The cream and the crop

Top a richly frosted cake with layers of strawberries and no one will complain.

What's better than strawberries and cream? Many would say cake with strawberries and whipped cream. For many people, it's the cake that elevates the berries and cream to a special-occasion sweet. What kind of cake you choose depends partly on where you live. In France it's likely to be the classic genoise, a sponge cake enriched with butter. For matching with the berries, some chefs flavor the cake with ground almonds or other nuts, as in the recipe below. Celebrated pastry chef Gastron Lenotre, author of Faites Votre Patisserie Comme Lenotre (Make Your Pastry Like Lenotre) makes his version of strawberry cake from genoise layers moistened with vanilla syrup. He spreads the bottom layer with berry jam and tops the jam with sweetened whipped cream mixed with white cheese, which he also spreads on the sides and top. Finally, the cake is crowned with strawberries. In Vienna, strawberries-and-cream tortes are a popular springtime sweet. In The Viennese Pastry Cookbook, Lilly Joss Reich wrote that of all fruit tortes, strawberry seems to be most people's favorite. Her cake resembles French genoise and is enriched with extra egg yolks and butter. It's filled with sweetened whipped cream mixed with sliced strawberries, refrigerated to set the filling, then frosted with plain whipped cream and garnished with whole strawberries. You can use this technique with any sponge cake or angel food cake, including one you buy at your local bakery. In the US, the best-loved way to combine the berries and cream is as strawberry shortcake. Traditional versions are very different from European strawberry cakes. Shortcake is made of baking-powder biscuits, which are partway between pastry and cake: more tender and less crisp than pastry, but not as soft or as sweet as cake. The shortcake's sweetness and much of its richness comes from the luscious filling of sugared fresh berries and vanilla-flavored whipped cream. My friend Susan G. Purdy, author of The Perfect Cake, writes that the biscuits have "just the right texture to absorb the tart berry juices and balance the rich taste of the sweetened whipped cream." STRAWBERRIES AND WHITE CHOCOLATE CREAM CAKE This European-style cake features a light walnut sponge cake, white chocolate whipped cream filling and a topping of glazed strawberries. If you like, you can double the amount of strawberries, slice half of them and arrange the slices in a layer over the white chocolate cream on the bottom cake layer. The cake will keep longer, however, if you add fruit only on top. Before you add the berries, you can keep the cake, covered, up to 2 days in the refrigerator. If you want to make the dessert parve, substitute vegetable oil or margarine for the butter in the cake and use parve whipping cream for the filling; omit the white chocolate, which contains milk, and sweeten the cream with 3 or 4 tablespoons powdered sugar. Makes 8 servings 4 1 cup walnuts 4 3⁄4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar 4 6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 4 4 large whole eggs 4 4 large egg whites, room temperature 4 1⁄4 tsp. cream of tartar 4 30 gr. (2 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled 4 White Chocolate Whipped Cream (see recipe below) 4 About 2 cups strawberries 4 1⁄4 cup strawberry jelly 4 1 tsp. kirsch (cherry brandy) or other fruit liqueur (optional) Heat oven to 190ºC. Lightly butter corners of a 43x28-cm rimmed baking sheet. Line with foil or parchment paper. Butter foil or paper. Grind nuts with 1⁄4 cup sugar in a food processor until as fine as possible, scraping inward occasionally. Transfer to a medium bowl. Sift flour onto nut mixture and stir until blended. Beat whole eggs lightly in a large bowl, beat in 1⁄2 cup sugar and continue beating at high speed about 5 minutes or until mixture is pale and very thick. Whip egg whites with cream of tartar in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar at high speed and beat until whites are stiff and shiny but not dry. Sprinkle about 1⁄3 of walnut mixture over whole-egg mixture and gently fold it in. Repeat with remaining walnut mixture in 2 batches. When batter is nearly blended, gradually pour in cool melted butter while folding. Fold in egg whites in 3 batches. Continue folding lightly but quickly, just until batter is blended. Transfer batter to prepared baking sheet and spread evenly but lightly. Bake about 15 minutes or until cake is light brown on top and golden brown at edges. Cool in pan on a rack. Prepare White Chocolate Whipped Cream and refrigerate it. Cut cake in half crosswise; each half will be about 21 cm. long. Remove one cake half carefully from paper and put on a platter. Spread 3⁄4 cup white chocolate cream on cake layer. Unstick second half of cake very carefully from foil and lift very gently with both hands; it is fragile. Set it in place on cake, positioning it so cut sides of both layers are even with each other. Spread remaining white chocolate cream on top. Trim edges of cake so layers are even. Refrigerate at least 2 hours so filling sets. Up to 4 hours before serving, rinse and hull strawberries. If berries are small, leave them whole or halve them lengthwise; if they are large, slice them lengthwise. Arrange berries in rows on top of cake. Heat jelly in a small saucepan over low heat until hot but not boiling. Stir in liqueur. Brush jelly gently on berries without dripping it on frosting. Refrigerate 10 minutes or up to 4 hours before serving. WHITE CHOCOLATE WHIPPED CREAM This filling and frosting is also delicious with dark chocolate cakes. Makes enough to fill and frost a 20-cm. square cake. 4 110 gr. fine quality white chocolate, chopped 4 1 cup whipping cream, well chilled Melt chocolate in a small bowl set above a pan of hot water over low heat. Whisk until smooth. Turn off heat but leave bowl of chocolate above hot water. Whip cream in a large chilled bowl until stiff. Remove chocolate from above water and cool for 1⁄2 minute. Quickly stir about 1⁄2 cup whipped cream into chocolate. Quickly fold mixture into remaining whipped cream until smooth. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour to firm it before spreading. Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations.