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Early strawberry season means it's time for cake

Strawberries and Cream Chocolate Roll is reminiscent of the old-fashioned jellyroll desserts. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

I headed straight to my recipe file when I heard a recent news report that Minnesota strawberries are ripening earlier this year. Growers are expecting a sensational strawberry season, with predictions in some parts of the state that picking could begin as early as, well, right now.

My thoughts turned to all of my favorite strawberry desserts. My Auntie Vera's strawberry shortcake has always been a seasonal tradition, mounds of sweet biscuit dough crumbled into a cereal bowl, topped with slices of fresh, sweet strawberries and whole milk or cream. My taste buds revved up when I thought of the fresh strawberry pie my friend, Micky, used to treat me with when I lived in Fargo. She'd carefully arrange whole strawberries into a baked pie shell, heaping them up with the largest, most beautiful berries on top. Then she poured a sweet glaze over the berries, made of sugar and cornstarch and a couple spoonfuls of strawberry-flavored gelatin.

It seems we all have a favorite strawberry dessert that has become a seasonal tradition. This summer there should be an abundance of sweet, ripe, locally grown strawberries, allowing for all of the old favorites as well as some new ones to add to the recipe box.

Strawberries and Cream Chocolate Roll is reminiscent of the old-fashioned jellyroll desserts, pinwheels of light, airy cake rolled up with jelly. This dessert, though, is a cake roll made with a recipe I got from a family friend when I was in high school. The Ukrainian woman was a fabulous baker and cook. She taught me how to roll up the hot chocolate cake that was baked in a jelly roll pan, using a sugar-coated kitchen towel. The cake was bendable while it was hot. As it cooled in the towel, it took to its new shape, making it very easy to reroll once it was filled. My Ukrainian friend filled her chocolate roll with a coffee-flavored sweetened whipped cream mixture.

Feeling creative, I sweetened some cream cheese and spread it over the cooled cake. I made some strawberry glaze by slightly adapting the recipe used by Micky in her pie. It had been years since I used any kind of flavored gelatin. I thought it a bit strange when the mixture cooking in a pot on the stove became foamy and almost came right over the top of the pot. The cooled glaze didn't seem thick enough on the first try. I made another batch, increasing the cornstarch by another tablespoon. As it foamed in the pot before I even put it on the heat, I realized my mistake. I had used baking powder, not cornstarch. The baking powder was in a similar container as the cornstarch in my pantry. The third batch of glaze prepared with cornstarch worked like a charm. I can tell you that one (3-ounce) box of strawberry-flavored gelatin will be just enough for three batches of Strawberry Filling.

Later that evening, I discovered the workout pants I'd been wearing all day were inside-out. It was one of those days, I guess.

Strawberries and Cream Chocolate Roll may become a new favorite, maybe even a summer tradition, at your house -- no matter which way you're wearing your pants when you make it. Just be sure to use cornstarch rather than baking powder in the Strawberry Filling.

Strawberries and Cream Chocolate Roll

For the Chocolate Roll:

4 eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar plus extra for sprinkling

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Strawberry Filling:

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons strawberry-flavored gelatin

2/3 cup water

2 cups chopped fresh strawberries

For the Cream Filling:

1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature

1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 15- x 10- x 1-inch jellyroll pan. Line the greased pan with waxed paper. Grease and flour the waxed paper. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs at high speed of an electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add 3/4 cup sugar, continuing to beat for 5 minutes until mixture is thick and fluffy. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together. Add sifted ingredients to bowl and blend on low speed. Add vanilla and mix to blend.

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake for about 11 minutes in preheated 350-degree oven. Cake should spring back when pressed lightly with a finger.

Sprinkle large, clean linen or cotton kitchen towel with granulated sugar in a 15- x 10-inch rectangle.

Remove cake from oven and immediately loosen from sides of pan and turn out onto sugared towel. Slowly and carefully peel off the waxed paper. Starting at a narrow end, roll up hot cake and towel together. Let cool completely on wire rack.

While cake is cooling, prepare strawberry and cream fillings.

For Strawberry Filling, stir sugar, cornstarch, gelatin and water together in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture is thick, about 5 minutes. Cool completely, then stir in chopped strawberries.

For Cream Filling, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth.

Unroll cooled cake and remove from towel. Dollop Cream Filling over cake and spread to cover. Top with Strawberry Filling, spreading evenly over the cream mixture.

Reroll cake, starting with narrow end. Place seam-side down on serving platter. Cover and chill in refrigerator at least 3 hours and up to overnight before serving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Tip from the cook

--I like to refrigerate the dessert overnight for best flavor and easy slicing. An electric knife is a good tool for creating perfect, clean slices of Strawberries and Cream Chocolate Roll.