Have you ever watched the sun set with those you love most?
We are privileged to live in an area where the beauty of the sunsets rival those seen along the shores of Hawaii. Having never been to Hawaii, I can't really corroborate that claim but that's what the locals tell me. Regardless of the validity of that statement, I can attest that the sunsets here are truly breathtaking. If the weather cooperates, we can experience this small miracle every single evening. Because that's what a sunset truly is - a miracle, a daily marvel that occurs necessarily in order for life on earth to continue. I can't help but rejoice in the goodness of God as I watch the gorgeous colors paint the sky as the sun slowly slips beneath the horizon. It's a perfect moment, taking the whole family down to the beach, sitting close together on the wet sand and, just for a few precious seconds, all is quiet as we enjoy being in the presence of such beauty. We have watched the sun set twice this summer so far and each time I wonder why we don't do so every night!
Looks like Matthew did jump right in at some point! Can you believe this kid used to fear water? A running faucet would send bring him to tears. Look at him now!
Emma was in 7th heaven because she loves to be messy. Mud, dirt, sand, water - this girl loves to get down and dirty and the beach is pretty much the only location where that is 100% okay!
So beautiful! Do you think we took enough pictures?
I love the summers in our area! We have the beaches, lush forestry surrounding us for hiking and exploring, and endless miles of farmland and orchards brimming with fresh produce all summer long. We have fresh strawberries ripening by the end of May. Raspberries, Blueberries, and Cherries are at their peak beginning in early July, followed by peaches in August. We took my sister Amy strawberry picking and I was absolutely in shock by how big and beautiful the berries were this year. We go every year regardless of how good the crops are, but due to the cold, lingering winters over the past two years, the strawberry plants have sported only a few, small berries. But not this year! The plants were brimming with big, juicy, bright red berries that were perfectly sweet! Usually, it takes us a bit of time to pick our usual 8 quarts worth of berries. This year, we were finished in less than 20 minutes. Poor Lucy had just settled down into a comfortable spot in the field where she could feast on the berries in front of her when we snatched her back up and headed towards the car because it was time to go!
One of the things we simply had to make with our bounty of berries is this Strawberry Cream Cake. If I had to pick a favorite summertime dessert, this would be my pick. It tastes like strawberry shortcake, only in cake form. The whipped cream cheese frosting is so good with the berries and the filling is unbelievably addicting. Now, this cake is over-the-top with perfectly ripe, in-season strawberries but I have also made it with the sad, anemic berries found during the month of January and it still turned out great with just a touch more sugar added to the filling. Everything comes together really easily for this cake and it is truly a show-stopper. My sister Amy was pretty obsessed with it. She has been begging me to make it again for the 4th of July. We shall see.
Strawberry Cream Cake
from Cook's Illustrated
For the Cake:
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
For the 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
For the 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
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.
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.
Meanwhile, make 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.
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).
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.