I remember going to a restaurant once and being repulsed at the "strawberry shortcake" that was served which had a base of something closer to a cookie than a cake. As it turns out, this is the "correct" American version, but you know what? I spit on American shortcake. The form I'm familiar with--strawberries, sweetened whipped cream, light sponge cake--is apparently a Japanese take on the concept, and I must say that once again I prefer the Asian approach to the American. I swear it's not a racial thing.
That aside, this is the latest in a series of experiments involving the original sponge that I had discovered. The main variable I was playing with in this cake was the sweetened whipped cream. Whipped cream alone is not stiff enough to hold a cake together; especially when you consider that it must be sliced, and pieces will be taken with forks, etc. It's simply too squishy. This problem is remedied with the addition of confectioner's sugar, which sets as the cake rests in the refrigerator, but add too much of that and here comes the diabetic shock. What I ended up settling with was:
- 600g cream
- 150g confectioner's sugar
The result was a very workable mixture that didn't taste TOO sweet. I took it to 180 once, which was just way too much; I think the final number I'd settle on is about 130, but in all practicality anything as low as 100-120 would probably be alright.
A side-note: Some people hold that you need all sorts of fancy contraptions to assemble a cake properly; for example, a cake "frame" to hold the cake in constant shape while frosting. This is, if I've ever seen any, some pretty class-A horse excrement. All you really need is a bit of skill and a flat-edged palette knife, maybe an even surface to work on. Sure, tools and gadgets and gizmos will probably make your life easier; especially if you're a professional and turning out one cake after another. But to believe that all that is necessary is an advanced case of what I like to call "powering on the electric mixer before ever holding a whisk." And by advanced, I mean like stages of cancer.
And aside from a bit of sloppiness on the bottom right-ish rim of the cake (oopsies), note how it's pretty presentable even with minimal effort; with an extra 5 seconds, I tidied up the rim to complete flatness. A quickly (albeit extrememly messily, look on the right there!) piped garland type thing did a perfect job in covering those bits that I missed up. Cake frames? Pah!
But all disdain for idiotic doodads aside, if there's one thing this little experiment has taught me it's that I've been giving decoration far too little credit. Thus far I've focused on other technical parts of cooking that weren't to do with pure aesthetics (for example, the intensely fickle process behind macarons) and dismissed decoration as something more artsy fartsy than having a significant effect on taste. Of course I knew appearances played a part in food but I guess I'd underestimated just how much, as well as the degree of technical skill needed for proper decoration even disregarding any sort of artistic ability and flair. I thought I'd hit a soft cap on the technical after I'd finished macarons, but it's nice to know that there's another frontier. And so for the time and effort it takes to properly decorate this strawberry monstrosity as well as the precision needed to get the slices the right thickness, the frosting just so, and the flavor completely balanced; I place it in Category 4.