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Cool respite: Refrigerator cake is a timeless dessert

Refrigerator cake is a timeless dessert

By Kim Ode

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 7 2012 4:21 p.m. MDT

Step by step assembly of a refrigerator cake - slicing it, filling with berries, the whipping cream for filling and frosting. (Joel Koyama/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

Joel Koyama, Mct

A summer dessert, like the proverbial revenge, is best served cold.

A refrigerator cake is the "great aunt" of such desserts — a little old-fashioned, yet exuding a bit of quiet elegance whenever she arrives on the scene. A serene square of chilled fruit, cool cream and a bit of cake provides a welcome antidote to a steamy evening, or a pretty dessert for a bridal shower (and is a whole lot more satisfying than a dish of sorbet).

Even better, such a cake has to be made ahead of time so it can chill thoroughly.

The term "refrigerator cake" encompasses a wide range of desserts, many of which had their origins in a layered combination of whipped cream and purchased chocolate wafers or graham crackers, so that kitchens never needed to be heated up by baking. Fruit was sometimes added. Then, perhaps with the advent of air conditioning or better insulated ovens, cake rose to claim its place as the best way to sandwich fruit and cream.

We used strawberries for our cake, but you can use almost any fruit you like: velvety mangoes, tart blueberries, fresh pineapple, even bananas with a sprinkling of toasted coconut. This isn't an especially sweet dessert, with no added sugar on the fruit and only a bit in the whipped cream, which means it's important to use fruit at peak ripeness.

With the whipping cream stabilized with some mascarpone cheese, the cake will keep in the fridge for two days, letting you slice off a bit of summertime solace whenever the heat starts to toy with your sanity.

Summer's Best Refrigerator Cake

Serves: 12 to 15

Note: Mascarpone cheese, which comes in a small tub, is added for both flavor and to stabilize the whipped cream. The basic cake recipe, adapted slightly from "The King Arthur Flour Baking Companion," may be baked in a 9-by-13 pan or in two (8- or 9-inch) round pans. We like fresh strawberries as a filling, but other fruits such as mangoes or blueberries would work, too.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 tablespoon baking powder

1¾ cup superfine or granulated sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

5 egg whites

2 ¾ cups cake flour

1 cup milk

Filling:

2 quarts strawberries, or equivalent of other fruit

8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature (see Note, above)

¼ cup powdered sugar

4 cup (2 pints) heavy cream (see below)

Directions:

To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking pan or pans with parchment paper cut to fit, to aid in flipping the cake out of the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, baking powder, sugar, salt and extracts until fluffy and light, at least 5 minutes. Add the egg whites to the butter mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition. (Save the yolks to supplement scrambled eggs, or mix with milk for French toast.)

Mix one-third of the flour into the creamed mixture, then half the milk, another third of the flour, the remaining milk, and the remaining flour. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally throughout this process.

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