There’s nothing like a fraisier for drama. It’s got shape, it’s color, it’s got motion…and all that before you even take a bite. A fraisier isn’t a cake, it’s a gâteau, which is not a fancy French term for the same thing. Rather the word denotes a structure made up of various fruit and/or cream layers, all supported by thin layers of sponge. The fraisier gets its name from the French word for strawberry, and you can see why. This thing is packed with fruit, all held in place by an extremely rich crème mousseline filling and topped with cognac-infused sponge cake and marzipan. It ain’t messin’ around.
Start by getting all your components ready. As with all fancy pastries, it’s best to make up all the elements over the previous couple of days so you can devote the final day to building it. It’s a low-stress approach that’s also the most fun. So, assuming you have your génoise, crème mousseline, cake syrup, royal icing, and strawberries in hand, begin by coloring your marzipan. You want a nice mint green or rosy pink. Whichever color you choose, go easy on the food color. One drop of gel green will do this whole batch of marzipan.
Fold it over and just knead it in. You’ll see a few streaks…
…and in about a minute the whole thing will even out. Nice!
Pan-wise I’ll be using this 8″ x 8″ x 2″ push-up pan. You can also use a 9″ round pan with a removable bottom, like a springform. Bottomless cake rounds or squares also work great if you can find them.
Begin by cutting the génoise. Here I have an 8″ x 8″ cardboard square that I’m using for my guide. I cut one piece of sponge out of my sheet…
…then the other. Save those pieces to make a few petits fours or something later. You never know when they might come in handy.
Since I’ll be sending this pastry off to the university for disposal by grad students, I’m going to use my cardboard guide instead of the pan’s metal plate for the bottom.
I’ll put that in the pan and cover it with a very thin layer of mousseline. This will prevent strawberry juice from weeping into the sponge cake and discoloring it. Make sure to wipe any mousseline off the sides of the pan before you start putting the strawberries on, since you’ll see all that when you unmold the fraisier. Try to wipe away any large blobs along the edges the cake as well. It’ll look neater in the end.
And now for the fruit. Cut the tops off your strawberries.
Then cut them in half, top to bottom.
Apply them cut-side out to the sides of the pan.
Go all the way around, fitting them as best you can. Oop, there’s a little mousseline there. Better wipe that!
Now put in about a cup of mousseline, enough to come about half way up the strawberries.
Gently push the mousseline against the berries to get it into the spaces in between the cut halves. If the mousseline isn’t flowing into those cracks, you can gently push some in there with a popsicle stick or the blunt, handle end of a spoon or fork. You’ll glad you did when it’s time to unmold the pastry.
Now add the rest of your berries, all cut into pieces.
And then another cup or so of mousseline, enough to cover the strawberries on the sides of the pan.
Again make sure you gently press the mousseline into the spaces between the strawberries around the edges. Go along the edge making little twisting motions with your icing spatula.
Then smooth out the top. You want to linger over this step, making sure this layer is completely flat, as the shape of this layer will dictate the contours of your top. The tendency is always to heap up filling in the middle and forget the corners — so make sure you don’t. Again, carefully wipe away excess mousseline on the pan sides.
Once you’re satisfied, put the other sponge piece on top.
Apply your cardboard guide to the top (in my case I had two of these) and press down firmly to compact everything a little. Don’t get carried away here. About five seconds of gentle but firm pressure.
Now’s the time to apply a little of your cognac syrup if you’re using it. Don’t get carried away and soak it. You can also skip this step if you like.
Apply another very thin scraping of mousseline which will function as a glue to hold your marzipan top on.
Now it’s time to roll out your top. Take about half the marzipan and apply it to a board lightly dusted with powdered sugar. Dust the marzipan a bit and also your pin to prevent sticking.
Apply the pin and roll a bit, moving and/or rotating the marzipan every so often to make sure it isn’t sticking. If it is, apply more sugar.
Once the marzipan is rolled out to a thickness of about 1/8″ or so, use your guide to cut a square. I leave a little extra on the edges since it gives me room for error putting it on.
Depending on how confident you’re feeling, you can pick up the marzipan and put it on, or drape it over your rolling pin if that feels better.
Once it’s applied, go around and trim it with a very sharp knife using little sawing strokes.
Almost there! Lastly you can do a little decorating. Since I’m a no-frills kinda guy, I generally use simple geometric patterns. I apply a ruler, then make a little dot of royal icing at the inch intervals.
I then move the ruler back half an inch and make little dots on the half-inch marks.
About ten minutes of that action and I have this sort of arrangement. Don’t worry if you mess up a few. You can always go back once the icing dries and remove misshapen dots. Or just leave them since once the cake is cut absolutely no one will know or care. Put the fraisier in the refrigerator at this point and chill it for about four hours or overnight.
When the fraisier is fully chilled, it’s time to unmold it. You’ll want to let it sit at room temperature for about half an hour or more so the pan warms a bit and the sides loosen. Test the fraisier’s readiness by applying some pressure to the bottom. If it resists you too much, let it sit another 10 minutes or so. Eventually it will release.
There. Pretty no? Like chilly, buttery flames.
Some sides will surely be better than others. But all in all you’ll be pretty pleased, I promise you.
Cut the cake as you like — while it’s cold. This easily cuts into 2″ x 4″ pieces, which is a bit much for dessert, but just about right for the middle of the afternoon with a cup of coffee. Make sure you let the fraisier slices sit at room temperature for at least half an hour before serving to allow the moussleine to return to its silky texture.
Excuse me, won’t you?