Sue’s Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake

With my step-mum Sue in Epping Forest in the 1980s

I clearly remember my Dad telling me one summer holidays when I was staying with him in London that he wanted to introduce me to someone special: his girlfriend, Sue. I was about seven or eight years old. I remember being taken completely by surprise but I couldn’t wait to meet her. Particularly because she had hand-sewn me the most exquisite little doll. When I met her, I thought she was a bit like a princess with her long brown hair and her beautiful dresses. Rather like her doll!

For some reason, it wasn’t until I had my first child that it dawned on me how significant a role Sue had played in my childhood. It’s quite common I think for women not to acknowledge what their mothers have done for them until they have their own children. The same was true for me. I saw both my Mum and Sue in new lights.

Whenever I came to stay in London with my Dad during the school holidays, Sue would always make a huge effort with me. We baked together, she helped me make my own dresses, she taught me to play the recorder, she’d take me into the Chelsea Playground where she worked, and we’d play endless games – picture consequences was a particular favourite of mine.

I was 12-years-old when I came to live permanently with my Dad and Sue in London. My twin sisters were just a year old. For me it was all a big adventure; moving to London, getting a new bedroom, starting a new school and meeting new friends. I really never thought about what a massive impact this must have had on Sue’s life: bringing a near-teenager into your home when your hands are already very much full with two little babies. I can’t imagine many people would put themselves forward for that. I’m not sure if I’ve ever said a proper thank you to Sue for this. So, thank you. I’ll say it properly in person when I next see you!

And all this is why I’m so pleased Sue has entered this cake into TACT’s Care to Cook family recipe challenge. Because Sue knows a thing or two about family and welcoming young people into her home.

Over to Sue for her very special Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake…

Since I first made this cake one June to celebrate my twin daughters’ birthday – or should that be birthdays? – I’ve made it almost every year. Often we waited for their birthday to have the first strawberries of the year – all the better for the waiting! When they were away at university it was something to have when they returned home.

We may not have it quite so often these days but this year – when Lottie returned from Spain and met up with her sister, Maura in London – we shared it again. Cakes are often part of getting together as a family and seem to signify special times or celebrations often becoming a bit of a family tradition. Cranberry muffins on Christmas morning whilst we open the presents is another one in our house.

But as it’s summer and strawberries are still good here goes.

(The Victoria sandwich recipe here is based on one of Mary Berry’s. My mother gave me a copy of book of her cake recipes and it’s one of the most used in the house – much splattered and stained to prove it!)

Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake

4 free-range medium eggs
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
225g baking spread, margarine or soft butter at room temperature (or a combination of the two to make the same amount) plus a little extra to grease the tins

For the filling and topping:

At least one punnet of ripe strawberries – some sliced in half (for between the layers), the rest left whole
300ml whipped double cream
450g strained Greek yogurt and whipped cream (see below)
mint leaves for decoration

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.

If using tins rather than silicone cake moulds, grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins: use a piece of baking or silicone paper to rub a little baking spread or butter around the inside of the tins until the sides and base are lightly coated. Line the bottom of the tins with a circle of baking or silicone paper; to do this, draw around the base of the tin onto the paper and cut out.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar, flour, baking powder and baking spread.

Mix everything together until well combined. The easiest way to do this is with an electric hand mixer, but you can use a wooden spoon. Put a damp cloth under your bowl when you’re mixing to stop it moving around. Be careful not to over-mix – as soon as everything is blended you should stop. The finished mixture should be of a soft ‘dropping’ consistency – it should fall off a spoon easily.

Divide the mixture evenly between the tins: this doesn’t need to be exact, but you can weigh the filled tins if you want to check. Use a spatula to remove all of the mixture from the bowl and gently smooth the surface of the cakes.

Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Don’t be tempted to open the door while they’re cooking, but after 20 minutes do look through the door to check them.

The cakes are done when they’re golden-brown and coming away from the edge of the tins. Press them gently to check – they should be springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in their tins for five minutes. Then run a palette or rounded butter knife around the inside edge of the tin and carefully turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack.

To take your cakes out of the tins without leaving a wire rack mark on the top, put the clean tea towel over the tin, put your hand onto the tea towel and turn the tin upside-down. The cake should come out onto your hand and the tea towel – then you can turn it from your hand onto the wire rack.

Set aside to cool completely.

Whip the double cream until thick and stiff. At this point I fold some thick, strained Greek yogurt into the cream; it takes away a little of the richness and makes for a lighter cake. I usually use two-parts cream and one-part yogurt but you can decide on what proportions you prefer.

To assemble the cake, place one cake upside down onto a plate and spread with about half of the cream mixture. Then arrange the halved strawberries on top – you want to cover the entire surface. Place the next layer of sponge on top – add a little more of the cream if the top layer won’t stick to the bottom one.

Spread the rest of the cream mixture on top and crown with the whole strawberries to cover. Arrange them so that they look pretty.

Finally, decorate with a few mint leaves.

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