a stand mixer fitted with a flat paddle mixer, add the cold, sliced and cubed butter. Beat the butter, at medium-high speed, until the butter is smooth, pale in colour, and creamy. This will take about 3 minutes.
Slowly add the superfine cane sugar and combine, continuously beat, or cream, the butter-sugar mixture for 5-6 minutes, stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides and across the bottom of the bowl, at least once. Periodically feel the side of the mixer bowl, and if it is feels warm, stop the mixer and place the filled bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes. Before resuming creaming the butter and sugar. The creaming is done when the butter-sugar mix is smooth, light and white. The whiter it is the more trapped air is inside, for a lighter cake.
At the lowest speed add the first egg and incorporate completely. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the rest of the eggs, one at a time, completely incorporating each one, and scraping down the sides of the bowl before adding the next egg. After the last egg has been incorporated, add the zests, and vanilla, scraping down the bowl as needed. Then, beat the mixture for a further 1-2 minutes to complete the lightening of the mixture.
Remove the mixer bowl (2) and add one half of the Hemp milk sour cream and sift in 1/4 of the Gluten-free flour mix, avoiding getting any on the sides of the bowl, and fold in with a silicon spatula, the edge going down, scraping across the bottom and lifting up to the top and folding over, or use a wire whisk and drag and rotate, to fold the flour in. This is done by dragging the wire whisk from the far side of the batter to the front, then rotating the mixing bowl a quarter turn, and repeating the dragging. It may take between 5 – 6 drag and rotates to fully incorporate the flour into the batter. Add the other half of the Hemp milk sour cream, and sift in the rest of the Gluten-free flour mix, and fold in as before. Add between 1 – 4Tbsp of Hemp milk, or more to achieve a dropping consistency that easily drops off a spoon, yet, not run off; this is so that the batter pours.
Divide the batter, evenly, between the two sandwich tins. This does not have to be exact. Tap the sandwich tins on the worksurface to displace any bubbles, then smooth the top surface with a spatula.

Baking and cooling:
Immediately place the filled sandwich tins in the middle of the preheated oven. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes (avoid opening the oven door before 20 minutes have elapsed), or until the cake is golden and well risen, the cake springs back when lightly pressed, or when a thin paring knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, yet moist. Ideally, the cake does not pull away from the sides of the tin. Place the sandwich tins on a wire cooling rack for 10 minutes, then carefully turn the cake out and put it, flat side down, onto another cooling rack. Remove the parchment paper linings and allow the cake to cool completely.

Note that the finished cake is hugely sensitive when it comes to oven temperature, and hence timing, so much so that some oven manufacturers actually use the cooking of a Sandwich type sponge to test their oven's consistency.

Cream filling and topping
The same type of cream, a Classic Crème Mousseline, is used for both the filling and the topping.

Ingredients: (approx. 1020g)
Cane Sugar 100g
Eggs 128g (2 large egg plus 2 large egg yolk)
Cornstarch 5Tbsp
Hemp milk 480g
Vanilla essence 1tsp
Butter (room temp, chopped) 340g (sliced and cubed)

Method (filling and topping):
Prepare the strawberries by removing any greenery attached to the strawberries. If a strawberry is large, cut it in half. If the strawberries are small, leave then whole. Set aside in a refrigerator. If the strawberries were frozen and defrosted, keep them whole.

Take the butter out of the refrigerator, at least 30 minutes before use, and bring it up to room temperature.

In a large bowl (1) add sugar, egg, and yolk, and whisk together for at least 30 seconds (otherwise the egg yolks will burn due to the acid in the sugar), to form a smooth, lemon coloured mixture. Whisk in the cornstarch until the mixture is smooth.
In a saucepan (2) over medium heat, add the Hemp milk and Vanilla essence, and bring the milk to a gentle simmer, yet avoid boiling.
Turn off the heat. Slowly pour half of the hot milk (saucepan 2) into the egg mixture (bowl 1) and stir constantly with a wire whisk. This is called tempering, and is a method of easing two components with widely different temperatures to cook together and prevent premature coagulation: to control the rate of protein folding and reconnecting.
Pour the resultant mixture (2) back into the saucepan (1) containing the remaining hot milk mixture and whisk together to combine.
Turn heat back on to medium-low, for even unfolding and reconnection of the egg proteins, and stir the pastry cream mixture with a wooden spoon until it is thoroughly blended and smooth. Make sure that wooden spoon reaches everywhere - bottom, sides, and corners, so that the mixture does not burn. Keep the spoon in constant motion. Once you sense that the mixture is slightly thick on the bottom of the saucepan (look at bottom of spoon), remove it from the heat. Once the mixture has reached 75 – 77°C the egg proteins reattach and solidify. Heating above 77°C will result in an ‘eggy’ taste to the custard. The thickened mixture should thickly coat the back of the wooden spoon.
Off heat, continue stirring the pastry cream mixture for a further minute, until the mixture is thick, smooth and uniform (this allows a slow and even coagulation of the eggs and will produce a creamy texture).
Return the saucepan to the heat and cook for a further 1 – 2 mins to overcome any resultant starch flavour.

Line a baking tray with clingfilm, and pour the custard cream into this, ensuring that it is thinner than 5cm (2in) in thickness. Allow the custard to cool to room temperature. The custard will continue to thicken as it cools. Check the bottom of the baking tray, it is cool when the bottom of the baking tray feels cold. To speed up the process, cover with another sheet of clingfilm and place in a refrigerator. If needed, bring the custard back to room temperature (it is important, that everything is at room temperature when it is added to the butter, so that the emulsion does not split). The pastry cream should be thick, creamy, and smooth, indicating that the fat, in the butter, milk, and eggs, has been properly emulsified with the water in the milk and eggs.

In the bowl (5) of a stand mixer add the sliced and cubed butter, fit the mixer with a whisk attachment (to fully aerate the butter), beat at medium-high speed until it is smooth, pale in colour, and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
At the slowest speed, slowly add in the cooled custard (one tablespoon at a time), whisking, and frequently scraping down the sides, until the mousseline is light and creamy.
Finally, whisk for a further 3 – 4 minutes until it is completely homogeneous, smooth and airy.
Use immediately, or keep, tightly covered with clingfilm, in a refrigerator for up to three days. To use, bring up to room temperature and whip the cream mousseline first, so that it can aerate.

To assemble the cake, first decide which of the two cakes has the most appealing surface, then take the other one and place it, top surface down, onto a plate, or server.
After making the cream filling, spread half of the cream filling generously over the cake surface, starting around the outer perimeter, finally, place any cream left into the centre of the cake surface. Spread the cream evenly over the top of the cake layer with a thin metal spatula, smoothing the cream in towards the centre.
Take up to a half of the halved (or whole) strawberries and place them randomly on top of the of the cream filling.
Then, place the other cake, flat side down, on top of the layer of cream. The weight of the cake will press down and the cream may ooze out to the sides, this is OK.
Using a thin, metal, offset spatula uniformly spread the other half of the cream over the top layer of the vanilla sheet cake. Ensure that the vanilla cream mousseline is taken right to the edge.
Decorate the top of the strawberry cake with the rest of the halved (or whole) strawberries, as desired, formal or random.
Place the finished strawberry country cake in a refrigerator for at least one hour, preferably more, to firm up the cream mousselines.


It turns out that his aunt’s version was for just as single layer of cake, with a cream topping decorated with strawberries, as is shown below.
View attachment Strawbrycountrycake.JPG
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