Strawberry & Vanilla Mini-cakes
©Strawberry Lemon Mini-cakes with Tea by Dena T Bray.jpg

I usually try to offer something light and low-calorie for my first recipe of the New Year. We’ve all no doubt indulged a bit more than usual over the holidays and crave lighter fare. While that is still true for me, I’m also craving something rich, delicious, and that offers the tastes of warmer weather. I crave comfort foods. These Strawberry and Vanilla Mini-cakes do the trick. They captured my imagination when I came across the recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Sweet. Made with the last of the strawberries we had frozen at the end of the summer, my daughter described these cakes as having just the right amount of  density and moist texture. Tang from the berries combined with creamy butter and smooth flavor of seeds taken from a full vanilla pod make this sweet a must for tea, dessert or any time you want to enjoy yourself. They are truly delicious and very comforting.

The weather aside, the reason for my craving is because when I’m honest with myself, I know I’m  approaching the new year with great trepidation. I’m not alone. Our family is well, our community is safe, but the larger issue of what our country is becoming is quite honestly frightening. I won’t list all my worries here. You know the state of things, and I’m sure you have your own worries. I don’t want to add to them.  I’ll just say that I don’t recognize my country, my home right now. Yes, the resistance of which I am an active part, is real. Yes, I believe good will triumph over evil, but I worry about how much more harm will be done to our environment along the way. I worry about how many people’s lives will be shattered before we turn this thing around.

Like many others, I was inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s words earlier this week. I cherish and applaud her optimism. I’ve missed the feeling of hope in this country but she reminded us that there is, indeed hope, as long as we are willing to fight and stand up for what is right—

In my career, what I've always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere and how we overcome. I've interviewed and portrayed people who've withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say "Me too" again. Oprah Winfrey

So, perhaps now isn’t the best time for dieting and depriving ourselves of simple pleasures. Perhaps now is a better time to indulge and connect and help each other through the difficulty. I send you love, support, optimism, and of course, hope.

I look forward to seeing you in my kitchen, gathering flavors, soon.


Note: Beginning January 2018, each post will feature a link to a printer version of the featured recipe. Scroll to the end of the recipe & click the printer icon.

©Dusted Muffins Vanilla Strawberry Muffins by Dena T Bray.jpg

Strawberry & Vanilla       


Yield: 12 small cakes


1 cup unsalted butter plus a bit more for baking pans, at room temperature

1 ¼ cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Scraped seeds of one vanilla pod

4 large eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

7 ounces fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and diced

Confectioners sugar, for dusting, optional


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Butter 12 jumbo muffin pans or popover pans.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and seeds. Beat again. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and stir together just until combined. Add the strawberries and toss gently. The batter will be very thick. This is how you want it.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared molds.

Place in oven and bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Remove the cakes from the pan. Dust with confectioners sugar.

Serve and enjoy.


These cakes are very dense. For lighter cakes, add ½ teaspoon baking soda and  ¾ cup buttermilk to the batter and divide it between 18 molds instead of 12.

If you are using frozen strawberries, do not thaw them before adding them to the batter.

This recipe is closely adapted from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh.                                                                                                                                               


Dena Testa Bray has been writing Gathering Flavors, a culinary blog, since 2011. She is a trained chef & ran a home based cooking school. Dena now designs websites, focusing on work with creative people. You can see her website work at She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and family.