2cupswhole strawberriesdivided (fresh, or frozen and thawed), plus additional for garnish
1/2cupwhole milkat room temperature
1tablespoonpure vanilla extract
1cupunsalted butterat room temperature (2 sticks)
4largeegg whitesat room temperature
2largewhole eggsat room temperature
For the Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/4cupunsalted butterat room temperature
6ouncesreduced-fat cream cheeseat room temperature
4cupspowdered sugarplus additional if you prefer a sweeter or stiffer frosting
2tablespoonsstrawberry pureereserved from cake recipe
1/2teaspoonpure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of 2 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, then lightly coat with nonstick spray. Set aside.
Place the strawberries in a food processor or blender and pulse until pureed. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the puree for the frosting and set aside. Then measure out an additional 2/3 cup for the cake. If you are a little short of 2/3 cup, blend in a few more strawberries as needed.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, vanilla, and 2/3 cup of strawberry puree. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl), cream the butter on medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue to beat until fluffy and well combined. Stop the mixer and add the egg whites. Beat on medium, just until incorporated. Add the whole eggs and mix again, just until combined.
With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture.
Mix just until the flour disappears.
Add in all of the strawberry mixture and mix just until combined.
Slowly add the remaining flour mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Stop mixing as soon as the flour disappears. If you have a bit of flour stuck to the bottom or sides of the bowl, finish stirring it in by hand.
Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops (if you'd like to be exact, use a food scale; otherwise, eyeball it as best as you can). Bake the strawberry cake layers until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the top springs back lightly when touched, about 30 to 35 minutes.
Place the pans on a cooling rack and let the layers cool in the pan completely. Do not be tempted to frost the cake before it is cool, or the frosting will turn into a big melty mess.
While the cake cools, prepare the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the cream cheese, stopping as soon as the two are fully combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low, then gradually add the powdered sugar. Once it all has been added, increase the mixer speed to medium and continue beating until the frosting is smooth. Don’t overbeat it—once it looks nice and creamy and evenly blended, it’s time to stop.
Beat in the reserved 2 tablespoons of strawberry puree, salt, and vanilla until evenly combined. If you'd like the frosting stiffer or sweeter, gradually beat in additional powdered sugar until your desired stiffness/sweetness is reached.
To decorate, place one cake layer on a serving plate, top side down and flat side up. Tuck strips of wax paper under the edges to protect the plate. Spread the top with about 1/2 cup frosting.
Top with the second cake layer, either flat side or round side up, depending upon the look you are going for (flat gives a more formal, professional presentation; round is more homey and casual). Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.
Smooth the frosting around the sides (don't stress over it being perfect. It's going to be DELISH!). Garnish with fresh berries as desired. Remove the strips of paper and refrigerate until ready to serve. Prior to serving, let the cake stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
TOSTORE: You do need to refrigerate a cake with cream cheese frosting. Without the optional sliced fresh strawberries added, this cake will last in the refrigerator for 5 days. Sliced fresh strawberries will last on a cake for 3 days in the refrigerator.
TO FREEZE: Fully frosted or unfrosted cake can be frozen for up to 2 months—let thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature prior to serving.
TO MAKE AHEAD: The cake layers can be baked 1 day in advance—cool completely, then wrap airtight and store at room temperature. Frosting can be prepared 1 day in advance—place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.
*To make a single-layer cake, 3-layer cake, sheet cake, or cupcakes, see notes in the blog post above.