I was a little pressed for time when I wanted to make a strawberry dessert, so instead of making a sponge cake from scratch, I turned to a box cake mix I enhanced with sour cream, four eggs, and instant vanilla pudding mix, and it worked beautifully. If making strawberry mousse from scratch is too time-consuming, packaged strawberry mousse mix works just as well. Simple syrup, canned strawberry pie filling, fresh strawberries and an easy cream-cheese frosting are the only other things you need to turn ordinary into extraordinary. This works well with other fruits or chocolate mousse and raspberries. Make the mousse first and let it set up while you make the cake, simple syrup and cream cheese frosting. If you like a lot of frosting, double that portion of the recipe.
- For the Strawberry Mousse:
- 1/4 ounce unflavored gelatin (1 envelope, or 4 leaves sheet gelatin)
- 1/4 cup water (cold)
- 1 pint strawberries (fresh, washed and hulled)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup wine (red or white, or plain water)
- 1/4 cup water (boiling)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- For the Cake:
- 1 16.5-ounce box white cake mix (or yellow cake mix)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 package instant vanilla pudding (4-serving)
- For the Strawberry Pie Filling Layer:
- 1 21-ounce can strawberry pie filling
- 1 pint strawberries (fresh, washed, hulled and sliced 1/2-inch thick)
- Simple Syrup:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water (boiling)
- Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 4 ounces cream cheese (softened)
- 4 ounces butter (unsalted, softened)
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon milk (more or less to thin, if needed)
- Garnish: fresh strawberries
- Garnish: mint leaves
To make the strawberry mousse: Soften gelatin in cold water. Meanwhile, place berries and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Whiz, add wine and whiz again. Add boiling water to softened gelatin, dissolving completely. Add to berries in food processor bowl and whiz until thoroughly combined. Transfer to a bowl and chill until thickened. Whip cream with confectioners' sugar until stiff and fold into strawberry mixture. Chill until thickened and spreadable.
To make the cake: Heat oven to 350-degrees. Line a half-sheet pan (18 x 13 inches) with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, sour cream, water, oil and pudding mix and beat with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined. Pour into the prepared pan, level off and bake until a toothpick tests clean. Start checking for doneness after 20 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. When ready to assemble the torte, run a knife around the edges of the pan. Flip the cooled cake onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the parchment paper the cake was baked on. Using a pizza wheel, cut the crisp edges off the cake on all sides. Then cut the cake into four strips of equal width from the narrower side (from the 13-inch side) of the cake.
To make the simple syrup: Place 1/2 cup sugar into a heatproof bowl. Add 1/2 cup boiling water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool completely.
To make the cream cheese frosting: In a large bowl using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add confectioners' sugar, beating on low speed until blended. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Add vanilla and beat on high speed for 1 to 2 minutes or until fluffy. If too thick, thin with a little milk. Cover and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes or until firm enough to spread.
To assemble the torte: Place 1 strip of cake on a serving plate with a piece of wax paper on all four sides to catch any drips while assembling (these will be removed later). Brush with simple syrup. Spread with a layer of strawberry mousse. Top with second cake layer, brush with simple syrup and spread with some cream cheese frosting, then spread with half of the sliced fresh strawberries and half of the strawberry pie filling. Top with third cake layer, brush with simple syrup and a layer of strawberry mousse. Top with fourth cake layer and brush with simple syrup. Spread with some of the cream-cheese frosting, the rest of the sliced strawberries and the remaining strawberry pie filling. Refrigerate 1 hour before frosting.
When cake is stable, frost sides of cake (and top, if you like) with any remaining cream-cheese frosting and/or strawberry mousse. Alternatively, use the leftover frosting or mousse to pipe decoratively on the top of the torte. Refrigerate until ready to slice and serve. Remove pieces of wax paper. Torte slices best if slightly frozen. But let pieces of cake come to room temperature before serving. Garnish each plate with a fresh strawberry and mint, if desired.