A fraisier is a strawberry (fraise, in French) cake made of two thin layers of genoise sponge, sandwiched together with creme patissiere (also known as pastry cream), with the strawberries arranged around the edge of the cake, and topped with a thin layer of (often coloured) marzipan. And no, you're right, that's not marzipan on top of my cake - more on that later.
I first came across a fraisier cake on the Great British Bake Off; it looked beautiful but extremely difficult to make. In fact you can see one of the less successful ones from the show here. But I like a challenge and really wanted to have a go at making a fraisier myself. My boyfriend's mum's birthday was coming up and I thought this would be a good opportunity, as she likes strawberries; also, when I make cakes I very often have to transport them on the train when I go to see family and friends and wasn't sure if the cream in this cake would hold up to a long and possibly warm journey. Whereas my boyfriend's mum only lives a few minutes away! The main reason for making it though was that I thought it would be an impressive, beautiful cake, and just right for a birthday treat.
I didn't go through absolutely all of my recipe books (as that would have taken hours) but the ones I did look at didn't have a fraisier recipe, so as I often do, I turned to the internet. I looked at a lot of pictures and websites until I found a fraisier I thought looked particularly impressive, with a recipe that I thought I could follow. I recommend this one by Jo the Tart Queen - I used her recipe and followed her steps for the bake. For that reason I'm not going to put the recipe here in its entirety and instead redirect you to her website.
To start with I made the genoise sponge which is a very light sponge cake where most of the volume comes from whisking the eggs. There is comparatively little butter and flour in the cake (100g of each). The recipe called for 240g of eggs so I weighed them out - I was determined to do this by the book as I was already worrying about how it would turn out! And you don't just whisk your eggs, oh no... you place the eggs and sugar in a bain marie for the sugar to dissolve.
Then whisk the eggs for 6-8 minutes until the volume has roughly tripled.
Melt the butter, and fold in to the mixture.
Fold in the sifted flour and pour the mixture into an 8-inch loose-bottomed cake tin.
Bake at 165C for 28-30 minutes. The recipe I used instructs you not to open the oven within the first 20 minutes or the cake will collapse. Mine turned out nicely.
Next I tried to make the marzipan to go on top of the cake; I thought that by making my own I could add some pink or red food colouring. I've never made marzipan before or even used a sugar thermometer before. It seemed to be going ok, but then it seemed very dry so I added more egg white than the recipe called for - so it's my own fault! Afterwards the mixture was too wet to roll out and kept falling apart. So I decided to abandon that idea and use fondant instead.
The next stage was to make the creme patisserie, also something I'd never done before. I actually found the quantities given in the recipe made far too much - I used two thirds of the 1800ml cream recommended, and even then I had a bowlful of whipped cream left over at the end. So it's up to you if you want to follow the recipe or make a smaller quantity - I'm not sure why I ended up with so much.
To make the creme patisserie, boil the milk with seeds from a vanilla pod. In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks, caster sugar and cornflour in a separate bowl. When the milk comes to a boil, pour it over the egg mixture and whisk. Then pour the mixture back into the pan and whisk over a low heat until the mixture thickens. It was at this point I realised I had pretty much made custard for the first time! Then add the diced butter and whisk in until the butter is melted.
Pour out the creme patisserie onto a tray and cover with cling film, and chill in the fridge until completely cool.
Now whisk your cream until thick, and gently fold in the creme patisserie.
Assembling the cake wasn't as hard as I expected, though slicing the genoise sponge in half was a little tricky as it was a pretty thin cake. That's why you can see a brown patch in the middle in the picture below - that's part of the top layer of cake!
Put the base layer on a cake board and take off the bottom of the loose-bottomed cake tin you used to make it, and place the ring of the cake tin over the cake. Then put a strip of baking paper all the way around inside the ring.
Brush the cake with sugar syrup - you can make your own or buy it in a bottle. I happened to have one from a cocktail party.
Slice some strawberries, trying to choose ones of a similar size, and stand around the edge of the cake with the cut sides facing outwards. Try to make sure there are no gaps between each strawberry.
Fill the cake with the creme patisserie, pushing down gently so it fills the gaps between the strawberries.
Add more chopped strawberries into the middle of the cake
Place the top layer of cake on top, brush with sugar syrup and cover with more creme patisserie
After my unsuccessful attempt at making marzipan I coloured some fondant pink, rolled it out and used the base of the cake tin to cut out a circle of the right size. Place gently on top of the cake.
I took a cookie decorating class before Christmas and learned that when piping you should use royal icing - if you make it quite thick (and add whatever colour you want) it's actually quite easy to control as you pipe. I also bought some mini piping bags which are just big enough to pipe a few words, and give much better control than using a large piping bag that you'd use for buttercream.
To finish off I decorated the top with some fresh strawberries.
The finished cake went in the fridge overnight and was transported to the house still in the cake tin. I almost held my breath as I gently eased the ring of the cake tin upwards... here you can see the baking paper still around the side of the cake. I carefully peeled it off, and was very pleased to find the strawberries and cream all stayed in place - unlike this example from one unlucky contestant on the Great British Bake Off!
Here's the finished cake with a side-view; I really like the way the strawberries look around the edge.
Not as entirely neat as it could be - it was hard to get the fondant on top completely flat as I was putting it onto whipped cream. I would recommend only spreading a thin layer of cream on top of the cake for a better result.
I also could have distributed the chopped strawberries through the middle of the cake a little more, as you can see from this slice. But overall I was really pleased with it - I wasn't sure I would be able to bake a fraisier at all and was worried I would make a total mess of it, but it tasted very good and I was happy with the way it looked.
Calendar Cakes, hosted by Laura of Laura Loves Cakes and Rachel of DollyBakes, is encouraging us to "bake brave" this month in conjunction with World Baking Day, and make something outside of our comfort zone. Well, this fraisier is certainly that - it's one of the most technically difficult things I've baked and I was quite worried it would be a disaster, but I gave it a go anyway - and I'm really glad I did!