SUMMER CAKE – Blueberry Peach Upside Down Cake with Raspberry Cream (and a variation, for reasons that will be explained)
My friend Nancy is not big on baking, but she does love belonging to the Maine Slice of The Cake Committee, so I suggested she try the impressive-for-how-little-fuss-it-takes Blueberry Peach etc. cake from The 3000 Mile Garden. Then I got to feeling uneasy, on account of not having made one for quite a while…
Decided it might be smart to bake one up, just to be sure I was still proud of it. Did. Am. But
I am here to tell you the people who say multitasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be have a point.
This is an easy cake: no complicated procedures, no split second timing, so (conveniently forgetting the part about having to photograph the damn thing) I figured I could sort of do it on the side while occupied with several other things.
As the pictures show, it came out very nicely… unless you look at them closely, in which case you will notice that the crumb of the cake is suspiciously pale.
This didn’t register at all while I was fooling around with the camera; mostly I was worried about losing the light. Photography was followed by Bill eating two pieces but also – in retrospect somewhat suspiciously – saying nothing about its deliciousness before going out for a night’s fishing.
Those other tasks I mentioned occupied me for some time, so a couple of hours passed before I got around to tasting it. Aargh! How on earth could I have put my name on such an uninteresting piece of pastry – and included it in a book, no less? Talk about a heart-sinking moment. It wasn’t absolutely awful but it sure wasn’t good. Definitely too sweet, for one thing, also a little dry and kind of bland in spite of all the fruit.
Then the aha moment: forgot to put in the butter!
Well then, probably fine, but of course now it’s really essential to put it to the test. And of course now I’m out of nectarines, peaches, even plums. Even canned versions of these fruits. Nada.
“No big deal,” I comfort myself, “the thing that must be tested is the cake. You can still bake it without the fruit layer and learn whether it’s ok or not. (Fortunately there were plenty of blueberries).
But given that I had to bake another cake, why not do something with it – and while we’re at it, why not a few cupcakes?
This recipe reflects the fact that I’m really more of a pie person – between the peaches on top of it and the blueberries in it (and the raspberries beside it), there’s almost as much fruit as cake. You can bake it in a 9 inch pan if you don’t have a 10-incher, but the cake to fruit ratio will change and not in my opinion for the better, even though it’s still pretty good, especially if you like cake.
For a 10 inch square, anywhere from 10 to 16 servings:
butter for the pan, @ 2 tbl.
½ c. sugar
(grated zest of) 1 lemon
4 large or 5 small firm-ripe nectarines or peaches, peeled and cut into @ 1/3 inch wedges
1 tbl. flour
2 c. all purpose flour*
½ c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ c. cold butter
2 room temperature eggs
@ 3/4 c. milk
1 1/4c. wild Maine blueberries**
1c. heavy cream
1 c. raspberries, crushed (strawberries may be substituted)
1 tbl. Cointreau or similar
2 tbl. sugar, or to taste
1. Heat the oven to 400 (375 for a glass pan or a 9 inch pan). Thickly butter a 10x10x2 inch baking pan.
2. Mix the fruit layer sugar and lemon zest and distribute it as evenly as possible over the butter. Pave with the fruit wedges, in very closely spaced but not overlapping rows. Sprinkle on the flour.
3. Put the batter dry ingredients in a wide mixing bowl and stir with a wire whip to thoroughly combine. Cut or rub in the butter to make a mixture the texture of coarse meal – a little finer is better than too coarse.
4. Break the eggs into a 2 cup measure and beat well with a fork. Add milk to make 1 ¼ c. liquid. Using as few strokes as possible, stir it into the dry mixture, adding the blueberries about halfway through. The batter will be very thick.
5. Distribute the batter over the cut fruit, gently spreading to the edge. Bake until risen, browned and pulling from the sides of the pan, about 20 – 25 minutes. The “toothpick emerges dry” test would work if you could find a blueberry-free place to insert the toothpick, but this is not possible.
6. Cool on a wire rack for two or three minutes, then reverse onto a serving plate. While the cake is cooling, beat the cream until slouchy, then stir in the raspberries, liqueur and sugar. Serve the warm cake in squares with the topping on the side.
* Bleached flour makes lighter cake; don’t say I didn’t warn you.
** “Wild Maine blueberries” means the low bush kind, about the size of small peas, that grow all over the northern US but are I’m happy to say most closely associated with Maine. Cultivated high bush berries – aka rabbit eye or “New Jersey” – are too large to work in this recipe.
Lousy Cake Lesson #2: Before baking the original cake I’d promised to bring it next door for dessert at what turned out to be about 10 minutes after the revelatory taste test. There wasn’t anything in the house to substitute at the last minute, so being grateful next door is family I brought it anyway, with the story, an apology and the butter dish (it was marginally better split and spread with butter as though it were still the muffin that gave birth to the recipe).
Response from Jeff and Lois, who had admittedly had wine with dinner, “It’s fine, what’s the big deal?” Response from Eli, presumably moved by the wine toward truth, “It tastes like those healthy cakes I’m always getting in the city; better than a lot of them, actually.”
What’s the lesson? Don’t bother with healthy cake; it’s unhealthy to think this oxymoron has any basis in fact; whatever the thing lacks in fat it probably more than makes up for in sugar and the carbohydrates in the flour haven’t gone anywhere either.
Blueberry Coconut Pecan Crunch Cake (or Cupcakes)
As above except for the fruit layer and topping.
After thickly buttering a 9 inch square pan or dozen muffin cups, “dust” with dried unsweetened coconut as though you were dusting with flour, making an even and complete layer all over the bottom and sides.
Sprinkle the bottom(s) lightly with sugar and thickly with coarsely chopped pecans. Proceed as above, baking at 375. Turn out on wire racks and cool completely.
For topping, beat the cream stiff instead of slouchy, stir in the crushed berries etc. and use the result as frosting.
For information about the Maine Slice of The Cake Committee, send them an e-mail at