Sunday, June 24, 2012

Strawberries & Cream Layer Cakes and Nielsen-Massey Product Review

It's that time of year again...Wimbledon starts tomorrow, so what better way to get into the swing than with individual strawberries and cream layer cakes. These are lovely little cakes that I've been looking forward to making for ages. They also gave me the ideal opportunity to use and review Nielsen-Massey vanilla samples that I have been sent. So I'll start with the review and then move onto the recipe...

I felt that to give you an honest and unbiased review I ought to do a blind taste test to compare Nielsen-Massey's premium vanilla extract with vanilla it really worth going the extra mile and using vanilla extract in your bakes? So without further ado I whipped up 28 mini vanilla cupcakes, half were made with vanilla flavouring/essence and half with Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract. I then found 14 willing volunteers who took part in the taste test, they ate one of each cake without knowing which was which.

Each tester was then asked to pick a favourite if they could taste a difference. And the results... 11 picked the Nielsen-Massey vanilla cupcake as their favourite, 2 picked the vanilla flavouring and 1 said they couldn't taste the difference.

So the results were fairly conclusive. My favourite quote from a tester was that the cake with the extract gave 'more of a vanilla experience'! Many testers also commented on the fact that the flavouring tasted and smelt more chemically and left an after taste, whereas the Nielsen-Massey product was more natural. I guess this is due to the fact that the extract is made with finest quality vanilla beans.

You can buy Nielsen-Massey vanilla products in many supermarkets and at Lakeland but one thing you will notice is the price differential between buying vanilla essence but as Mary Berry always says...'buy the best you can afford'.

So if you do bake regularly with vanilla or are making a special cake, I would recommend using vanilla extract if you are able as it doesn't just add flavour, it also complements and enhances other flavours too. If you watched the last series of Baking Mad with Eric Lanlard, he actually threatened to throw one lady out of his kitchen as she wasn't using vanilla extract!

I recently made these 'Window Cookies' using Nielsen-Massey's Madagascan Vanilla Bean Paste too. They had a lovely vanilla flavour and you could see the little seeds in the dough. The bean paste can also be used in custard, ice cream and creme brulee or in any other recipe that requires vanilla.

So there we have it! And now for the recipe...
These strawberries and cream layer cakes are perfect for summer and the start of Wimbledon. It also makes a change to have an individual cake rather than a slice of cake. They're not the neatest bake I've ever made but they certainly were tasty. The cake is a sponge recipe made with vanilla extract and interestingly the recipe also included a little ground almond. Each little cake was baked in a mini cake tin. However, if you don't have mini cake tins it is still possible to make these. You can just make a regular large sponge and then use a circular cutter to cut out sponge rounds which can be stacked.
Once the mini cakes were baked, each one was split into three. These are easy to assemble, just whip up some cream with a teaspoon of vanilla extract and thinly slice some strawberries. I started by spreading a little strawberry jam onto each of the bottom two layers and then I piped my cream on top as it gives a better finish, it's also advisable not to overwhip the cream, it should still be quite soft. Then place some of the sliced strawberries on top of the cream.
To decorate the top use a little icing sugar and make it up to a fairly stiff consistency. The icing I used here also had a tablespoon of rosewater in it. The little strawberries on top really finish it off and these can be made in advance. Use pre-coloured sugarpaste or colour your own. You need about four strawberries per cake. To make them just roll little balls of red sugarpaste into a teardrop shape and then top with a tiny blob of green icing for the stalks. To make the strawberries more realistic you can also prick holes in it with a steralized pin or a scribe. Cover the top layer of each cake with icing, leave to set for about four minutes before adding the sugarpaste strawberries. You can then put the whole thing together.

All I need now is a glass of Pimms....oh and maybe some sunshine! :-)

N.B I was sent the Nielsen-Massey vanilla products to review with no expectation but an honest opinion and I received no recompense for the review.


115g caster sugar
115g softened butter
2 eggs
85g self-raising flour
30g almonds
1tsp Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract

300ml double cream
1tsp Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract
200g strawberries
3 tablespoons strawberry jam
200g icing sugar
1tbsp rosewater
Red and green sugarpaste

To make the sponge, whisk together the butter and sugar, it should be pale and fluffy. Then whisk in the eggs before sifting in the self-raising flour. Finally fold in the almonds along with the vanilla extract and divide between the cake tins. The recipe suggests this amount makes 10 cakes but I would suggest dividing it between 8 tins as it seemed a little sparse between 10. One thing to note is that the instructions don't suggest greasing the tin but just in case I greased and floured each one which I think helped.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180c/160c fan/gas 4 for 15-20 minutes until springy to the touch. You can then allow to cool in the pan. To remove slide a knife around the edge of each pan. To finish follow the instructions above.

* Recipe adapted from mini cakes & other bitesize treats


  1. They look very nice indeed! I've always wondered about that vanilla extract. I'm more inclined to buy it now I've seen this review :-)

  2. You always make the cutest bakes Laura! I love the teeny tiny strawberry decorations on top. Perfect little cakes for Wimbledon season.

  3. These are gorgeous! I use vanilla extract all the time - it's definitely better than essence. I've also tried the vanilla bean paste, which is lovely. The finishing touch though, is definitely the teeny fondant strawberries! They look so sweet! :)

  4. Love, love, love your recipes! You make baking look so easy. By the way, we can get the Nielson-Massey extract at Williams Sonoma and from time to time at Home Sense (Canada) which is Home Goods (USA) for a lot cheaper. In fact, I recently purchased some and am glad based on your review. Thanks!

  5. Your little mini cakes look awesome! YUM! I always use vanilla extract now too - really notice the difference x

  6. Yummy dessert! Thanks for sharing.

  7. pretty, pretty, pretty and no doubt also very delicious. I've given up on Wimbledon in the last few years, just can't get into it now.

  8. Very impressive post! Your dainty cakes look very pretty and your idea of blind taste is brilliant. I'm also a strong believer in vanilla extract, not essence! Nielsen-Massey seems like a great brand to buy :D

  9. Ooh I love this vanilla extract. My bottle seems to last for ages too. I've even invested in the paste but still not had the chance to crack it open as I'm still using up the bottle. The layered cakes love divine!

  10. I can confirm that they tasted good...a lot to do with lashing of delicious cream I think!! :-)

    The extract really is good...I always try and use it! :-)

  11. I make so many big layer cakes that mini ones are totaly on my list! Love the mini tins I have been thinking about some but wondered if the cake came out ok or if it would get stuck?

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  13. These look so pretty for summer and I agree the vanilla extract is great. Your little strawberry toppers look great - I've just had a go at making some for cupcakes:)


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