From personal experience, I’ve found that making a beautiful dessert is only half the battle in a place like New York. The real test is getting it across the city to its desired destination in one piece, and doing everything possible to avoid the worst possible scenario: dropping it on the ground. Cakes are especially susceptible to accidental jostling from hurried subway passengers and sudden changes in movement, so I am — to put it mildly — a nervous ball of energy every time I have to transport one across town (and before you ask, Ubers are often just as anxiety-inducing; was Second Avenue always so bumpy?).
But recently, I carried a 13-by-9-inch slab cake on the 7 train, and instead of maintaining a vigilant two-foot safety radius between myself and another human being at all times, I sat down right next to another passenger, placed the sturdy, rectangular pan on my lap, and zoned out for the 10-minute ride. Not to be dramatic, but I felt pretty invincible.
In addition to their durability in transit, there’s a lot to love about slab cakes: They feed a crowd, are easy to slice and serve right out of the pan, and have a fun, playful feel. Given all these perks, I’m surprised I haven’t made more slab cakes to date. So I consider this month’s strawberries and cream cake a promising start. This single-layer, made-for-a-crowd cake is baked in a 13-by-9 inch pan, and each fruity, creamy bite is a delightful reminder that summer is really here. Though it was originally inspired by American-style strawberry shortcake, it reminds me of a more substantial version of the airy strawberry cream cakes commonly found in Asian bakeries, and I’m not mad about it.
For the tenderest crumb, I recommend cake flour instead of all-purpose, and taking care not to overbake the cake, especially since it’ll fully cool in the pan. Instead of powdered or granulated sugar, the whipped cream topping is made with sweetened condensed milk as a nod to a nostalgic summer treat I loved as a kid — strawberries dunked in the sticky, milky stuff. The cooled cake is drizzled with a few additional tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk before it’s slathered with whipped cream and garnished with thinly sliced strawberries. Although you can sprinkle them on top and call it a day, I like to arrange the slices in a pattern (with alternating rows facing up and down) for a cake that looks as good as it tastes.
Ultra-summery and highly shareable, this is a cake that captures the sunny vibes of the season and proves that the simplest things in life are often the most delicious. Whatever you have planned for the glorious month of July, be it a picnic, birthday party, or cookout, it will make a welcome addition — and a dependable, low-maintenance travel companion.
Strawberries and Cream Slab Cake Recipe
Makes one 13-by-9-inch cake
For the cake:
180 grams (1 ½ cups) cake flour (if you can’t find cake flour, you can substitute with a mixture of all-purpose flour and cornstarch: swap 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for 2 tablespoons of flour per cup)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅔ cup whole milk, at room temperature
For the whipped cream and topping:
1 ½ cups heavy cream, cold
¼ cup sweetened condensed milk, plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling
1 pound ripe strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced (start with 12 ounces of strawberries and slice the rest if you need them; you can also pile more on if you’d like)
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the sides, and lightly grease the parchment.
Step 2: In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
Step 3: In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add the sugar and cream the mixture until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Step 4: Add in the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until combined. Scrape the bowl once more, then beat in the vanilla.
Step 5: Add half of the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and beat just until combined. Carefully beat in half the milk, then add the rest of the milk and beat to combine (to minimize splattering liquid). Add the rest of the dry ingredients and beat just until the batter is smooth.
Step 6: Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a large offset spatula. Bake the cake for 23 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cake may not be very golden in color — that’s okay. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.
Step 7: Make the condensed milk whipped cream: Add the heavy cream, condensed milk, and a pinch of salt to a large bowl. Using an electric mixer or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (start the mixer on slow speed to prevent splattering), whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks.
Step 8: When the cake is completely cool, drizzle 2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk on top and gently spread on the cake (it doesn’t need to be perfect). Dollop the whipped cream on top and spread into an even layer using a large offset spatula.
Step 9: Arrange the sliced strawberries on top to finish. For an aesthetic look, I like to alternate rows of strawberries facing up and down to create a shingle pattern. Serve slices straight from the pan. Cake is best served the day it’s made.
Joy Cho is a freelance writer, recipe developer, and pastry chef based in New York City.
Celeste Noche is a Filipino American food, travel, and portrait photographer based between Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco.
Recipe tested by Deena Prichep