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Turn Strawberry Shortcake into a dessert spectacular

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Ideas like this make the Huffington Post food pages, and every time I see something like it, I wonder why I didn't think of it before. A recent article on strawberries--bursting into the supermarkets of Tucson right now--featured the idea of making a layer of white or yellow cake into one large strawberry shortcake, which you slice and serve.

This appeals to me because basically I don't like cooked strawberries. Any jam or jelly is all right with me, except for those that contain high-fructose corn syrup (Smucker's), but when I think of pie, tarts, crostata or whatever, my mind goes to other berries.

The trick here is to get a cake recipe that works. I looked over many candidates and I include the best one below, and then I advise you to get out your Mary Ann cake pan. I got mine from the King Arthur Flour Company online and it forms a layer with a well on top. Of course you pile on the strawberries and then add a whipped topping.

Remember this: if you assemble the cake just before serving, the juice from the cut strawberries will remain mostly on top of the cake. If you wait or if serving is delayed, the juice will soak down into the cake under the topping. You might prefer it either way, so just adapt the time the cake will stand to the way you would like it to be.

MARY ANN STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE

Ingredients:

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons pastry flour
1/2 cup milk at room temperature
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter at room temperature

1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Whipped cream or topping

Prepare the strawberries and place them in the refrigerator in a bowl so that the sugar will penetrate the fruit. Whip the cream if necessary and place it in cold storage as well.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the Mary Ann cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk the milk, egg whites, and extracts in a medium bowl and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the butter and beat on low for about 1-2 minutes.

Turn the beater speed down to its lowest setting, or Fold, and add the milk mixture to the flour mixture. Fold together for 1-1/2 minutes.

Transfer the batter to the cake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool to room temperature. Turn it carefully out to a serving plate, top with the sweetened strawberries, and serve with whipped cream or non-dairy whipped topping.

A particularly decadent thing to do is serve some extra strawberries on the side so that guests can add more of them to the cake.

You can also use Splenda or Truvia to sweeten the berries and cut down on sugar quite a bit in this recipe. Splenda Bake or another baking substitute for sugar will do the same thing. A beautiful cake like this does not have to be deadly to your health.

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