1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

2 cups cake flour, sifted

2 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. kosher salt

6 egg whites

(1) 3 ox. Box strawberry Jell-O

¾ cup milk

¾ cup strawberry puree

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease a 13x9x2 pan, tube pan, Bundt pan, two 9-inch round pans, I have used them all. Dust with flour, discard any excess.

Beat butter and sugar together until you get a fluffy consistency and light color, 3-5 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine egg whites, milk and vanilla extract in another bowl. To the butter/sugar mixture, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture. End with flour mixture.

Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake 30 minutes (check at 25 minutes). The cake is done when a cake tester comes out clean.

Before frosting, make sure cake has cooled completely. I have placed cakes fresh from the oven on moist tea towels, also I have placed cake layers in the oven for 10-20 minutes when I need to cool them fast.


1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 tbsp. heavy cream or whole milk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

4 ½ cups powdered sugar (start out with 4 ½, I have sometimes needed to add a little more)

½ cup strawberry puree

Whip butter in a mixer until fluffy. Add cream, vanilla, strawberry puree, then gradually the powdered sugar.

I know why Rachael Ray doesn’t bake. It requires accuracy, precision, and any whimsical acts must be strategically incorporated. You have to really care about baking – or have it in your blood – to achieve ideal pastries and desserts. Capricious but quick-learning and luckily creative, I’m a great cook. Somewhat by accident (with perhaps a mental image of my ancestors egging me on), the time has now come for me to become a great baker.

The Cake Mix Doctor cookbook I have owned for a year speaks of family favorites – pages stuck together with cream cheese frosting, edges of pages folded down so long they have molecular memory, and pages taped into the frayed book spine to keep them from falling out completely.

These pages tell stories of spice cakes in the fall, Buche de Noel in winter, and berry cakes in summer. It’s allowed me to be whimsical and get professional, all-day-baking results, which for me has been the best of both worlds.I am well-versed in brownie mixes, I know just what to add – cream cheese, butterscotch chips, dried fruits – so as to make them delicious enough that no one cares they’re not from scratch.

I’ve taken the easy route and used store-bought pie crusts, although I took a six-hour class to learn how to make them. My drop cookies get me noticed, but before I start attempting iced, stained glass or piped-frosting varieties, I feel I must become scratch cake literate.

Cake. First of all, “cake” is one of my favorite words, and they are needed for our usual celebrations. Therefore, my crash course in baking is usefulness matched by a desire to fulfill some sort of culinary mission. The mission is to become well-rounded. The byproduct, I have come to learn about myself, is gratification I suspiciously don’t dislike.

My “strawberry cake”, as family and friends have come to call it, is whipped up quickly with the help of Classic White cake mix for spring holidays and summer cookouts. Occasionally I use fresh raspberries in place of strawberry puree for bridal or baby showers. Just recently one of my girlfriends asked me to make her a Red Velvet Cake for her birthday.

Oooh, something new. A challenge. I derived so much joy from being asked to make it, became encouraged to learn that it wasn’t difficult, and was surprised when I wanted to try more scratch baking that was more rewarding than I ever expected. Plus, I got compliments. Then, people started expecting baked things from me.

Me? Don’t they have any idea that up until now I was bluffing? Does that make me a cheater, or worse, a culinary liar? What if – oh, gees – what if people ask this of me with recurring frequency? Why do I get so worked up over food?

Maybe it’s because this is my job, I want to be good at it. I get requests and compliments instead of performance reviews. I don’t have colleagues, I have children, a continually hungry husband, and also friends – all of whom are great reasons to spend night and day in the kitchen.

“We’re giving Kelly a surprise party on June 13th, I thought you could do the cake,” said my Red Velvet Cake girlfriend. Let’s see, strawberries are in season, the kids will still be in school, and I can’t in good conscience serve that many of my peers a cake from cake mix. I must – remember, I’m on a mission – must do this the hard way, the right way, and in some strange way, because I’ve already established some crazy standard for myself.

So last week, I visited two local baker’s outlets and used my newbie status to endear myself to cake matrons.

“Gum paste flowers are edible, right?”

“Does fondant really taste that bad?”

“Do you give decorating classes?”

To which they responded in one way or another, “You’ll do just fine, honey.” And I did, although I am still learning. My scratch strawberry cake turned out just right – it was moist, flavorful, and pink – everyone loved it. But my buttercream was too runny due to the fresh strawberry puree. I know now from experience to compensate with additional powdered sugar. I used gum paste flowers as decoration for the cake top, but soon I’ll be fluent in pastry tip cursive (although this skill intimidates me like none other). Cake decorating classes start in August and I will be ready.

I will never discard The Cake Mix Doctor, however. Being well-rounded requires awareness; of how hot a 350º oven makes the house in August, of how air temperature and humidity can alter results, of how kids who want cupcakes just don’t care (or know) if you slaved all day sifting cake flour or hooked up with your old friend Betty Crocker.

And a smart girl has a few shortcuts up her sleeve.

No matter what it is I bake, I’m getting in touch. Somewhere inside of me is a meticulously coiffed, Gingham check apron wearing, post-WWII matriarch who has a tray of cookies ready for her children returning home from school and cherry pie aromas wafting out the kitchen windows to greet her husband as he pulls his Chevy Bel Air into the driveway.

She is a timeless, well-rounded woman. She knows more than she lets on. She is me. (Me?).

Smantha Gianulis

Samantha recently released my her family food memoir, Little Grapes on the Vine…Mommy's Musings on Food & Family .

Samantha is a self-taught chef. She worked in the Catering and Special Events industry for seven years before becoming a stay at home, now a work at home, Mom.
She appeared on NBC's ivillage Live.

Smantha Gianulis

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Smantha GianulisApron Strings Cooking ColumnHome CookingCooking and RecipesSTRAWBERRY CAKE 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 ½ cups granulated sugar 2 cups cake flour, sifted 2 tsp. baking powder ¼ tsp. kosher salt 6 egg whites (1) 3 ox. Box strawberry Jell-O ¾ cup milk ¾ cup strawberry puree 2 tsp. vanilla extract Preheat oven to 350º. Grease a 13x9x2 pan, tube pan, Bundt pan,...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids