strawberry cream cake

Strawberries, cream cheese, and cake – is there any better combination? Strawberry shortcake is the iconic strawberries and cream dessert, and for good reason, but for me, this cake is a step above. Mostly because of the cream cheese, but I’m also partial to soft and tender cake over a craggy biscuit. And you can’t beat the wow factor of a beautiful layer cake with the innards exposed. Cake innards are my favorite.

Of course there’s a price to pay for alternating layers of sunny cake, swirled cream, and ruby strawberries, and that is in fussiness. And who doesn’t love fussiness? Not I.

Because this is a Cooks Illustrated recipe, there are a handful of tricks that make it work. The cream cheese stabilizes and thickens the whipped cream, not to mention it tastes so darn good. Half of the strawberries are halved for maximum visual impact, and the remainder is macerated to remove liquid. The extracted juice, full of strawberry flavor and not to be wasted, is cooked down to a syrup that won’t make your cake soggy.

Three parts that must be separately prepared and then alternately layered to make a tall, striped, impressive dessert.  A dessert which, when sliced, will collapse into a jumble of fruit, cream, and cake that shows a remarkable resemblance to strawberry shortcake.  But it was worth the trouble of all that layering, because fussing is fun, right?

One year ago: Cream Cheese Spritz
Two years ago: Strawberry Lemon Sorbet
Three years ago: Ricotta Spinach Tofu Ravioli

Printer Friendly Recipe
Strawberry Cream Cake (from Cook’s Illustrated)

12 servings

I hate splitting cakes. I baked my cake batter in three separate cake pans instead of one pan which would later need to be split.

I made a half recipe in 6-inch pans.  6-inch round pans are slightly smaller than half of a 9-inch pan, so my layers are taller than the original recipe will result in.

1¼ cups (5 ounces) cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Strawberry Filling:
2 pounds fresh strawberries (medium or large, about 2 quarts), washed, dried, and stemmed
4–6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsch
Pinch table salt

Whipped Cream:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup (3½ ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon table salt
2 cups heavy cream

1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a round 9 by 2-inch cake pan or 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tablespoons sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter, water, and vanilla; whisk until smooth.

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

3. FOR THE STRAWBERRY FILLING: Halve 24 of the best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter the remaining berries; toss with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar (depending on the sweetness of the berries) in a medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain the juices from the berries and reserve (you should have about ½ cup). In the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, give the macerated berries five 1-second pulses (you should have about 1½ cups). In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer the reserved juices and Kirsch until the mixture is syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the reduced syrup over the macerated berries, add a pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until the cake is cooled.

4. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: When the cake has cooled, place the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the speed to low and add heavy cream in a slow, steady stream; when it’s almost fully combined, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2½ minutes more, scraping the bowl as needed (you should have about 4½ cups).

5. TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Using a large serrated knife, slice the cake into three even layers. Place the bottom layer on a cardboard round or cake plate and arrange a ring of 20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around the perimeter of the cake layer. Pour one half of the pureed berry mixture (about ¾ cup) in the center, then spread to cover any exposed cake. Gently spread about one-third of the whipped cream (about 1½ cups) over the berry layer, leaving a ½-inch border from the edge. Place the middle cake layer on top and press down gently (the whipped cream layer should become flush with cake edge). Repeat with 20 additional strawberry halves, the remaining berry mixture, and half of the remaining whipped cream; gently press the last cake layer on top. Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top; decorate with the remaining cut strawberries. Serve, or chill for up to 4 hours.


  1. Beautiful cake! I think I would prefer this to the strawberry shortcakes as well 🙂

  2. This sounds wonderful, and the layers make for some impressive pictures even if they disappear when you dive in 🙂

  3. I love this cake! I have made this 3x, and have used the cake batter and frosting for other cakes too.

  4. so worth it, just for beauty alone.

