My favorite part of spring for the last couple of years has been seeing the first local strawberries appear at the market after months of having only root vegetables and greens. This year we’ve been in for a real treat because we’ve been getting strawberries from our own garden! We planted them last fall and they didn’t appear to be doing much until about March, when they almost doubled in size and started flowering like crazy. Since April we’ve been getting at least a pint every other day, which is just enough to snack on for two days before they go bad. The other week I picked up some fresh blackberries at a farm-stand down the road and, as soon as I saw them beside some strawberries on the kitchen table, the only thing I could think about was making a buttermilk cake.
I have Deb from smittenkitchen to thank for originally making and writing about this recipe. I made it a handful of times last summer, each time with a different fruit or combination of fruits. I’ve actually written about the recipe on this site before, so I guess it’s cheating to do it again, but I like it and really, who’s going to stop me?
The original recipe calls for raspberries, but I’ve also used blueberries, nectarines, and now strawberries and blackberries. The cake base is super-simple to make and versatile–the slight tanginess of the buttermilk compliments pretty much anything sweet and juicy you decide to top it with.
The directions tell you to “scatter” berries over the top, but you can choose to press some or all of the fruit down into the batter a little (like I did) if you want it to get submerged in the cake. It doesn’t matter a great deal though. As the cake bakes, it rises and engulfs even the scattered fruit to some degree, so it all ends up incorporated in, rather than a topping on, the cake. You can see that I got a little carried away with the berries. I literally put as many as I could fit on the top–and it turned out perfectly.
In a way, I think finding this recipe last summer has been detrimental to my development as a baker. You see, I really hadn’t tried many simple, basic, frosting-less cakes before, and seeing as how I haven’t tried another since makes me wonder if it’ll ever happen. Oh well, there are worse things than finding the perfect cake early in life I suppose.
Berry Buttermilk cake
scaled up from recipe on smittenkitchen.com; her version adapted from Gourmet
In the past when I’ve made this cake it has been very thin. This time I wanted something thicker, so I increased the recipe by 50%, made it in a 10 inch spring-form pan, and adjusted the baking temperature and time. I put the adjusted measurements below, but you can refer to the link above for the original proportions, baking temps, etc. I also increased the amount of berries pretty dramatically because I wanted at least one berry in every bite.
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter
scant 1 cup sugar + 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp grated lemon zest
1 large egg
3/4 c. well-shaken buttermilk
1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced into large chunks
1 cup blackberries, sliced in half if large
1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9 or 10 inch round cake pan.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and scant 1 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes, then beat in vanilla and zest, if using. Add egg and beat well.
3. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined. Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Then scatter berries over the top. (I started with strawberries and crowded them in, then pressed many of them into the batter a bit. Then I filled in any holes with blackberries.) Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp of sugar.
4. Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 325 degrees. Bake an additional 40-50 minutes, until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then invert on a plate, or if using a spring-form pan, remove liner when ready to serve.