The fraisier gets its name from the French word for strawberry, la fraise. It is also, I learned, not a cake in the strict sense of the word, but a gâteau, which denotes an elaborate cake with layers of cream and/or fruit. In this case, it has both.
Visually stunning, the fraisier is distinctive because of the layer of strawberry halves arranged so that the cut sides line the outside of the cake. Above and below the strawberry layer is a light and airy genoise sponge, cut in half horizontally and soaked in a simple syrup, often infused with kirsch. And holding the berries in place is a layer of mousseline cream, a traditional crème patissiere enriched with butter to make it extra smooth and creamy. On top is a thin layer of marzipan decorated with more berries, chocolate and a generous dusting of powdered sugar.
All this was required of the Great British Bake Off bakers in 2½ hours! While I didn’t actually time myself, I think it took me about 3. Not too bad, considering all the steps involved.
This being a technical challenge, and a cake, it’s Mary Berry’s recipe. And while her recipe is fairly straightforward, I recommend watching her make it on The Great British Baking Show Masterclass (season 5, episode 2 on Netflix). She switches up the order of things a bit and gives a few helpful hints that aren’t in the recipe.
To start, she has you cut a circle of marzipan, rolled thin, the same size as the cake tin and put it in the fridge to keep it cold. Then you make the genoise sponge. Here she also differs from her recipe, in that she doesn’t whisk the egg mixture over a bain-marie but simply uses a stand mixer to get the eggs fluffy and thick. Once that’s done, you sift the flour and fold it gently into the egg mixture in two stages, so as not to lose the air in the whisked eggs. After that, you fold in the cooled melted butter and then pour it into the lined springform pan.
While the cake is baking, make the simple syrup. Mary’s recipe calls for using lemon syrup instead of kirsch, but she does add a bit of kirsch to the crème pat. (And if you don’t have any kirsch on hand, she says to use whatever you like, so I added raspberry liqueur instead.) Set that aside to cool while you make the mousseline cream.
This is the most complicated part of the recipe. First, you heat the milk on the stove with a split vanilla pod for flavoring. While the milk is coming up just to the boiling point, whisk the eggs (between the cake and the eggs, this recipe calls for 8 eggs and 2 egg yolks!) with the sugar, kirsch (or liqueur) and cornstarch. (Helpful hint: On the Masterclass, Mary recommends whisking the sugar and cornstarch together first to prevent lumps.) After whisking the hot milk into the eggs, pour it into a clean saucepan and put it back on the stove, stirring constantly until it thickens. At this point, you stir in the butter until it’s fully incorporated. This is where mine started getting lumpy, so I transferred the mixture to my mixing bowl and used the whisk attachment on my stand mixer to bring it back to a smooth consistency.
Let that cool in the refrigerator while you prepare the cake and strawberries. Using the same pan that the cake was baked in, line the inside of the cake tin with acetate or parchment paper. Slice the cake in half horizontally, keeping in mind that the top half will be cut side up, so try to get an even cut. Place one half in the bottom of the cake tin and brush it with half the lemon syrup. Cut about 12 strawberries in half vertically and line them up around the inside of the cake tin, cut side out, pushing them snugly against the wall of the pan.
Filling a piping bag with the crème pat, pipe a layer of cream over the cake in the pan and in between the berries, then pile the rest of the strawberries, which have been hulled and quartered, into the center. Cover them with the rest of the pastry cream, and smooth the surface with an offset spatula. Place the second half of the cake, cut side up, on top of the cream and brush it with the rest of the lemon syrup. Top that with the circle of marzipan and refrigerate.
When ready to serve, carefully remove the cake from the tin, place on a serving plate and decorate with reserved berries and chocolate. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.
The result is a light but elegant confectionary creation that would make an exquisite ending to a festive dinner party or a stunning addition to a dessert table at any large celebration.
Here is a link to Mary’s recipe on BBC.co.uk, but I’ve adapted it here for American bakers.
Mary Berry’s Fraisier Cake
Adapted for American bakers
For the cake:
- ½ c. + 2 T. superfine (baker’s) sugar
- 4 eggs
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 1 c. flour*
- 1½ t. baking powder
- 3½ T. butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
For the lemon syrup:
- 1/3 c. + 1 T. superfine (baker’s) sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 4½ T. water
For the mousseline cream:
- 2½ c. milk
- 1 vanilla pod
- ¾ c. + 2 T. superfine (baker’s) sugar
- ¾ c. cornstarch
- 4 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 T. kirsch (or any other liqueur)
- 11 T. butter, cubed, room temperature
- 7 oz. marzipan
- 7 oz. dark chocolate
- 1 lb. 5 oz. strawberries
- Roll out the marzipan into a 9-inch-circumference circle. Use the base of a 9-inch springform pan to draw a perfect circle. Place marzipan on a flat surface and refrigerate until needed.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease, flour and line the base of the springform pan.
