Italian strawberries and cream cake

Serves Icon
Time 02 Hours 20 Minutes
over 2 days
  • 350g strawberries, halved
  • 100g pistachios
Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge cake)
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 200g sugar
  • 200g cornflour
  • 1 sachet Italian baking powder (16g), sifted (such as Lievito Bertolini)
  • Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon plain (all-purpose) flour, for greasing cake pan
Crema Pasticciera (Italian pastry cream) filling
  • 1 litre milk
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 100g flour
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthways and seeds removed (alternatively 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)
Alchermes syrup
  • 150ml water
  • 45ml Alchermes liqueur – see note in Step 5
  • 30g sugar
Crema Chantilly topping
  • 600ml thickened cream (whipping cream)
  • 40g icing sugar (confectioners' sugar), sifted plus extra to serve
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lenthways and seeds removed (alternatively 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)

Requires: 9-inch round cake pan, stand mixer (or hand beater), palette knife and the sides of an 9-inch Springform round cake pan (optional though important to hold the perfect shape)

How to Make It
Step 1

On Day 1, complete steps 1-10 (one day before serving). Preheat oven to 180°C conventional oven (356° Fahrenheit/Gas 4). Grease a 9-inch round cake pan by lightly buttering the base and sides with margarine or butter. Line the base with baking paper. Add a tablespoon of plain flour into the cake pan, then turn and shake the tin to coat the sides of the cake pan butter in flour. This prevents the cake from sticking to the cake pan.

Tip: A light coloured aluminium metal baking pan creates the best result.

Step 2

To make the Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge cake), separate the egg yolks from the white. Use a stand mixer (or hand beater) to beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. With the mixer running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, then add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the cornflour, one tablespoon at a time. You’ll want to see air bubbles rise to the surface of the cake mixture before adding additional tablespoons of cornflour. Stir in the sifted baking powder and lastly add the lemon zest. Stir until well combined.

Step 3

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 30 mins or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the cake pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Step 4

Meanwhile, to make the Crema Pasticciera (Italian pastry cream) filling, heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan over low to medium heat until just before boing point, then remove from the heat. Place the egg yolks and castor sugar in a large stainless-steel bowl. Whisk until foamy and creamy, then slowly whisk in the flour, tablespoon by tablespoon, until well combined. Continue to whisk and slowly add the warmed milk to the egg mixture until combined. Return the Crema Pasticciera to the saucepan over low heat. Add the orange zest and vanilla bean seeds (or vanilla bean paste). Continue to whisk until thick (it should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

Step 5

To make the Alchermes syrup, combine the water, Alchermes liqueur (or alternative of your choice) and sugar in a small saucepan over low to medium heat. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Set aside to cool.

Note: I have chosen Alchermes for this recipe for the flavour and vibrant pink colour, however you could use another liqueur of your choice e.g. Contreau or a strawberry liqueur

Step 6

To prepare the Crema Chantilly, refrigerate a stainless-steel bowl and the beaters for 10 minutes. Remove the bowl from the fridge. Place the thickened cream into the cool bowl. Add the sifted icing sugar and vanilla bean seeds (or vanilla bean paste). Use an electric mixer or hand beater to beat until stiff peaks form.

Step 7

Use a spatula to fold 50g of Crema Chantilly into the Crema Pasticciera. Cover the Crema Chantilly and refrigerate (it will be used on Day 2 to decorate after the cake has set).

Step 8

Set aside 3 strawberries to decorate on top. Chop the remaining strawberries into small cubes no larger than 1cm. Fold the chopped strawberries into the Crema Pasticciera.

Step 9

Use a large knife (ideally serrated) to cut the Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge cake) horizontally into 3 even layers. Place the base sponge on a serving plate. Spoon one-third of the Alchermes syrup over the base of the sponge cake layer. Spoon half of the Crema Pasticciera filling with chopped strawberries evenly over the base of the sponge cake. Top with the middle cake layer. Repeat by spooning half of the remaining Alchermes syrup, followed by the remaining Crema Pasticciera and then add the final cake layer. Spoon the remaining Alchermes syrup over the top of the cake.

Step 10

An optional but important step is to place the sides of a 9-inch Springform round cake pan around the cake and clamp it shut. This allows the cake to set in the perfect shape. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Step 11

On Day 2, remove the plastic wrap, unclamp and carefully remove the Springform cake pan. Place a small amount of Crema Chantilly into a disposable piping bag fitted with your choice of nozzle and refrigerate until ready to use. Top one-third of the Crema Chantilly over the cake and spread to evenly cover. Use a palette knife to spread and smooth the remaining Crema Chantilly over the sides of the cake, removing any excess. If you have a cake scraper, use it to create a smooth finish on the sides and top of the cake. Remove the piping bag from the fridge and pipe a continuous swirl along one side of the cake to decorate. Top the piped cream with halved strawberries. Pulse the pistachios in a food processor until coarsely ground. Alternatively, use a sharp knife to finely chop.

Step 12

Sprinkle pistachios over the piped scream and strawberries. Lightly press a handful of chopped pistachio nuts into the bottom half of the cake sides where they will stick to the cream. Refrigerate until ready to serve – buon appetito.

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