Blueberries, buttermilk, thyme and lemon zest combine to create a delicious cake—and memories of childhood summers in Michigan. Recipe below.
Most of this summer, the blueberries have been terrible—tiny, sour and disgruntled. But suddenly, they have become gorgeous—Michigan blueberries big as marbles, sweet, full of flavor and the most beautiful dusty blue. We’ve been having them on cereal, tossing them in salads (making a vinaigrette using the very pretty blueberry vinegar from Canter-Berry Farms in Washington state) and just plain eating them out of hand.
Ordinarily, I don’t bake in the summer. Even this year, which here in the Midwest has been mild and delightful, I just don’t hold with turning on the oven in July and August. But yesterday—which, natch, was the first really miserably hot day in quite a while—I got the craving. Blueberry cake—we had to have it.
This cake bakes up more quickly than most blueberry-laden recipes—about half an hour compared to nearly an hour for the typical pound cake or coffee cake. All the moving parts come together fast. If you wish, you may omit the fresh thyme, but I recommend using it for the subtle sun-washed meadow scent it brings.
This makes up as a relatively flat cake, with butter but not much, that you bake in a springform pan, which makes the cooling process easier too. It reminds me a little bit of the French-inspired plum cake we posted here. And it reminds me very much of childhood summers in the woods in northern Michigan—picking blueberries in the woods and then getting buttermilk straight from the farmers, then sitting on the porch looking at the lake and just relaxing. Pure summertime.
Blueberry Cake with Buttermilk, Thyme and Lemon Zest
Makes one 9-inch cake
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 2 teaspoons for the pan
1 cup unbleached flour plus an extra tablespoon for the berries
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar, plus 1-1/2 tablespoons to sprinkle on top at the end
1 large egg, at room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme (don’t use dried)
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1-2/3 cups blueberries
Preheat oven to 400 ºF. Put the blueberries in a small bowl and toss them with the tablespoon of flour to lightly coat them. Don’t worry if there is leftover flour. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, then cut out a circle of parchment paper and put it in the bottom of the pan. Butter that too. Combine the 1 cup of flour, the baking soda, baking powder and salt in a small bowl with a fork and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar in a very big bowl with an electric hand-held mixer for three or four minutes, or until everything is mixed together and starting to get fluffy. Add the vanilla, egg, lemon zest and sugar. Switch to a whisk and mix everything together.
Next, working quickly, whisk in the buttermilk, then add the flour mixture in three or four little parts. Mix all until it is just combined and smooth, then scrape it into the springform pan and even it out and smooth the top with a spatula.
Pour the blueberries into a sieve and shake gently to dislodge any extra flour. Scatter the blueberries uniformly over the top of the batter, then gently press them with the flat of your hand into the surface of the cake. Sprinkle the remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons of sugar over the top of the cake.
Slide the pan into the center of the oven and bake for about 30 minutes (in our weird apartment oven, 27 minutes worked). The cake is ready when the top is beautifully golden and a tester poked into the center comes out clean.
Cool for 10 minutes. Slide a knife around the inside of the pan, then remove the spring sides. Turn the cake over (place a flat plate on top and do the flip) and pull off the paper. Turn the cake right side up, placing it on a serving dish, and let it cool completely.
Serve slices of this lovely summer dessert plain, or with powdered sugar or whipped cream if you like. If you are me, serve with a glass of cold, cold buttermilk.