Monday, July 25, 2011
Wild Bramble Cake with Beurre Noisette
My parents live in New Hampshire at the edge of several hundred acres of woods. At the bottom of the garden here, for here is where I am on a visit this week, there grows a healthy, low hedge of wild brambles that has slowly advanced out of the woods and around one side of our sheltered, sunny lawn. The crop is never huge, but it lasts from around the beginning of August until the first frost.
Each morning we traipse down to the westerly-facing edge of the garden to collect whatever has ripened overnight before the birds can get to the glossy, black berries. And every evening before dusk, we pick a second harvest, those that weren’t quite ready that morning but are now juicy and sun-warm and worth rescuing from whatever night creatures might come nosing about.
The berries are similar to cultivated blackberries, only smaller and more tart, and they lighten to a rich red as they cook. Their harvest sets a rhythm to our warm-weather days and to the weeks as well. Every three or four days or so, and if we exert a reasonable level of self-control and provide adequate distraction for the smaller members of the family as we pick, we assemble enough brambles for a crumble or tart. A few summers ago I devised a third option that would frame the earthy-sweet twang of the wild fruit within the nutty warmth of beurre noisette. This cake is moist with olive oil, fragrant with vanilla and lemon, and only very subtly sweetened – an instant favorite for us.
I’ve been anxiously waiting since late September of last year to make it again, and the first few brambles have ripened earlier than normal, thanks to a sodden and, of late, excruciatingly hot summer. Don’t be put off if you don’t have brambles where you are. Blackberries, raspberries and currants of both the red and black variety are all wonderful here.
Butter and flour for the cake pan
4 tbsp (2 oz, 60g) unsalted butter
1 ½ cups (200g) all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
generous pinch of kosher salt
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
2/3 cup (135g) granulated sugar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup whole milk
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1 ½ - 2 cups (you'll need the greater volume if your berries are larger in size) fresh brambles, blackberries, raspberries, red or black currants
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C, Gas Mark 4)
Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan, being sure to tap out any excess flour.
Place the 4 oz. of butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat. The butter will melt, and then foam, and then the foam will subside. When light brown specks begin to form in the butter, test it for a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat as soon as this develops and place the pan on a cold surface to help stop the cooking. The difference between browned butter and burnt butter is just a few moments, so don’t walk away. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes before proceeding.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk in the lemon zest until evenly distributed. In an electric kitchen mixer, beat the eggs and sugar for 3 - 5 minutes, or until pale and thick. Add the browned butter, olive oil, milk, and vanilla extract. Beat until combined.
Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula until just combined. Be careful not to over-stir. Set the batter aside to rest for 10 minutes (a trick I learned from a Patricia Wells book that I find works wonders with all olive oil cakes). Gently stir ¾ of the brambles into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Top with the remaining brambles.
Bake for 50 minutes or until the cake is golden and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove the springform and continue to cool. Once the cake’s completely cool, store in an airtight container.