My list of high altitude Classic Cakes recipes wouldn’t be complete without a Strawberry Cake. Since my birthday is July, right in the middle strawberry season, I usually make myself a pretty pink strawberry cake. It’s so moist, light and fluffy, full of natural strawberry flavor complemented with vanilla and buttermilk. I use both fresh strawberries, as well as freeze-dried strawberry powder. The freeze-dried strawberries give the cake an extra boost of flavor that you won’t get with just fresh strawberries. If you’re looking for a from-scratch high altitude strawberry cake that’s full of flavor, then you’ll love this cake!
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What are Freeze-Dried Strawberries?
For maximum strawberry flavor in my strawberry cake, I use freeze dried strawberries, as well as fresh strawberries. Freeze Dried Strawberries have had the water removed from the fruit, but they still retain their flavor and nutrients. They have a concentrated strawberry flavor, which makes them ideal for baking.
When you bake with fresh, whole strawberries, they tend to add too much water to the batter. In addition, have you ever noticed that the color of fresh strawberries, when baked, isn’t very appealing? But by using freeze dried strawberries, you can add more flavor to your cake and baked goods without excessive moisture.
Where to Buy Freeze-Dried Strawberries
Freeze-dried fruit used to be hard to find, but now it’s available everywhere. From Trader Joe’s, to Target, to Amazon, you should have no difficulty finding it. You can either buy it in powder form, or buy the whole berries, and easily crush them into a powder. Whether whole or already in powder form, the weight is the same. If using powder, the ingredients should list nothing but strawberries. Other “mixes” such as for protein drinks or strawberry milk, etc, are not suitable replacements.
When I developed this high altitude strawberry cake recipe, I began with my White Velvet Cake. I love the flavor and texture of white velvet cake, and I knew it could be adapted into a delicious, light, fluffy, soft and moist strawberry cake.
- Fresh Strawberries. I use fresh, pureed strawberries for flavor and moisture.
- Freeze-Dried Strawberries. The freeze-dried strawberries add a big punch of strawberry flavor.
- Unsalted Butter. Richness and moisture.
- Granulated Sugar. Sweetness and moisture.
- Egg Whites. Provides structure. Using only egg whites, instead of whole eggs, gives the cake a nice light color instead of a yellow tint from using egg yolks.
- Lemon Juice. The lemon juice enhances the flavor of the strawberries, as well as contributes acid for additional lift on the cake.
- Buttermilk. A wonderful ingredient in cakes, which provides flavor, moisture and tenderness.
- Vanilla Extract. Flavor.
- Cake Flour. Cake flour is preferable to all-purpose flour. With its lower protein content, it yields a lighter, fluffier cake crumb.
- Baking Powder. Leavens the cake, making it rise.
- Salt. Balances the sugar.
- Food Coloring (optional). Food coloring in strawberry cakes is controversial. Without it, you won’t get a strong pink color in your cake, but rather the light tan color you see in my photographed cake. If you see a strawberry cake that’s vivid pink, just know that it’s full of food coloring. (My cakes pictured here are naturally colored, with no food coloring.)
TIP: Be sure to review my Baking FAQs for all of my baking tips. For high altitude adjustments (my cakes are tested and baked at 5,280 feet), see this article. It’s always good practice to set out your cold dairy ingredients several hours ahead of time to let them come to room temperature, so they emulsify correctly in the batter.
Make the Strawberry Puree.
Wash and hull about 1/2 pound of fresh strawberries. Puree to a liquid in a food processor, adding more berries if needed. You’ll need 1 1/4 cups liquid puree total for the cake and the buttercream.
Cream the Butter and Sugar.
I cream the butter and sugar for a good 10 minutes, until it’s very fluffy, and lightened in color. A stand mixer is absolutely necessary.
Beat in the Egg Whites.
This recipe calls for 6 egg whites, so be sure to save the yolks for another use, such as ice cream, custard, or lemon curd. Beat the egg whites, one at a time, into the butter/sugar mixture.
Whisk Together the Liquid Ingredients.
I like to do this step in a large 4-cup liquid measuring cup, so I can just measure everything and whisk it in the same container. Whisk together the strawberry puree, lemon juice, buttermilk and vanilla extract.
Sift the Dry Ingredients.
