Strawberry Jewel Box Cake

I came up with this recipe for a friend of mine’s birthday. She happened to be a designer, so I knew this cake needed to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. When it come to preferences, she specified liking lighter cakes with lots of cream and fresh fruit, so I knew I could do something with exactly that. I went with a square shaped vanilla chiffon cake with a soy milk soak, fresh strawberries that I cut into spheres with a melon baller, a strawberry jam made from the scraps of the melon-balled strawberries, a strawberry and rose panna cotta, and a chantilly cream.

The cake is very similar to an Asian style strawberry shortcake, in that you have this light, fluffy cake with cream and berries. I did toss the berries in a simple syrup, as fresh fruit will dry out, shrivel up, and look like raisins if they sit out for too long, and for the structure of this cake, the berries needed to stay in as fresh condition as possible to maintain their shape and height. Initially, I did not think about making a strawberry jam, but since I had to melon ball and core about 36 strawberries, the scraps from the fruit did pile up to a point where it would have been wasteful to not make one. Luckily, that just meant more strawberry flavor, and it helped tie the usage of the fresh strawberries on top to other components in the layers! Design wise, I just wanted there to be a grid on each layer, alternating between the fresh fruit, the panna cotta, and the chantilly.

Makes one 10-inch by 10-inch, 3-tier layer cake:
For the strawberry and rose panna cotta:
1 1/4 teaspoons gelatin powder
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup strawberry puree
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon rose water
a pinch of salt

In a small bowl, mix together your gelatin powder with water. In a pot, heat up the hydrated gelatin powder with the other ingredients on medium heat until everything is melted together and has a smooth, even consistency. Place two 24-cavity silicone 1-inch half sphere molds onto a tray. Pour the panna cotta mixture into each mold. Freeze for at least an hour and a half before unmolding. Keep these half spheres frozen for assembly, as it will be easier to transfer the panna cotta onto the cake layers that way.

For the chiffon cake:
6 egg whites
3/4 cups granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons soy milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

In a bowl, start by whipping your egg whites with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, the salt, and vanilla extract to stiff peaks. In another bowl, whisk together your egg yolks with the remaining sugar, and slowly stream in the canola oil and soy milk until combined. Sift your flour and baking powder into your egg yolk mixture, then fold into that your whipped egg whites. Pour the batter into a parchment-lined half sheet tray and spread it evenly. Bake the cake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes. Cool the cake before removing from the parchment and cutting into three 10-inch by 10-inch square layers. You might need to make one of the three layers out of cake scraps, depending on how large of a sheet tray you used.

For the strawberry jam:
1 1/4 cups diced strawberries – I used the scraps from the melon-balled strawberries in assembly
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup water

Bring ingredients to a simmer on medium low heat in a pot, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from charring. Once the berries are completely broken down into a soft, paste-like texture, and the liquid has mostly cooked off, remove the jam, and refrigerate it until it has cooled down completely before using in assembly.

For the chantilly cream:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

Whisk together your ingredients until the cream is stiff and does not move in the bowl any more. Transfer into a piping bag lined with an 8-ended star tip and refrigerate until time to assemble.

For the simple syrup:
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
a pinch of salt

Bring your ingredients to a simmer. Once the sugar is dissolved, take the syrup off heat and allow it to cool before using.

For the soy milk soak:
1/2 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

Mix together your ingredients.

For assembly:
36 strawberries

Core your strawberries with a melon baller and toss them into the simple syrup. To start, take your first layer of cake(use the scrap layer if you had to make one) and pour in 1/3 of your soak. Spread 1/3 of your jam onto it. Then with your toppings, start with a piping of the cream in one corner, then a sphere of panna cotta, then a sphere of strawberry. Keep alternating with your toppings until you have covered the layer, then repeat with the next two layers. Keep the cake refrigerated for at least an hour, to help the panna cotta thaw, before serving.

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