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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Quick Cake for Early Spring

Fresh strawberries have been reasonably priced this month, and our Easter breakfast potluck at church showed the result of this, with bowls and bowls of the brilliant berries lined up, sometimes mixed with cantaloupe and grapes, but even more often unadorned and beautiful.

That is probably the very best way to enjoy strawberries, but the cake below will also help you stretch a pound or so of berries to a dessert that will cut into 16 to 24 pieces. The recipe will also work with raspberries, and either of these kinds of berries can be used in their frozen form if they are not frozen in syrup.

Though the column on which this blog is based did not include "healthy" in the title (couldn't come up with an alliterative adjective to go with frugal, etc.), I try to keep that as a baseline assumption. Is this cake "healthy?" Well no, but it does have a little more going for it than the "poke" cakes from which it gets its inspiration. Most of these use fruit-flavored gelatin poured over the cake, with whipped topping covering it. My version adds in a little fruit and reduces the sugar-y gelatin substantially. So it remains cake, with lots of preservative-laden ingredients, so it is not something to be indulged in frequently. Still, for that occasional "cake occasion," it may be a better alternative than a two layer, frosting-laden dessert.

So here is today's frugal (if you buy the cake mix and topping on sale), fast, and fun dessert, with a touch of not-as-bad-as-it-could be nutritive value thrown in for good measure.


Strawberry Poke Cake

1 yellow or white cake mix (I made it this week with a spring confetti cake mix that had been on a post-Easter sale for 69 cents at Aldi)
eggs, oil and water
1 pound fresh strawberries, stemmed, washed, and cut into small pieces
1 to 2 T (about a third of a package) strawberry gelatin powder
3/4 c water (only 1/4 c for frozen berries)
8 oz container frozen, low fat whipped topping

1. Prepare the cake mix according to directions BUT use only half the oil and about 1/4 cup less water than called for.
2. Pour the batter into a well-oiled 9 X 13 pan--if you have a 10 inch round pan, this could be used for a more festive looking cake. You will be leaving the cake in the pan, so use your best looking one!
3. Bake the cake as directed.
4. While the cake is baking, combine the gelatin and water, stir well and microwave for about 2 minutes, until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Allow the mixture to cool slightly and then stir in the chopped strawberries.
5. As soon as the cake is removed from the oven, poke holes all across the top of the cake with a fork. Spread the berries evenly over the top, making sure that all parts of the cake are covered with berries and/or juices.
6. When the cake is well-cooled, spread evenly with the whipped topping and refrigerate until serving. If desired, save a few of the berries and top each piece of cake with a couple of berry slices.


A few added notes:

If using frozen berries: Allow to thaw only enough to chop the berries. Reserve all juices and add them with the berries to the gelatin mixture.

If substituting raspberries for strawberries, use raspberry flavored gelatin.

More strawberries can be added for an even more berry-flavored cake. There is no need to increase the gelatin or water when doing this.

Sometimes the cake will rise quite high in the middle. (Different brands seem to fill a 9 X 13 pan differently) If this occurs, you may want to take a large knife and slice off the rounded part of the cake so that the berries and juices do not all slide off the middle section. Another solution to this "problem" would be to bake the cake in two 7 X 11 pans or an 11 X 15 pan, increasing the berries and whipped topping to account for the increased area to be covered.

So what about the "leftover" ingredients, the unused part of the gelatin package and/or the part of the cake that is sliced off the top?

The gelatin:
Pour the remainder into a tightly capped jar, label and use for making this cake again.
Sprinkle over vanilla ice cream for a sparkly addition, or use as "sprinkles" on cupcake or cookie frosting.
Stir a teaspoon or so into a smoothie in which you might have otherwise used a bit of sugar.
For a little girl's birthday cake, I once added the gelatin not used for the topping to the cake mix itself. Very pink, very little-girlish.

The cake:
Crumble the pieces and dry by spreading them on a sheet. Then pop them in the oven after you've turned it off and have taken the cake out. When they are well dried, store in a tightly covered container in the freezer and use in place of graham cracker crumbs in a pie crust.
Or, easiest of all, leave the crumbs in a bowl on the counter and let everyone in the household know they are available for snacks.

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