Memories of Blackberries

August 7, 2012

When I was nine years old, we moved from one house in a Seattle suburb to another.  The suburb was the same but everything else was very different.  Our first house was on a cul-de-sac where almost every house had kids around my age.  We walked to school through the woods, rode our bikes in endless loops around our street, fed carrots carefully to the mean pony who was stabled next door to the house next door, climbed trees, and played in sandboxes.  The new house was on a street so steep that it was years before I would be able to ride my bike up it.  There were five houses, only one of which had kids, and those kids were weird.  There was the lake at the bottom of the street but not pony and no climbable trees.  I had to take the bus to school.  It was a hard move.

But we did have blackberries.  Incredible amazing huge blackberries.  Blackberries are everywhere in the Northwest.  The bush that is a terrible nuisance for 11 months of the year (so big! so many thorns! so hard to get rid of!) is suddenly everyone’s best friend come August.  If you drive along any quiet roads in the late summer, you will see people with pails, picking and eating.

The bush near our house was giant, stretching the length of our car and probably seven feet high.  I don’t think anyone had every picked those berries because they were the largest I had ever seen.  I have an extremely faint scar on my right wrist from that bush, so eager was I to get at the sweet deep purple berries, that I practically threw myself in there.

Blackberries mean August to me and I was thrilled to see huge ones, like those I remember, at my farmers’ market last week.  I had just ripped out a page with a Blackberry Buttermilk Cake from Bon Appétit and it seemed like the best thing to do with them.  If you would like to see a photo of how the cake was supposed to look, click over here.  I got a little carried away with the blackberry placement on the bottom of the pan.  How could less be better than more?  It turns out that more makes everything more jammy and rather than restrained pretty cake I got gooey jammy kind-of-a-mess.  Flipping it over was dangerous and stained my already stained favorite oven mitt.  But once I tasted it, I was glad to have overdone the blackberries.  The cake is very calm, a nothing fancy buttermilk cake.  So having a bit of chaos piled on top of it seemed just not right, if not perfect.

One Year Ago:  Raspberry Cake with Marsala (given the choice between the two, I’d make this raspberry cake over the blackberry one)
Two Years Ago:  Rice Noodles with Marinated Tofu and Shiitake Mushrooms
Three Years Ago:  3 Different Cheeseballs
Four Years Ago:  Pasta with Cauliflower, Peppers, and Walnut Pesto

Blackberry Buttermilk Cake
Bon Appétit
Makes one 9 or 10-inch cake

You can use either a 9 or 10-inch springform pan for this cake.  I like using a 9-inch for a taller cake.

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan and parchment
2 1/3 cups cake flour (sifted, then measured) plus more for pan
2 ½ cups (10 ounces) fresh blackberries
¼ cup plus 1 1/3 cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Position a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter pan; line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Butter parchment. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Arrange berries in a single layer in bottom of pan; sprinkle evenly with ¼ cup sugar.Sift 2 1/3 cups flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a medium bowl; set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat ¾ cup butter and remaining 1 1/3 cups sugar in a large bowl at medium-high speed, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and zest. Reduce speed to low; beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating just until incorporated. Pour batter over berries in pan; smooth top.Bake until cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour 25 minutes. Let cool in pan set on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a thin, sharp knife around edge of pan to loosen. Remove pan sides. Invert cake onto rack and remove pan bottom; peel off parchment. Dust top generously with powdered sugar and let cool completely.


  1. ha i do that all the time, “if 1 cup of berries is called for, certainly 2 cups would be better” :) It looks far from a mistake here. Sorry about your oven mitt, but it makes for good memories.

    Comment by sara — August 7, 2012 @ 3:32 am

  2. We are able to pick domestic berries here in the valley but the wild, wild berries of the coast are 4 hours away.

    Comment by bellini — August 7, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

  3. Hopefully the boys move won’t be quite as traumatic. :) but theres always a silver lining and those blackberries surely were it! I’m really loving simple cakes like this these days. The kind that are just so undeniably delicious and yet so undeniably straightforward.

    Comment by Joanne — August 7, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

  4. while this looks good w/ the extra berrries of course, i’m thinking blackberry cake w/ marsala might be the way to go….
    what do you think?

    Comment by jacquie — August 8, 2012 @ 1:50 am

  5. It seems blackberries really bring back memories for you. Thanks for the blackberry buttermilk cake recipe.

    Comment by OrGreenic — August 10, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

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