When I was a child, living in the depths of Wales, the summer holidays brought many good things…dawn-to-dusk freedom, yomping through fields and barns, ‘helping’ with hay making, riding bikes and ponies (not simultaneously), paddling in the stream, chasing water boatmen across ponds and marvelling at the way they could walk on water, eating crab apples (and never getting belly ache, despite everyone’s assertions that we would), building dens, grubbing in mud…kid paradise.
The other thing that summer brought was blackberries – in fields and gardens, along hedgerows, in a derelict chapel, filling the little island in the middle of the stream – simply acres of unpolluted, naturally growing, free to all, fat, purple, lip-and-finger-staining berries. Three of us could easily harvest two buckets each within a matter of hours (it would probably have taken less time if we’d not eaten so many along the way), and there would still be plenty more for the days and weeks to follow. Mum made a lot of jam.
So you see, to me blackberries are something you forage for and pick yourself by the bucket load – they’re not something you buy at around £2-£4 for a teeny little 170g pack of not-quite-ripe, cultivated, inferior flavoured, supermarket berries (oops, I think my food snobbery’s showing 😉 ).
That price just seems insane to me, so I tend to go without unless I happen across some rare, relatively unpolluted, inner city scrub land that’s bearing fruit.
However, if someone else succumbs to said insanity, then gifts me the berries, I am not going to spurn the gesture – that would just be rude.
Which is why, when a friend recently tossed a pack of Mexican blackberries to me and said, “I bought you these – thought you’d be able to do something with them”, I did not respond with, “Are you mad?!” I simply said “Thank you very much”, and started to plan what to make.
This was an experimental recipe so required tweaks revealed themselves in the review process. What follows is a posting of what I actually did, with guidance on the things that should be done differently.
The ingredients list is accurate and will work for a 7″ or 8″ round cake tin.
Because I was experimenting, I split my mix and did a 5″ tin with apple and blackberry, and a 4″ tin with just blackberries. This produced two very different cakes – the one with apple was more of a pudding really, and the other a tea/coffee cutting cake. Both had their own merits.
60g unsalted butter (room temperature)
140g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g sour cream
160g plain gluten free flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
170g fresh blackberries
For the baking tin(s):
Enough butter to lightly grease the sides and thickly layer the base of your baking tin (see waffle above for tin size info.)
2-4 dessert spoons soft brown sugar
1-2 eating apples, cored and sliced
Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/160°C/325°F
You can do it using the traditional brown paper and string method – fold and wrap brown parcel paper around tin and tie with string.
If, like most people, you don’t happen to have brown paper and string laying around the house, you can do it with tin foil and paper towels.
If you’re going the whole distance with me…grease your cake tin, making sure the base is completely covered in a good thick layer of butter.
Sprinkle over brown sugar. I didn’t have any soft brown so this is a mix of muscovado and white granulated. I know soft brown would be better!
Place butter and sugar into a bowl and using a stand or hand mixer start to cream together.
You can use a wooden spoon and elbow grease, but if you go that route you will be there for a long, long time, and you’re likely to hate your cake before it even gets to the oven.
If the mixture starts to split (look a little curdled) add in one or two tablespoons of flour to bring it back together.
Sift flour mixture into batter and use a large metal spoon to gently fold in.
Despite being fairly certain they’d sink during baking, I folded in the blackberries at this point. Why? Because I wanted to see the inevitable faint purpley streaks of juice sliding through the soft yellow batter. Pure sensory satisfaction 🙂
In fact it would be better to pour the cake batter into the tin and then sprinkle the berries over the top – they’re less likely to disappear to the bottom that way. First, remove air bubbles by banging the tin hard, several times, on the work surface.
This 5″ cake was baked for 55 minutes but could probably have done with at least another 15 more (you might need to lay some baking paper over the top of the tin to prevent over browning). I should have known this before taking it out…the tell tale dip and the texture difference were right there, if only I’d looked sooner and tested better…
The toothpick/skewer test isn’t totally reliable with this cake, because of the fruit (if you stick the skewer into fruit, it’s going to come out looking wet!).
Use the ‘spring back’ method for this one…the sponge should bounce back in the centre when you press it lightly with a finger tip.
When you’re happy that your cake is cooked, remove from oven and leave to cool in the tin. You don’t need to let the apple one go completely cold – it’s actually better warm.
You can see here that the centre’s still gooey and the apples are not quite finished caramelising. Still a pretty handsome looking thing though, don’t you think?
The berries did all sink to the bottom, but we know why, and what to do about it. Nonetheless, fab with a cup of tea and a good chat.
If you try this out, please do let me know how it worked out. Did you tweak some more? 🙂