Back in the day, if you wanted to color a baked dessert vibrant red or deep pink, your choices were red food color or red packaged gelatin powder. While neither of these options was terrible, they did leave room for improvement.
Enter freeze-dried berries which can be ground up in a coffee or spice grinder to make very intensely flavored, brightly colored berry powder. I was first made aware of the existence of freeze-dried berries from a cooking teacher who was flavoring French macarons with raspberry powder. She bought it in giant cans at a big box store which dampened my enthusiasm for them, as only a very small amount was needed for each recipe (and I don’t really like macarons.)
Luckily, our good friend Trader Joe has started carrying small bags of freeze-dried strawberries and mixed berries in the dried fruit aisle, as they are meant to be eaten right out of the bag. They are indeed a very intense berry snack, but I am using them for their natural coloring and ability to add berry flavor without adding moisture to baked goods. These properties suggest many possibilities and have led me to adapt two recipes which have quickly become favorites.
My first venture using crushed strawberry powder was in a recipe for Neapolitan biscotti, three flavors of dough braided to make pink, chocolate, and vanilla swirled biscotti. You can find the original recipe here: Neapolitan Biscotti recipe
I streamlined the recipe to omit the sour cream and chocolate chips and then combined her three batches of dough into one big batch, then divided it into thirds to flavor. Feel free to use whichever way makes more sense to you.
These strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla flavored biscotti are really delicious, and like most biscotti, keep fresh for a long time. The real strawberry essence comes through unlike any artificially flavored berry would, and the traditional combo of chocolate-vanilla-strawberry is so pleasing, putting tasters in mind of Neapolitan ice cream in Grandma’s little depression glass dessert dishes, so charming. The only thing that I was not immediately happy with was how the strawberry flavored dough baked into a less vibrant, more pinky-brown color, after the second bake. After trying a lower oven temperature, covering the cut biscotti with foil loosely during the second bake, and monitoring them very closely, they came out an acceptable color. Not quite as pink as I’d hoped but “pink enough” for me.
My next dried berry experiment was a complete hit, right out of the gate. You know how we are told to not try out a new recipe for guests? Well, I figured family doesn’t count as guests, so I made a Bundt with raspberry flavored flan on top and white cake on the bottom for a family party in early April. The Choco flan cake recipe that has been such a hit for the last several years, had supplied me with earlier inspiration, last autumn, when I found a recipe which switched the chocolate cake layer for spice cake and flavored the flan layer with pumpkin puree. It makes a delightfully autumnal dessert and I featured it in my November 2022 blog. Click here for that blog post with a photo of the cake: Cakes and Tea, November 2022 blog and here is that delicious recipe from Southern Living magazine: Pumpkin Flan Bundt Cake
For the springtime pink cake I was imagining, I swapped the chocolate cake mix for white cake mix and to the flan mixture, I substituted fresh raspberry puree for some of the liquid and added about 2 tablespoons powdered freeze-dried raspberries. When turned out of the pan after cooling and chilling, the pretty pink flan layer sat perfectly on top of the white cake base. I served the pink and white confection on a rimmed platter, in a shallow pool of raspberry puree with fresh raspberries strewn over the top. It is a fairly easy dessert that will make a splash on a Mother’s Day, graduation, or any spring dessert table.
Raspberry Flan Bundt Cake
This pink and white raspberry cake is the perfect special occasion dessert for spring holiday entertaining. It serves a lot of people, can be made ahead, and looks spectacular. It is tailor-made for May, when berries look so beautiful in the market. This would be a lovely Mother’s Day cake and can be made using strawberries, if mother would prefer that. The strawberry recipe variation can be found directly after the main recipe. To make the berry powder, grind freeze-dried raspberries or strawberries in a coffee or spice grinder. Freeze-dried berries can be found at Trader Joe’s, Target, and Amazon. One bag makes enough powder for 2 cakes or for 1 cake, with snacking opportunities for the baker. FYI: The recipe uses a total of 6 eggs.
Makes 1 standard size Bundt cake, serves up to 20 guests
Preheat oven to 350◦ F
Special equipment: fine mesh sieve, medium sized bowl, wooden spoon, silicone spatula, standard Bundt pan (usually 12 cups) generously sprayed with baking spray, hand or stand mixer with bowl, electric blender, foil, roasting pan large enough to fit Bundt pan, hot water for water bath, cooling rack, thin knife, rimmed serving platter
- 3 (6 ounce each) baskets of raspberries, divided
- 2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon berry or orange liqueur, optional
- Cake layer:
- 1 box white cake mix, I used a 15.25 oz. Duncan Hines, but any commercial mix is fine
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup canola oil
- 3 egg whites (the yolks will be used in the flan layer)
- Flan layer:
- 1 can (14 ounce) sweetened condensed milk
- 2 tablespoons freeze-dried berry powder
- ¾ cup milk
- ¼ cup raspberry puree
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 whole eggs
- Optional garnish: Freshly whipped cream
- Make berry puree: Set fine mesh sieve over medium bowl. Add 2 baskets of raspberries. Smash berries with wooden spoon to release juice. Scrape smashed berries through sieve, forcing puree into bowl. This may take several minutes. Lightly tap sieve on rim of bowl to help puree release from sieve. With silicone spatula, scrape berry puree from underside of sieve. Discard seeds. Stir in sugar to taste and optional liqueur, if using. Set puree aside. Puree can be made up to 2 days ahead, stored in fridge, tightly covered.
- Make cake layer: Preheat oven to 350◦ F. Begin heating water. In mixing bowl, beat dry cake mix, water, oil, and 3 egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed. Scrape sides of bowl and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping bowl as needed. Scrape batter into prepared Bundt pan. Set aside.
- Make flan layer: In electric blender, add sweetened condensed milk, berry powder, milk, berry puree, 3 egg yolks and 3 eggs. Cover and blend at low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape sides of blender, replace lid and blend at medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute more. Slowly pour flan mixture over cake batter. Flan mixture may sink into cake batter but will separate into distinct layers during baking. Do not stir. Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray and with sprayed side down, tightly cover Bundt pan.
- Pull out oven rack a little bit and place roasting pan on rack. Set covered Bundt pan in roaster. Carefully pour hot water around Bundt pan, to a depth of 1 inch. Take care to not get water in Bundt pan. Carefully push oven rack in and bake until tester inserted into cake comes out clean, 1 to 1 ¼ hours. Remove from water bath and remove foil. Cool on rack for 1 hour, then chill for 2 hours.
- Loosen edges of pan with thin knife. Place rimmed serving plate upside down over Bundt pan. Holding serving plate and Bundt pan together securely, flip over and remove pan. At this point, cake can be chilled up to 2 days before serving. However, plastic wrap may spoil the look of the delicate flan layer, so covering cake with a large upside-down mixing bowl or plastic cake cover from a bakery cake is advised.
- To serve: remove whatever is covering the cake. Stir reserved raspberry puree and pour around cake. Scatter raspberries from remaining basket over and around cake. Serve in smallish portions, topped with whipped cream, if desired. Chill leftovers promptly.
- Strawberry Flan Bundt Cake Variation: Use 3 baskets of ripe strawberries in place of raspberries. In medium bowl, mash 2 baskets of strawberries with sugar and either let sit at room temperature for an hour or microwave for about a minute. If you don’t like seeds, push through the sieve as described in step #1 or if you don’t mind seeds, puree in blender until uniformly smooth. Use ¼ cup puree in flan mixture, as in step#3, reserving the remaining puree for serving, as in step #6. To serve, slice remaining basket of strawberries and toss with an additional tablespoon of sugar or to taste and scatter over and around flan cake.