Measure your cake flour using the “spoon and sweep” method. If you scoop your flour using the measuring cup, you’ll pack too much flour into the measuring cup, resulting in a dry, dense cake. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and freeze-dried strawberry powder to remove any lumps.
Add the Liquid and Dry Ingredients to the Batter.
With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the liquid, starting and ending with the flour. Although your cake batter will start off as a pretty pale pink, it will fade to the pinkish-tan color you see pictured here; this is simply what happens to strawberries when they bake. If the color bothers you, tint your batter with a few drops of red food coloring (whisked into the liquid ingredients) for a more vivid pink cake. The buttercream remains naturally pink from the strawberry powder and puree.
Divide the batter between your prepared pans. I always tap the pans on the counter a few times to pop any large air bubbles that might be trapped in the batter from mixing. Bake on the center oven rack, until a cake tester comes out clean, then cool completely before frosting.
Frost and Decorate.
I would encourage you to read my comprehensive guide How To Make Perfect American Buttercream. If you struggle with your buttercream, I can help! I have so many tips and tricks, as well as recipe variations.
If you like, garnish the cake with fresh strawberries, right before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I substitute for the buttermilk?
If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make sour milk with whole milk and something acidic like white distilled vinegar or lemon juice. I usually add 2-3 teaspoons of acid to every 1 cup of milk.
Can I use all-purpose flour instead of cake flour?
Yes, but your cake won’t be as light and fluffy.
Does the strawberry puree need to be reduced first?
No, you should not reduce the strawberry puree, or you’ll end up with a dense cake.
Where can I find freeze-dried strawberries?
You can find them at Target, and on Amazon.
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High Altitude Strawberry Cake
All recipes on Curly Girl Kitchen are developed for high altitude at 5,280 feet.
- Stand Mixer
- 1 cup fresh strawberry puree (see note)
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 6 egg whites (save the yolks for another use)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 ½ cups whole buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled, then sifted
- 3 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- 1 oz freeze-dried strawberry powder or finely crushed freeze-dried strawberries
- 2 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- ¼ cup fresh strawberry puree (see note)
- 1 oz freeze-dried strawberry powder or finely crushed freeze-dried strawberries
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp meringue powder (optional)
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1-2 tbsp milk or cream, if needed for desired consistency
- Preheat the oven to 350. Grease three 8-inch cake pans with non-stick spray.
- Prepare your strawberry puree and set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar for about 10 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until fluffy and lightened in color.
- Beat in the egg whites, one at a time, beating well after each. Scrape the bowl down again.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the strawberry puree, lemon juice, buttermilk and vanilla.
- In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and freeze-dried strawberry powder.
- With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the wet ingredients, starting and ending with the flour. Mix just enough to combine, then use a spatula to finish bringing together the batter and stir in any dry bits. (If desired, add a few drops of red or pink food coloring with the wet ingredients.)
- Divide the batter between the pans. Bake on the center oven rack for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester in the center comes out clean and the tops of the cakes spring back when gently touched.
- Set the pans on a wire rack, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely before frosting.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and strawberry puree for one minute to combine.
- With the mixer on low, add the freeze-dried strawberry powder, powdered sugar, meringue powder, vanilla and salt until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and whip for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy, adding the milk as needed for desired consistency.
- Fill and frost the cooled cakes with the buttercream.
- Set all of your dairy and cold ingredients out ahead of time so that they are at room temperature.
- For the strawberry puree, wash and hull about a half pound of strawberries, and puree to liquid in a food processor, adding more berries if needed. You’ll need 1 1/4 liquid cups puree total for the cake and the buttercream.
- Measure out your flour, using the “spoon and sweep” method, then sift to remove any lumps. Sifted cake flour yields a much lighter crumb.
- You can also use whole freeze-dried strawberries and crush them to powder with your food processor. Whether whole or already in powder form, the weight is the same. If using powder (available on Amazon), the ingredients should list nothing but strawberries. Other “mixes” such as for protein drinks or strawberry milk, etc, are not suitable replacements.
- Although your cake batter will start off as a pretty pink, it will fade to the pinkish-tan color you see pictured here; this is simply what happens to strawberries when they bake. If the color bothers you, tint your batter with a few drops of red food coloring for a more vivid pink cake. The buttercream remains naturally pink from the strawberry powder and puree.
- This cake uses egg whites only; don’t throw out the yolks! Use them to make lemon curd, a custard-based cream pie or tart, or ice cream.