Eric Akis: Delicious cakes have a local flavour

Eric Akis

If you fancy doing some summer baking that incorporates in-season fruit, today I have two classic cake recipes for you.

One is a coffee cake with a cinnamon-spiced topping that is flecked with a generous amount of wild blackberries. I like to use wild blackberries in a coffee cake because they are smaller then cultivated blackberries and, when freshly picked, are more compact and less likely to break apart when I fold them into the batter for the cake.

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Wild blackberries are ripe and ready to pick on vines around the Island, and you’ll find them growing just about everywhere. That includes areas that are not exactly rural. The ones I used in today’s recipe were picked in Uplands Park in Oak Bay.

Before heading out to pick blackberries, plan ahead and bring a handled pail or basket to put them in. It’s also a good idea to wear long sleeves and pants to protect your skin from the thorny canes the fruit grows on.

Pick in areas where you have solid footing, not where you might slip and fall into the canes. Also, bring something long with a hook on it to help pull just out of reach canes toward you, so that you can more easily pluck the berries off them.

My second cake is a B.C. apricot upside-down cake. Apricot is in season and I have seen baskets of them at farm markets and grocery stores.

To make the cake, the apricots are halved and pitted, and set in the bottom of a cake pan with butter, brown sugar and walnuts.

On top of the fruit goes an easy-to-make batter that, when baked, is tender and moist, and perfectly pairs with the apricots that sit atop the cake when inverted and served. It’s a home-style, attractive dessert that folks around my house always seem to quickly gobble up with a big smile on their faces.

Wild Blackberry Coffee Cake

Wild blackberries are in season and you can find them growing along trails, laneways and in all sorts of other locales around the Island. You’ll need two cups of them for this cinnamon-spiced cake that, as its name suggests, goes great with coffee.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 45 to 50 minutes

Makes: 10 to 12 servings

For topping

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup golden brown sugar, packed

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

For the cake batter

2 cups plus 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour (divided)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups fresh wild blackberries (see Eric’s options)

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature, plus some for greasing

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 F with the rack in the middle position. Grease a nine-inch springform cake pan with butter and set aside.

Place topping ingredients into a small to medium bowl and work together (I used my fingers) until the mixture resembles dense, crumbled cookie dough. Set the topping aside for now.

Make the cake batter by combining 2 cups flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

Place blackberries in a shallow bowl and sprinkle with the 1 Tbsp flour. Gently toss to coat the berries lightly with the flour. (Coating berries with flour will help prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the cake as it bakes.)

In a mixing bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat 1/4 cup butter and granulated sugar until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one a time. Mix in the vanilla. Now, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk. Scrape the sides of bowl as needed during this process.

With a spatula, very gently fold the blackberries into the batter, being careful not to break them apart. Spoon the batter into the cake pan. Set 1 tsp amounts of the topping at various points on top of the cake batter.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched in the very centre. Cool the cake to room temperature, then slice and serve.

Eric’s options: If desired, serve wedges of the cake with a dollop or scoop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, and garnish with mint. You could also dust the cake with a bit of icing sugar before slicing and serving.

Instead of blackberries, use 2 cups blueberries or Saskatoon berries in this cake.

Wedges of this cake can be wrapped and frozen, to thaw and enjoy later in the year.

B.C. Apricot Upside-down Cake 

Moist, tender cake that, when baked and inverted onto a cake plate, reveals a brilliant orange apricot topping glazed with brown sugar.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 40 to 45 minutes

Makes: Eight to 10 servings

For the apricots

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup golden brown sugar, packed

6 medium fresh apricots, halved lengthwise, and pitted (mine were about 2 to 2 1/2 inches long; see Eric’s options)

1/2 cup walnut pieces

For the cake batter

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

• pinches ground cinnamon and nutmeg

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 large egg

1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 F with the rack in the middle position. Pour the melted butter into a nine-inch cake pan. Swirl the pan until the bottom of it is coated with the butter. Sprinkle the brown sugar over butter. Top the brown sugar with the halved apricots, setting them cut side down and in a single layer. Set walnuts in the spaces between in each apricot.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Place the 1/4 cup room-temperature butter, granulated sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl, or bowl of your stand mixer, and beat until well combined. Beat in the egg. Gradually beat in the flour mixture, alternately with the milk.

Spoon and carefully spread the batter over the apricots. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake springs back when gently touched in the centre.

Let the cake cool for 15 minutes. Now run a paring knife around the edges of the cake. Set a cake plate over the pan. Carefully and quickly invert the cake and release it onto the plate. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

Eric’s options: If desired, serve the cake with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, and garnish with mint. Instead of apricots, you can make this cake with similarly sized halved and pitted plums.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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