To me, the unofficial start of summer is the arrival of fresh strawberries. To be honest, I’m not much of a summer person — I don’t like hot weather and the mosquitoes that come with it. But I love summer produce, and our family definitely looks forward to berry picking every year.
For the past several years, I’ve made a fraisier to celebrate fresh strawberries. A fraisier is a traditional French strawberries and cream cake, and to me it’s the best way to enjoy candy-sweet, ripe strawberries (after eating them straight off the plant).
With these fraisiers I tend to be a bit casual — I usually make them a little differently every time. Sometimes I use a Japanese genoise as the cake; I’ve also made a matcha sponge version that was delicious. Sometimes I make a gelee layer for the top. I’ve also learned a few things over the years — like the need for gelatin to set the cream, and to keep the cake layers on the thin side to let the strawberries really shine through.
For my 2019 fraisier, I used some fresh basil from our garden to infuse the cream. And because the spring here was quite cool and strawberries didn’t show up until practically July, I added in a few blueberries to make this a fourth of July appropriate cake. (You could definitely just use all strawberries too, though.) The sponge is a lemon-scented chiffon, which is light and fluffy and pretty simple to whip up. The result: summer in every bite.
A few notes:
- For easiest assembly, I recommend a 6×3 cake ring and acetate strips. You could also use a springform pan and plastic wrap, but you’ll get the cleanest results from the ring and acetate. (I use these same tools to make Momofuku-style cakes.)
- You can make the basil pastry cream base up to 5 days in advance, but wait to add the gelatin and whipped cream until you are ready to assemble the cake.
- For the cake, I used a half recipe of this lime chiffon cake and baked it in a 6×3 cake pan (total baking time was about 35 minutes). Don’t use a shorter pan; it will overflow. You could probably also bake this in a quarter sheet pan and cut out two 6″ rounds, but you would need to adjust the baking time.
Berry Basil Fraisier
Makes one 6-inch cake
- Half a recipe of this chiffon cake, baked in a 6×3 cake pan (I subbed lemon zest and juice for lime)
- 1 recipe basil cream diplomat (recipe below)
- Simple syrup
- ~1 c chopped strawberries, mixed with a spoonful of strawberry puree or jam; plus about 10-12 strawberries, halved (try to choose ones that are the same height, or trim to match) and 10-12 blueberries
- More berries and basil leaves, to decorate
For the basil cream diplomat:
- 1 c whole milk
- 50g sugar (1/4 c), divided
- 20g cornstarch or custard powder
- 2 large egg yolks
- Pinch of salt
- 3-4 sprigs of fresh basil
- 14g (1 Tbsp) unsalted butter
- 1/2 – 3/4 tsp gelatin*
- 1/2 tbsp cold
- 1/2 – 1 c heavy whipping cream*
*Use 1/2 c for a thicker filling and up to 1 c for a lighter filling (I usually use 1/2-3/4 c). If you use more than 1/2 heavy cream, use 3/4 tsp gelatin.
- To make the basil cream diplomat: Bring the milk and basil sprigs to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat and cover. Allow basil to steep for about 45 minutes.
- Strain the milk (add more to reach 1 cup if necessary) and return to the saucepan along with 40g sugar and a pinch of salt. Place a strainer over a heat-safe jug or container.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 10 g sugar and the cornstarch. Pour in a tablespoon or so of the milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Add the egg yolks and whisk until smooth.
- Heat the milk over medium heat until steaming. Remove from heat. Pour the milk in a slow, steady stream into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Scrape the custard mixture back into the saucepan and return to medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and large bubbles appear on the surface. Once the bubbles appear, continue whisking on the heat for two minutes.
- Strain the pastry cream into the prepared jug or container. Whisk in the butter until combined. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold (at least 2 hours).
- When you are ready to assemble the cake, finish preparing the cream diplomat. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the cold water and allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put two inches of water into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Measure 1/4 cup (60g) of the chilled pastry cream into a small stainless steel bowl that will sit across the saucepan with the simmering water, without touching the water.
- Heat the cream until it is 120F. Add the gelatin and whisk until smooth. Remove from the water bath, and whisk the remaining cold pastry cream in to incorporate in two batches.
- Whip the heavy cream until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream with a rubber spatula. Transfer to a piping bag and refrigerate while you continue assembling the cake.
- To assemble the berry basil fraisier: Line a 6×3 cake ring (or same-sized springform pan) with acetate (or plastic wrap) and place on a cake board or plate. Trim the cake into layers ~3/4 inch thick (you should get three; you’ll need two for the cake. The rest is a baker’s treat!).
- Place one layer of the cake in the bottom of the ring and brush generously with simple syrup. Place the halved strawberries, cut side out and pointed end up, around the edge of the pan. Add blueberries between the strawberries if desired. Pipe the cream diplomat between the fruits and a layer across the top of the cake. Use a offset palette knife to smooth. Fill the center with the chopped berries + jam, then cover with another layer of cream. Place the second layer of cake on top and press down to level. Soak with simple syrup, then spread a thin layer of cream across the top. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours or up to three days.
- Just before serving remove the cake ring and acetate. Arrange the cut fruit and basil on top as desired. (If you are doing this beforehand, brush a little warmed and thinned apricot jam on the fruit to preserve their color.) Enjoy!