There are some foods that are so intertwined with certain memories that they seem to define certain places, events, and most importantly family. For me, Strawberry Cake will always be the dessert of church potluck dinners. This classic strawberry cake made with a box of white cake mix, strawberry flavored gelatin and fresh strawberries was always my favorite part of church potluck dinners. It took me years to find a version (and there are many out there) closest to the one I remember.
This moist cake is loaded with strawberry flavor, and the color is truly “vintage” pink. I have eaten this cake at many picnics, potlucks and family get-togethers over the years, and think it would also be outstanding at a bridal shower or baby shower.
Strawberry Cake Recipe made with Cake Mix and Jell-o
I tried to track down the origins of the Classic Strawberry Cake Recipe, or at least a publication date, but I was unsuccessful. What I did find was memories of versions of this cake being made in the 1960’s, which seems about right given the popularity of boxed cake mixes and Jell-O at the time.
In the early 1950’s Betty Crocker was advertising the glamorous “Colorvision Cake”, which got its vibrant color and flavor from the addition of fruit-flavored gelatin. Housewives of the time were incredibly willing to utilize convenience mixes like boxed cake mix and instant Jell-o, ironically, however, women actually added labor back into the cooking process. While they seemed to wholeheartedly embrace convenience mixes, there was a lot of “doctoring them up” with additional ingredients, special touches, or dramatic presentations that gave the impression they’d spent real time and effort in the kitchen preparing the dish.
I can’t find any evidence to support my claim, but I imagine the addition of fresh strawberries to the Colorvision cake was the home cook’s attempts at doctoring up a decidedly prepackaged processed recipe.
I personally am usually hesitant to combine the fresh in-season flavors of sun-ripened berries with artificial flavors like those found in Jell-O, but I make the exception for this cake.
The Cake of Picnics and Potlucks
Regardless of how the Strawberry Cake came to be, what has made it a potluck staple is the ease of preparation, and of course amazing flavor! Let’s face it, there are just some days when you don’t want to open a cookbook, haul out a bag of flour and fill your sink with dirty measuring cups and spoons. In those instances, when the church potluck or child’s birthday is rapidly approaching, boxed cake mixes save the day.
I made this cake on an usually warm Father’s Day. After I had my morning coffee this cake was the first order of business, I live in an old farmhouse with no air conditioning, and in Upstate New York, the high was 91 degrees this year. If you are not familiar, with Upstate New York’s weather, in summer not only does it get hot, it gets humid, so the air has a swampy quality that is rather unpleasant. The cake was mixed and cooked before my kitchen ever had a chance to heat up.
My strawberry cake is always made as a sheet cake. Sheet cakes are totally the unsung heroes of the dessert world. These flat, single-layer, rectangular cakes are easy to make, decorate and transport. If you are feeling extra, or want your strawberry cake for a special occasion you can totally bake your cake in 2 (9-inch) round cake pans (make sure to adjust the cooking times, and you will want to increase the frosting).
- For the cake:
- 1 16-ounce container fresh strawberries, divided
- 1 16.5-ounce package white cake mix
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 3-ounce package strawberry flavored instant gelatin , divided
For the strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 1/4 cup butter 1/2 stick, room temperature
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon strawberry flavored instant gelatin reserved from cake
- 2 tablespoons strawberry puree
For the cake:
- Wash and hull the strawberries and lightly puree them in a food processor. The strawberries should be well chopped up, but not all liquid. You will need 1 cup of this puree for the cake and 2 tablespoons for the icing. The amount of berries called for in the recipe should make more puree than you need. However, if it doesn't, pour the puree into a measuring cup and add just enough water to make 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F and lightly spray a 9X13 baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the cake mix, eggs, and vegetable oil until well combined.
- Open the gelatin and measure out 1 teaspoon and set aside for use in the icing. Pour the remainder of the gelatin and 1 cup of the strawberry puree into the batter and mix well.
- Pour the mix into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before icing.
For the icing:
- In a large bowl with a hand mixer, or in a stand mixer cream together the butter and cream cheese until well combined and all lumps are gone. Add the vanilla and mix well.
- Slowly add 3 cups of the powdered sugar separately mixing well after each addition. Add 2 tablespoons of the strawberry puree and the reserved 1 teaspoon of strawberry flavored gelatin and mix well. Add additional powdered sugar if the icing is too thin. Spread over the cooled cake.
*1 (15-ounce) package frozen strawberries, thawed and pureed can be used in place of fresh strawberries
Initially, the frosting may have a gritty texture, this will quickly dissipate as the Jell-O dissolves into the frosting
Store the frosted cake in the refrigerator.
Recipe Adapted From: Southern Bite
Shop this post:
- The Pioneer Woman Adeline 9″ x 13″ Glass Baker – Walmart.com
- Berries Jubilee Kitchen Towel Set- RetroPlanet
- Appetizer Plate – Green – Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia- Target
Do you have any memories of this strawberry cake? I labeled this as a 1950’s recipe, but that is based off my “best guess”, leave a comment if you can help me pinpoint a more accurate timeline of this classic cake!