I think this is going to be a blueberry-heavy summer, which is very good news. The local berries were ready early this year (in late June actually, which surprised me) and have been sweet because of a nice balance of sun and rain. I’ve made blueberry scones and my beloved blueberry muffins already, had half a metric ton plain and on yogurt, and have plans for a few more baking projects in the weeks to come. All quite delicious, as you know… yet they pale in comparison to my very favorite summer blueberry cake.
I was surprised to find I hadn’t yet shared this recipe. With the first sighting of local berries at the market, I begin to think about the first blueberry cake of the year. If I said before that a cake was my ‘very favorite’, I was not being honest. (Sorry.) My Nana’s chocolate cake comes close, and my Mom’s coconut cake merits consideration, but I would pass up most every dessert offered in favor of a piece of this blueberry cake. No surprise, it’s another recipe passed along by Mom. We used to vacation in mid-August on a lake in central Maine; my memories of those trips include pumping drinking water from the well down the street, swimming in the impossibly clear, cold lake with my brother, learning to play hearts at the giant kitchen bench/table, picking blackberries along the railroad tracks, and eating blueberry cake. Some of Mom’s cakes were made with coveted wild Maine blueberries… which might explain why it’s the only food I remember from those two-week long trips. Besides onion dip, and bacon for breakfast. Blueberry cake was way more important than either of those.
The best part of summer blueberry cake is the deep golden brown, delicately crisp top layer, helped along in part by folding beaten egg whites into the batter– an extra, yet necessary, step. (I’d like to think alchemy has a role as well.) The texture of the cake is dense but never dry, and it improves daily, becoming richer, as unctuous as a cake ever should be, perfumed by vanilla and all the berries… Can you tell yet how much I adore this cake? I don’t mess around with greatness, down to using the same Pyrex pan each and every time. In the past I have experimented, as I so often do: with the addition of lemon zest, for instance (I like it better without), or by doubling the recipe to make a layer cake with cream cheese frosting (too sweet, not necessary). My one occasional twist to the original recipe: a handful of blackberries or raspberries added to the mix. Blueberries must be present– it’s just not the same made exclusively with another berry– but a mix does work. My husband and I recently discovered nectarberries; conflicting sources describe them as a descendant of Australian youngberries, or as a boysenberry-blackberry hybrid. I stopped researching so I could eat more nectarberries. They are divine, no matter what they are– giant, juicy and tart, with a flavor somewhere between blackberry and strawberry. With blackberries still a week or so away from being plentiful, a handful of nectarberries went into the cake pictured. With blueberries or mixed berries, I adore this cake as a brunch option or coffee accompaniment. You’ll see that the flavor and texture are reminiscent of a good bakery muffin, so it’s not a stretch to cut a little piece for a morning treat.
When I shared the recipe for my Mom’s blueberry muffins, I was thrilled by the positive reaction and enthusiastic comments I got from those of you who made a batch. It is heartwarming to see a recipe so dear to me embraced and enjoyed by my community! I feel like this summer blueberry cake, my very favorite cake, is going to be another recipe like that. It’s not just the blueberry factor– this cake is tried and tested, loved and shared, as a great recipe should be. So, please, help me continue to pass it along.
Summer Blueberry Cake
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1 c. sugar, separated
- 1/2 c. shortening*
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 c. flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/3 c. whole milk
- 1 1/2 c. fresh blueberries
- 1/2 c. blackberries, raspberries or nectarberries (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8″ x 8″ square pan, preferably glass.
Add the egg whites to the (very clean) bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on high until the whites hold a soft peak when you raise the beater up, about 2-4 mins. Add 1/4 c. sugar to the whites and mix on high for another 30 seconds, just to incorporate. Transfer the beaten whites to a small, clean bowl.
Into the same mixer bowl, add the remaining 3/4 c. sugar and shortening. Using the same beater attachment, mix on medium high until light and fluffy; add egg yolks and mix again. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla, and mix once more.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture in two batches, alternating with milk. Stop before the batter is fully mixed; remove the bowl from the mixer, scrape off the beater, and add blueberries and beaten egg whites to the bowl. Use your spatula to fold the batter together; stop when the egg whites are very evenly distributed, but still visible in streaks. Work to keep as much air in the batter as you can.
Spoon half the batter into the pan and dot with blackberries or raspberries, etc., if using. Cover with the remaining batter and smooth it into all corners of the pan. Bake for 45-50 mins., until golden brown. A skewer inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean– unless you hit a berry. Cool slightly before serving. I think this blueberry cake is perfect as-is, but a small scoop of vanilla ice cream probably wouldn’t hurt.
The cake will keep covered at room temperature for 2-3 days and in the refrigerator for a little longer. Mom says it freezes like a dream– we’ll have to trust her word, because I’ve never had one make it to the freezer in my house.
*A note about shortening. I use it sparingly, but it really is the best fat for this cake. Nutiva and Spectrum make shortenings that are organic, non-GMO and transfat-free. If you prefer not to bake with shortening, an equal amount of butter will yield decent results, and I’m tempted to test a coconut oil version. But do consider using shortening to experience the cake at its best.