A summer cake that I remember from my childhood with much delight is a simple yellow cake baked in a large, rectangular pan, topped with seasonal fruits, such as a blueberries, cherries, or plums. If we spent the day at the community pool, this cake would routinely be packed in my lunchbox. Easy to pack and easy to eat! When I traveled to Poland one summer, my aunt topped the cake with red currants, a fruit that is difficult to find in grocery stores in Northern Virginia. I have found that blueberries are a good (and sweeter) substitute. This blueberry cake is quick to whip up and, therefore, a perfect snack or coffee cake.
Speaking of blueberries, can you guess which states in the United States have designated the blueberry as a state fruit? NORTH CAROLINA & NEW JERSEY! I grew up just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was made fully aware at an early age of the superiority of the New Jersey blueberry. The highbush blueberry, indigenous to North Carolina and New Jersey (and likely several other states), was developed in the early 1900s to breed the blueberry variety that is used for commercial production, though other varieties are also used for commercial production today (e.g., lowbush in the Southern states). Top blueberry producing states aside from North Carolina and New Jersey include Washington (#1), Michigan, Georgia (not just a peach growing state!), Oregon, California, Mississippi, Florida, and New York. And as for wild blueberries, Maine is at the top. There are 44,000 acres that produce wild blueberries in Maine. I get to taste these wild blueberries via the frozen food section of my local supermarket or Costco. As for Poland (given that I’ve named the cake below a Polish blueberry cake) blueberry production is a huge thing. According to the International Blueberry Organization (IBO), eighty percent of Poland’s blueberry production is exported. The climate and soil are credited for producing great tasting blueberries.
For my Polish blueberry cake, I used the plump commercial variety of blueberry–the only kind that I can buy fresh at the supermarket where I live in Northern Virginia–and added a crumb topping for contrasting texture and flavor. The more simple and perhaps more authentic, less caloric way to make the cake is to skip the crumb topping and instead dust the top with confectioners sugar before serving.
Below is the recipe. Join me afterwards for step-by-step instructions with photos.
This cake comes together very quickly, so it’s important to have all your ingredients ready and the oven preheated to 375°F first thing.
Grease and flour a 9″ x 13″ x 2″ pan. Wash about a pound of blueberries (about 3 cups, 1 1/3 pints) and spread them out into one layer on paper towels to dry. Pat with a paper towel to get the exposed side of the blueberries somewhat dry.
In a medium-size bowl, whisk or mix together 2 cups flour with 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2/3 cup white sugar, and the zest of half a lemon. The lemon zest is optional, but using it will add a nice flavor to the cake.
In a separate bowl, fork blend an egg, 2/3 cup milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. I used a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup for my bowl.
Using a standing electric mixer, beat 6 tablespoons of butter for a few seconds to get the butter smooth. Mixing by hand works OK too. Less to clean too.
Add some of the flour mixture to the bowl, about 1/3. And then add about half of the liquid to the bowl. Then mix until just incorporated, which takes only a few seconds. Beware of overmixing!
Next, add in the rest of the flour and liquid mixtures.
Mix on low speed for about 10 seconds. Maybe mix a little longer, but not much longer. You want to mix until the batter is just smooth.
Quickly spread the batter into the prepared pan.
Smooth the top with a small offset spatula.
Sprinkle the blueberries over the batter to cover. Don’t press them into the batter.
Quickly make the crumb topping. By hand, mix together 3/4 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder, a pinch of salt (1/8 teaspoon), and 1 teaspoon cinnamon for extra flavor.
Work in 4 tablespoons butter (i.e., 1/2 stick) and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract with your fingers.
The object is to get pea size crumbs, but as you can see below, I worked in butter that was too soft and worked it in too much. The topping wasn’t really a bowl of crumbs!
But that’s totally OK. I was still able to distribute the topping over the blueberries, though it was a bit sticky.
Expect that some blueberries will peek through the topping.
Bake the cake for around 35 to 40 minutes. Check for doneness with a bamboo skewer or toothpick.
Let the cake cool to room temperature before slicing, dusting with confectioners sugar, and serving.
I like the cake best on the next day, but tasting when the cake is a still a must. So after a family taste test, I placed the pan in the refrigerator overnight, cut the cake into squares the next day, and then let the squares come to room temperature (about 30 minutes) before dusting with confectioners sugar and serving.
It’s a simple yet classic summer cake to showcase summer fruits–try it out!