I was at the grocery store the other day and saw berries on sale. Nothing quite local but the blueberries came from Michigan so I rationalized that it was still a seasonal produce. The raspberries were from California and they still have a little bit of a season left there. I know summer has officially ended and fall has been ushered in but up until last week it was still in the 80’s here in Connecticut so I was holding onto it while I still could.
But now we’re at that awkward time during the year when you need a sweater or light jacket early in the morning but by the afternoon you’re contemplating whether the central air should get flicked on. It’s like pre-spring, when we’re starting to thaw out of the wintery deep freeze and into the prospects of warmer weather and start craving something summery and fresh but still want something warm and cozy, too. So here, in this awkward temporal and seasonal state, I start craving things like butternut squash and sage, or whole roasted chicken and apple cider gravy, but I feel guilty not taking advantage of what warmer weather produce there still may be.
The raspberries are probably destined for the freezer—I’m thinking sorbet, but we’ll see—however, I knew exactly how to put those blueberries to use the second I laid eyes on them. Blueberry Buckle. It’s the perfect solution for this time of year, toeing the line between summer and fall flavors. The berries are bright and fresh, sweet and a little tart, and the whole cake is topped off with a crumble, just like what you scatter over an apple crisp/crumble—what says fall more than apple crumble?! Although, you really don’t need to reserve this for this time of year; you can—and I have—make it all summer long and even in the dead of winter, when the berries are imported and not in their prime, they can be tossed with a spoonful more of sugar before folding into the cake.
Also, you can make this with frozen blueberries and the cake doesn’t require any milk. As someone who always has eggs and butter but never milk just laying around this means I can make this whenever the mood strikes me, without having to plan too far in advance. That said, if I do have some ricotta hanging out in the fridge that needs using up I do throw a little into this cake. It’s not necessary but it makes the cake moister—without it the cake is denser and crumbier, like a homemade coffee cake. And lastly, I also make a Summer Berry Buckle variation of this—use half a pint of blueberries with a pound of hulled and chopped strawberries, definitely leaving out the ricotta as the strawberries will provide a little extra moisture, so the batter should be drier to accommodate. I also replace 3 tablespoons of the flour for the streusel/crumble topping with almond meal (because, c’mon—strawberries and almonds!) and you’re in for a cake of summer perfection.
Start by making the streusel topping: beat some flour, brown sugar, white sugar, a little cinnamon and salt together until combined. If you have vanilla sugar I suggest using that. Once it’s all combined, plop in 4 tablespoons of softened butter and beat until it breaks up and you have something that looks a bit like very damp sand. Usually you use cold butter for streusels—that is the correct way to do it—but I don’t here. You need 10 tablespoons of soft butter for the cake batter, which is two more than a stick of butter. What I’m trying to say is I’m that lazy that I don’t want to cut two tablespoons off a stick of butter and let it soften with a full stick; I’d rather just pull two full sticks out and forget about it. There’ll be two extra tablespoons left over when all is said and done, part of which can be used to grease the pan and, I don’t know, buttering toast or something.
The buckle itself starts off as any cake would: cream butter and sugar together on medium for about 5 minutes until they’re totally combined and puffy.
Beat in two eggs one at a time, allowing the first to fully incorporate before adding the second. Here would also be a good time to say that in addition to the butter being softened and room temperature, the eggs MUST be at room temperature as well. The butter usually needs about an hour or two on the counter to soften (depending on your kitchen’s temperature). The eggs can come out at this time, too, or put them in a bowl of lukewarm water for about 10 – 15 minutes, changing it out about halfway through. I know a lot of people make a big deal about how they “never let anything come to room temperature and everything turns out just fine”—lies. All lies.
Beat in the ricotta if you’re using it along with just a bit of lemon zest (though orange is good, too). Flour, baking powder and a little salt gets beaten in a little before blueberries, tossed with a little bit of flour to prevent them from sinking in the batter. Fold these into the batter carefully so you don’t break any of the berries.
Pour the batter—which actually needs to be scooped and plunked rather than poured—into a buttered 8” round cake pan, or an 8” x 8” square baking dish, or an 8” springform pan. Sprinkle the crumble over the top, clenching some of it in your fist and then break up slightly so you get some big crumbly bits. This needs about 45 – 50 minutes in a 350° oven, or until a toothpick comes out of the center clean.
Allow it to cool completely, or almost completely so it’s still a little warm, cut into slices and serve with some ice cream. Last time I found some maple syrup and walnut ice cream that was unbelievable with this but this go around I had to “settle” on some sort of caramel concoction. Somehow, I think I’ll manage.