- To make the cake, place sugar, eggs and lemon zest in a large bowl over a pan of simmering water. Using an electric whisk, whisk the mixture over medium heat until doubled in volume and pale in color. You’ll know it is at the right stage when it forms a ribbon trail on top of the mixture in the bowl when the whisk is lifted up. Remove from heat. (Alternatively, you can combine the sugar eggs and zest in a large mixer bowl and use the whisk attachment to beat until thick and fluffy.)
- Sift two-thirds of the flour into the bowl and gently fold it into the egg mixture. Add the remaining flour and fold again, trying to keep as much of the air in as possible. Gently fold in the melted butter. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the sides of the cake begin to come away from the tin and it is a pale golden brown. Allow the cake to cool for a bit in the tin, then turn it out onto a cooling rack. (Be careful as this sponge is quite delicate.) It should be just under 2 inches tall.
- While the cake is baking, make the lemon syrup by placing the sugar, lemon juice and water in a small saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil rapidly for two minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- To make the mousseline cream, pour the milk into a wide-based saucepan. Split the vanilla pod along its length and add it to the milk, along with the seeds. Bring the milk just to the boiling point, then take it off the heat.
- While the milk is heating, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl, then add the eggs, egg yolks and kirsch, whisking until blended.
- Pour the hot milk through a sieve into the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Pour the custard into a clean saucepan and set it over a medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens. (It will take about four minutes to thicken, but when it does it happens very quickly, so you need to really keep stirring to prevent lumps.) Whisk until smooth. Continue cooking until the cream is very thick, so that it can be piped and will hold its shape. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until thoroughly melted and combined. If it does appear lumpy at this point, transfer to a large mixer bowl and whisk on high speed until smooth and creamy.
- When slightly cooled, pour into a shallow dish and chill in the fridge for about an hour until really cold and set firm. Alternatively, you could fill a large piping bag with it and leave in the fridge overnight to chill.
- When the cake is completely cool, slice it in half horizontally, creating two slim discs of cake. The cut side must be as level as possible, as it will be visible in the finished cake.
- Place a strip of acetate, plastic wrap or parchment paper around the inside of the springform pan. Place one layer of cake in the bottom of the cake tin, cut side up. Brush the cake with half the syrup. Using the back of a spoon, gently press the edges of the cake down so that they are pushed directly against the sides of the tin, creating the defined edges necessary for the fraisier cake.
- Rinse, hull and halve about 12 strawberries, trying to make them about the same height. Place the cut sides of the strawberries against the plastic around the inside of the tin, pressing them snugly onto the surface of the cake and against each other, forming a crown of strawberries around the inside of the cake pan.
- Taking the chilled mousseline cream out of the fridge, spoon it into a large piping bag fitted with a ½-inch tip. Pipe a spiral to cover the entire cake in the bottom of the tin. Then pipe between each of the strawberries to fill the gaps right to the top of each strawberry.
- Set about 3-5 strawberries aside for decoration, then hull and quarter the rest and place on top of the cream in the cake tin, keeping them toward the center but in an even layer. Pipe another spiral of cream on top of the cut strawberries to cover the whole surface. Smooth with an offset spatula.
- Place the other cake half on top of this, cut side up so it has a flat top. Gently but firmly press the cake down so that the cake and filling push against the lining of the pan to create the distinctive smooth sides of the fraisier. Brush the top of the cake with the remaining lemon syrup, and lay the marzipan circle on top of the cake. Put the whole thing back in the fridge to set.
- Meanwhile, make some decorations of your choice with melted dark chocolate: Melt chocolate over a bain-marie or in the microwave on 50% heat, stirring every 30 seconds. Cool slightly and then transfer to a small piping bag with a narrow or a zip-lock plastic bag with a tiny hole cut in one corner. Pipe in swirls onto wax paper and allow to set.
- When ready to serve, remove the cake from fridge; very carefully release the spring and remove the cake from the pan and peel back the lining. If necessary, touch up the sides with a palette knife, smoothing the cream between the strawberries. Transfer to a serving plate and decorate with reserved strawberries, chocolate decorations and a dusting of powdered sugar. Serve chilled.
*Mary’s recipe originally calls for self-rising flour, while you can find this in the grocery store, I read that the American version of self-rising flour contains salt, where the British version does not. So I prefer to make my own, adding 1½ t. baking powder to each cup of regular flour, as listed in the ingredients here.