Balsamic vinegar and strawberries are a classic pairing. Balsamic vinegar and olive oil are a classic vinaigrette. Surely, I thought to myself, all three must come to sweet-and-sour harmony in a cake.
This recipe came together in my head as I thought about the theme of this contest. I knew I wanted to take the vinegar idea in a sweet direction. Vinegar caramels came to mind, and then I thought of a tartly sweet caramel sauce. That made me think of upside-down cakes, and all at once, the recipe came together. I decided to build on the usual technique for making an attractive upside-down cake: spiral your fruit or toppings at the bottom of the pan, pour over a caramel-based glaze prepped on the stovetop, pour your batter over that, bake, cool, and invert to oohs and ahhs. In order to make sure the flavor of the vinegar was heightened and emphasized, I wanted to include it in both the glaze and the cake. Olive oil cake seemed an inspired pairing with the balsamic vinegar, and so I adapted an olive oil cake recipe I'd worked on previously, swapping in balsamic vinegar for the rosewater I'd previously featured. To keep the aesthetic of the cake spring-like, as a match for the season and the strawberries, I used golden balsamic vinegar instead of its darker, thicker sibling.
This cake comes together quickly. Dense and moist, with an intriguing tartness to offset the jam-like quality of the strawberries, it is rich with eggs and not too sweet. Oh go on, make it for breakfast. —indieculinary
Test Kitchen Notes
This was a really lovely cake, even if I couldn't see myself eating it for breakfast. The strawberry layer is jammy and complex from the balsamic caramel, and the cake is not too sweet, but nice and moist with overtones of the fruity olive oil that I used as well as a tanginess from the vinegar. The strawberries shrink a little, so while I was so set on trying to make it look pretty, I didn't put enough strawberries on the top. Next time I'll use the suggested amount. The hour of baking seems like a long time, but the cake is nice and moist from the olive oil and buttermilk, and the dark brown crust adds a layer of complexity that I really liked. —drbabs
Golden balsamic vinegar glaze and strawberry spiral
Spray an 8-inch cake pan with olive oil spray. Line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper (this is an important step -- it will help your cake release from the pan after baking without disturbing the arrangement of your strawberries). Spray again with olive oil.
Remove stems and slice strawberries vertically. Arrange them in a spiral, starting with the outside layer and overlapping slightly at the bottom of the cake pan.
Combine the brown sugar, golden balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and honey in a stainless steel pan and whisk to emulsify. Bring to a boil and stir frequently until thickened enough that it drips more slowly from your stirring spoon. Remove from heat and pour carefully over the arranged strawberries.
To make the cake batter, start by whisking together in one bowl the sugar, buttermilk, vinegar, and eggs.
In another bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients in three stages, stirring to incorporate each time.
Add your olive oil in 3 stages, folding and stirring to incorporate each time.
Slowly and carefully pour the batter over the strawberries. Don't pour too rapidly, or you'll displace your carefully-arranged spiral.
Bake for approximately an hour. The cake is done when the top is golden and it has pulled away slightly from the edges of the pan.
Cool for 10 minutes, and then run a knife between the cake and the pan to make sure it is completely loosened.
Put a flat plate atop the pan, and then, using potholders to protect your hands, quickly flip the cake while holding the plate tightly to the pan.
Slowly lift the pan, and the cake will be sitting, covered in parchment paper, on the plate. Peel off the parchment paper and be greeted by a beautiful spiral of sweet-tart fruit atop a golden cake.