Foraging for Berries, Part Two: A Season of Birthdays
For my immediate family, I love to honor birthdays with each person’s favorite cake, taking requests usually well in advance.
An over-supply of foraged blackberries nonetheless created a dilemma this June, and so even though my son requested a carrot cake for his birthday, I unconsciously blocked the request because I was worried about my berries. The morning after having asked Gavin what he wanted, I had determined on making him a blackberry almond streusel cake, having completely forgotten his request. “Well, since he didn’t have a preference,” I assured myself, “he won’t mind a blackberry cake!”
Wild berries are important to British cuisine, a gift of natural sweetness to be had free for the gathering. Preserved as jam for wintertime toast and rice pudding, served fresh with clotted cream, or baked into a tender, moist cake or roly-poly pudding, berries delight just about everyone I know. My cake recipe would be just at home on a British tea table as it would be on an American picnic table.
When my cake came out of the oven and I told my daughter that it was for Gavin’s birthday, she said, “Mom, didn’t he want a carrot cake?” I looked at her momentarily confused, and then it hit me that he had indeed requested that. “I bet,” I told Clara worriedly, “that my need to use up those berries blocked me registering what Gavin said.” Clara looked at the cake, sniffed the aroma of cooked berries, cinnamon, and almond, and assured me that Gavin was probably going to be happier with this choice if it tasted as good as it smelled.
Sure enough, when I unveiled the cake that evening after dinner, Gavin was thrilled. It is destined to become standard celebration fare in our house, and I think you, too, will enjoy the cake. If wild berries are not available, you can substitute fresh berries of any kind, from blackberry to blueberry to strawberry (although with strawberries, reduce your amount to one cup, sliced). I have not tested the recipe with self-rising flour, but I would imagine that it would work as well if you leave out the salt, baking powder, and baking soda that my recipe below calls for. We topped the cake with vanilla ice cream given the intense heat of summer, but a warm custard would be lovely in cooler weather.
Berry and Almond Cake
For the streusel topping
½ c. all-purpose flour
⅓ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup granulated white sugar
½ cup pecans (I think hazelnuts or English walnuts would also work fine)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons of butter, melted
For the cake
3 tablespoons of butter, room temperature
2/3rd cup of granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 scant teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup ground almonds (almond flour)
1 scant teaspoon baking powder
1 scant teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream soured with the juice of 2 tablespoons lemon (mix together and set aside until it the cream is loosely coagulated)
2 cups fresh berries (I used wild black raspberries)
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into small cubes
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
Prepare the streusel by combining flour, sugars, pecans, cinnamon, and salt in a food processor and pulse until combined. Pour it into a small bowl, add in the 4 tablespoons of melted butter and stir with a fork until combined. Set aside.
Prepare cake batter by beating the butter and granulated sugar together in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. When fluffy and pale yellow, add in the egg, almond and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl.
Spread the batter into the springform pan, and dot the top with the small cubes of cream cheese. Sprinkle on the berries, covering the entire surface of the cake. Finally, spread on the streusel topping.
Bake 40 minutes, and then cover the cake with tin foil and continue baking for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the batter comes out clean.