I stopped in my tracks at the market and grabbed my husband’s arm. Strawberries! Fresh, local, red, ripe strawberries, pint after pint, in mid-May. I was as astonished as I was excited. We continued down the row of booths, getting vegetables for the week, but all I could think of were those strawberries… so we returned with a fistful of dollars to happily buy the first flat of the year. The gentleman we bought from agreed it was the earliest season that he could ever remember in western Washington. Despite a lack of competition, the price was reasonable, though the temptation of that fruit probably would have been enough for me to pay just about anything. I floated home, berries proudly cradled in my arms.
The strawberries we got are flavorful, but not the sweetest I have ever had. I decided to roast a few pints, which enhances the sweetness they do have, with a drizzle of honey, a generous pinch of salt, and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Salt, and acidity from the vinegar, will help to draw out and play up the flavor of the strawberries; roasting creates a thick, syrupy sauce but doesn’t break down the fruit entirely. I was thinking the roasted berries would be nice with yogurt for breakfast, but as they cooled on the counter top, actually glistening in the light, I knew I wouldn’t want to wait for morning. A simple cake was in order, with tangy buttermilk and a dusting of turbinado sugar to add some crunch to the top. This cake is an ideal vehicle for saucy roasted strawberries; in fact, it was inspired by a buttermilk cake, with strawberries baked right in, in the Cake Issue of a magazine called Bake From Scratch (currently on newsstands!). Later this summer, my buttermilk cake will be a great match for ripe raspberries and peaches, with cream or without, then figs with honey, or lightly sauteed apples as we move toward fall… but I’m getting too far ahead. Let’s leave it at this: buttermilk cake is a great option to show off the seasonal fruit of your choice.
Reminiscent of shortcake but a little lighter and much less sweet, a wedge of quick buttermilk cake with a generous spoonful of honey roasted strawberries is the type of dessert that makes me smile: because summer is almost here, because fresh local fruit is finally here, and because a dessert doesn’t have to be over the top to be the perfect treat. When you find the first berries of the year in your neck of the woods, consider giving this recipe a try.
Quick Buttermilk Cake with Honey Roasted Strawberries
For the strawberries:
- 2 pints of ripe strawberries, hulled, rinsed only if muddy
- 2 T. honey, maybe more
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
For the cake:
- 6 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 c. sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 c. flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 c. buttermilk
- 1 T. turbinado sugar (optional)
For the honey roasted strawberries: preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet pan or baking dish with tin foil. Place the berries in one layer and drizzle 1 T. honey over the top. Sprinkle with salt and roll or “stir” lightly to evenly distribute the honey and salt.
Roast for 10 mins. and check the berries; they should be juicy and a little foamy looking but not burnt. They should be holding their shape for the most part. Move them around a little on the pan, then roast for an additional 5 mins. at a time until the berries soften noticeably, up to 20 mins. total in the oven. Time variance depends on the size and ripeness of the berries; watch very closely so they don’t burn.
Remove the pan from the oven and drizzle immediately with the remaining 1 T. honey and 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar. Allow the strawberries to cool for 10 mins. or so, then taste and add more honey if desired. This depends on both the sweetness of your berries, and your taste buds. Roasted berries made with only 2 T. of honey are expected to be lightly sweet… but no one minds a little extra honey!
For the buttermilk cake: preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9″ round cake pan.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 mins. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add the vanilla.
In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk and ending with flour, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear.
Turn the batter into your prepared pan and smooth it out to the sides. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if using. Bake for 40-45 mins., until the top is lightly brown, the top springs back when you touch it lightly with your fingertip, and the edges are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool for at least 30 mins. before serving; cool completely if you want to remove the cake from the baking pan to a plate or platter before serving.
Serve a wedge of cake with a generous ladle of honey roasted berries, which are ideally at room temperature. Top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired. Leftover cake will hold at room temperature in a tightly-covered container for 2-3 days. Store leftover berries in the refrigerator.