  5. Such a beautiful cake, Bridget!

  6. Gorgeous! This looks like it should be in a magazine! I love the idea of making three cakes instead of splitting – I can never get the layers even!

  7. I just posted this same recipe this morning. It was one heck of an amazing cake.

  8. what a gorgeous cake! so impressed!

  9. What a delicious cake…. Photos are amazing… ;o)

  10. That looks downright awesome. I love the shortcake recipe I use (definitely soft & tender, not craggy at all), but this sounds like fun.

  11. oh, heck yeah– that is a thing of beauty!

  12. Sounds and looks amazing!

  13. That’s a spectacular tower. I think I would have chucked it in a bowl and called it trifle. I’d eat it in either formation.

  14. Simply stunning!! It’s so pretty that I don’t think I would want to cut into it!

  15. Cristina S says:

    Hi! Amazing cake! I’ll make it for a party this weekend.
    Do you think I could make THE STRAWBERRY FILLING 3 days ahead and keep it in the refrigerator? I have some strawberries now that need to be used 🙂 thanks!

  16. bridget says:

    Cristina S – Yes, I think you can make the strawberry filling three days ahead. Enjoy!

  17. Oh wow Bridget. The visual impact of that is way high. What a stunner. I’d prefer this over shortcake any day!

  18. I made this recipe for Easter dessert. It turned out great and everyone loved it. Defnitely worth the effort.

    Great job!

  19. Barbara Noureldin says:

    What a show stopper for guests. I can’t wait to make it myself, and I would welcome making the effort for such a work of art.

  20. Sabrina says:

    I’ve made this multiple times and my family still just loves it! I was thinking about making this cake using chocolate cake instead of the white cake. Do you think the cake would still taste good?

  21. bridget says:

    Sabrina – I think that’s a great idea! Just make sure you choose a chocolate cake that’s on the denser instead of fluffier side. I wish I had a suggestion for you, but my favorite recipe is light and might squash under the weight of the berries and cream. Let me know how it turns out!

  22. Absolutely delicious! The whipped topping…. there are no words, just yummmmmm! 🙂

  23. Hi, I’m about to make this cake and have a quick question. I would like to use my 6 inch pans also, but is the recipe you posted for the original 9inch cake or the half version? Please let me know asap. thanks for your help!

  24. Bonnie says:

    Hi I am hoping you can answer. Is the whipped cream recipe smooth enough that if I decide to use the recipe for covering a whole cake, will it hold up? Thanks so much!

  25. bridget says:

    Bonnie – It’s smooth, but it’s soft. I think you’d be better off using a traditional cream cheese frosting to coat sides of a cake.

  26. Bonnie says:

    sorry to keep bothering you. again on with whipped cream. my mother in law wants cool whip, i’ve frosted with cool whip before, but have to keep refrigerated. is it softer than that or about the same. yours sounds soo much yummier. 🙂 thanks again.

  27. bridget says:

    Bonnie – Cool Whip is a lot softer than the whipped cream/cream cheese mixture used in the recipe. You could use it to coat the sides of the cake (although then you’re hiding the beautiful fruit layers!), but it won’t support the overlying layers; it’ll just squirt out the sides. If you want to use it instead of whipped cream in the filling, you’ll need to add the cream cheese to it to make it firmer.

  28. Bonnie says:

    Thanks so much for all your help! 🙂

  29. Bonnie says:

    The whipped cream recipe is wonderful! Worked great!
    Held up perfect as an iced cake. Thanks again.

  30. Has anyone tried freezing this?

  31. Dawn – You could certainly make the cake layers ahead of time, wrap them tightly, and freeze for a couple weeks. The whipped cream, strawberries, and layering will all need to be done closer to serving time.

  32. Hannah says:

    Can I leave the Kirsch out of the strawberry filling? Will that wreck the consistency? Is there something else I could use instead?

  33. Hannah – I actually didn’t have kirsch and used port instead, but it’s such a small amount, I think you could just leave it out without it having a significant impact.