Strawberry Cream Cake

From 6 Bittersweets
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated through eat me, delicious and Simply Recipes
Serves 8 to 12.

Cake
1 1/4 cups cake flour (or substitute all purpose & replace 2 1/2 T with cornstarch)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 Tbsp water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Strawberry Filling
2 pounds fresh strawberries (medium or large, about 2 quarts), washed, dried, and stemmed
4-6 Tbsp sugar
2 T Kirsch or dark rum
1 tsp finely minced fresh mint (optional)
Pinch table salt

Whipped Cream
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (low-fat is fine)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 cups heavy cream
*I stabilized the cream with about 3/4 tsp gelatin dissolved in 1-2 T water then microwaved 1 minute on high and cooled

Bake the cake:
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour round 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, by hand, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 Tbsp of the sugar in mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter *or margarine, water, and *extracts. Whisk until smooth.

2. Using a mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. With machine running, gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, 60 to 90 seconds. Stir one-third of whites into batter to lighten. Add the remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert cake onto greased wire rack; peel off and discard parchment. Invert cake again; cool completely, about 2 hours.

Strawberry filling:
3. Cut in half 24 of best-looking berries and reserve. *Maybe my berries were super large but I only needed about 20. Slice or quarter remaining berries; toss with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar (depending on sweetness of berries) in medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. The sugar will macerate the strawberries, making them soft, and generating liquid. Strain the juices from berries and reserve (you should have about 1/2 cup *or more). Put the strawberries in a bowl and use a potato masher to mash them; *add minced mint and set aside. In small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer reserved juices with rum until syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. *This took me over 10 minutes, but I think I had over 1/2 cup of reserved juices. Pour reduced syrup over macerated berries, add pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until cake is cooled. Whipped cream:

4. When cake has cooled, place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add heavy cream in slow, steady stream; when almost fully combined, *add dissolved gelatin if using and increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes more, scraping bowl as needed (you should have about 4 1/2 cups).

Assemble the cake:
5. Using large serrated knife, slice cake into three even layers. Place bottom layer on cardboard round or cake plate and arrange ring of 12-20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around perimeter of cake layer. Pour one half of mashed berry mixture (about 3/4 cup) in center, then spread to cover any exposed cake. Gently spread about one-third of whipped cream (about 1 1/2 cups) over berry layer, leaving 1/2-inch border from edge. Place middle cake layer on top and press down gently (whipped cream layer should become flush with cake edge). Repeat with 12-20 additional strawberry halves, remaining berry mixture, and half of remaining whipped cream; gently press last cake layer on top. Spread remaining whipped cream over top; decorate with remaining cut strawberries.

Serve immediately, or keep chilled. If the whipped cream warms to room temperature it will be harder to keep stable while cutting. *Stabilizing the whipped cream helps it keep a little longer but still try to keep it cold as much as possible.