blackberry shortcake.

Once upon a time, I made a delicious summer cake…


Actually, I’ve made this cake one-and-a-half times.

I was introduced to a strawberry shortcake recipe on a recent trip north, by walking in on the Boyfriend’s mother attempting to make it for her mother’s birthday dinner that evening.  His mother is an incredible cook but, by her own admission, not much of a baker.  Case in point: her standard birthday cake  is boxed mixed buried under a heavy curtain of frosting.

But she wanted to make this cake, so we made it.  Actually, we made it three times, accounting for a very poorly worded recipe and an over-eager baker who did not pause to read it from beginning to end before starting.  There was too much sugar in the first cake, then not enough in the second; some failed to rise, others crisped on top but remained gummy in the center.  We baked and baked again, and in the end, she had a beautiful cake to present at the end of a special meal.

Several weeks later and back in my own Virginia kitchen, I remade the recipe as a six-inch cake with a twist: replacing the sweet strawberries with deep, earthy blackberries.  Really, any fruit or berry could stand in; I imagine peaches would also be delightful.  I simplified and rewrote the directions to be more accessible for all the “not much of a” bakers out there.  You will only have to make the cake once— I pinky promise.

As the original recipe rightfully explains, this is not shortcake as you might know it.  Instead of berries and cream piled atop a sweetened powder biscuit, the vehicle here is a sponge cake so soft and moist that it seems too fragile to bear the fresh, juicy berries tucked between the layers.  It is, though just barely, and the cake’s texture is what truly sets this apart from the more traditional preparation.


This is truly the perfect “summer-anything” cake; summer birthdays, summer cook-outs, and summer holidays will all be better for it.  You might even make a new friend or two— but certainly that’s because of your sparkling personality and radiant good looks, not because you happened to show up with this stunning cake, right?

Blackberry Shortcake
Adapted from Strawberry Shortcake by Melissa Clark/NYT

Blackberry Filling:
18 oz fresh blackberries, 5-10 reserved for topping cake
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons orange or lemon zest

Sponge Cake:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg white
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup whole milk, warmed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whipped Cream:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare the blackberry filling.  Rinse blackberries and drain off excess water, then set several whole berries aside to top your cake.  Cut remaining berries into thin slices.  Mix sliced berries, sugar, and orange (or lemon) zest in a small bowl and set aside.

Prepare the sponge cake.  Preheat oven to 350 and prepare two 6-inch cake pans (or one 9-inch cake pan) by buttering the pan, lining with parchment paper, and buttering and flouring the parchment.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs and egg white on high speed until light and bubbly.  Gradually add sugar and continue to beat on high speed until the mixture has thickened and turned pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes.

Gently add flour mixture to the egg/sugar mixture, using a rubber spatula to fold the flour into the eggs.  {Don’t stir!  Folding takes longer, but incorporates air into the batter; this will keep your cake light and airy.}  Add the melted butter, warmed milk, and vanilla, continuing to fold until all dry ingredients are incorporated and the batter is uniform.

Divide batter between two 6-inch cake pans, or use all batter in one 9-inch pan.  Bake cakes until they are golden in color and firm when pressed gently with your finger, usually 22-27 minutes for 6-inch cakes or 30-35 minutes for a 9-inch cake.  Remove from oven, let stand in pans for 10 minutes, then invert to a baking rack to cool completely.

Prepare whipped cream. In a stand mixer or large bowl, beat heavy whipping cream and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Cream can be stiffened with powdered sugar if needed, but use sparingly to avoid over-sweetening.

Assemble cake.  When the cakes have cooled completely, slice them in half horizontally with a sharp, serrated knife.  For two layer, six-inch cake, fill the bottom of the first layer with whipped cream, then layer half the blackberries {and juice} on top.  Fit top of the first layer and cover with whipped cream.  Repeat with the second layer, stacking cakes gently atop each other.

Top the final layer generously with whipped cream and decorate with whole blackberries.  Serves 6-8.

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