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Sunday, March 13, 2011

I'm in the Zone! (Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Cake w/ Browned Butter Crust)

The witching hour is when I always get my best work done. Maybe it's because there's absolutely no one else awake to distract me. But it's not been so easy for the past few months, which is a problem: the most important thing for me to accomplish at the moment is writing, and I don't know why, but it's become so hard to sit down and do just that.

Which is why I decided to celebrate my recent stroke of inspiration by taking a break and making use of my leftover buttermilk and wild blueberries by mixing them into this insanely moist loaf cake. This also gave me a chance to try out my new loaf pan! (I know, I live a terribly exciting life.) The pan browned the cake marvelously. The browned butter created a delicious crust, which was my absolute favorite part of this treat.

What's amazing is that this cake is ridiculously, unabashedly moist, almost to the point where after I sliced into it, for five seconds I was horribly worried I under-baked the loaf. And you will too. Relax, take a deep breath, you haven't. This just isn't a crumby, powdery sort of cake. It's got almost a pudding-like crumb, which is how it's supposed to be. That's from using buttermilk, and oil instead of butter. If you're not a fan of such a moist cake, you could opt to swap out the 1/2 cup of oil with a stick of room temperature  butter. Whip that with the sugar till light and fluffy and then add the rest of the wet ingredients. You could also add an extra half cup of flour to soak up more of that moistness. It might even be interesting to swap out half the flour with cornmeal. Hmmm...I should try that....

My definition of a wonderful Saturday night: page after page of writing accomplished, a cake baking in the oven, and a black market copy of My Fair Lady (always makes me think of my mom) playing in the background.  This was a spur of the moment experiment, which ended coming out a thrilling success. I'm anxiously looking forward to a slice with breakfast tea. This is also, like so many of my dishes, extremely adaptable. Prefer poppy seeds over blueberries? Not a problem, add half a cup of those instead. Or toasted walnuts. Or chocolate chips. Or both. The possibilities are endless. Kind of like the art of writing. Speaking of which...

 Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Cake w/ Browned Butter Crust

Note: So, right off the bat I should be honest. I almost never sift my dry ingredients together. I’m just too lazy. And I’m sure my baked goods suffer somewhat from my laziness. Because I try not to promote such bad behavior, I have written out the directions below with the proper way to prep your ingredients, but in case you aspire to be just as lazy as I am, here’s how I make this (as well as almost every other cake I make) a one bowl recipe. I add the salt in with the wet ingredients, and when all of those are incorporated, I add the leaveners and mix thoroughly to combine. After that, generally the only other dry ingredient is flour, and I add that at the very end. I’m awful, right?

1 ½ cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
¾ cup plus ¼ cup sugar
3 large eggs, separated
2 tsp grated lemon zest
3 tbsp to ¼ cup lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup frozen wild blueberries (the small ones)
pinch extra flour
extra sugar
3 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 8 ½ x 4¼ x 2 ½ inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Take out frozen blueberries and spread onto paper towels to thaw. Pat dry and gather into bowl.

Sift together the 1 ½ cups flour with the baking powder and salt. In another bowl whisk together the buttermilk, ¾ cup sugar, egg yolks, zest, lemon juice, extract and oil.  Slowly add dry ingredients and mix to combine. Set aside.

In another bowel, place egg whites. Whip with electric mixer till frothy, then with mixer still on, slowly add ¼ cup sugar. Whip on high till egg whites are glossy and hold soft peaks (make sure the whites keep their sheen and don’t get too dry). In three additions, add to batter, folding each addition in with a spatula.

Take a pinch of flour (about 2 to 3 tsp) and toss to coat berries. Add them to the batter and fold gently to incorporate. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and sprinkle top lightly with sugar. Place in oven.

While the cake is cooking, place butter in a small stockpot and cook on medium-low heat till nutty and brown. Remove off heat.

Keep an eye on the cake. When the top is still pale but not liquid anymore (about 20 to 25 minutes) take cake out and drizzle/brush browned butter on top. Since the sides had begun to set, I poked holes throughout the surface and allowed the butter to seep into the cake. Sprinkle with a touch more sugar and place back in oven and bake till golden brown.  Total baking time is about 45 to 50 minutes.

Cool for ten minutes in pan, then flip out onto parchment paper. Flip cake again onto cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

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