Friday, March 28, 2008

March 28: Blueberry Buckle

My son was born on June 21, 2005. On June 18th, 2005, my parents arrived in Washington D.C. They hadn't seen me since Christmas. I am very tall--5'11"--and a little wide, and when I was nine months pregnant, I looked maybe six months pregnant, with a baby spread out all over the front of me. The last time they saw me was on my birthday, when I was 3 months pregnant, and didn't look pregnant at all.

It must have been fairly shocking for them to see me looking like a landmass, hot, sweaty even in the air conditioning, unbearably bloated, having contractions--but not knowing that the almost constant discomfort that I was having were contractions--and grouchy beyond all compare. My mother responded to all of this by treating me like a spoiled beauty pagent queen and indulging my every whim. She even went with me to a local barbecue joint, where a skeevy creep leaned up against me from shoulders to ankles, stuck his face in my ear, and said in this yucky, breathy whisper, "So what's good here?"

My mother looked horrified, and I was absolutely enraged beyond compare. "I'm ordering pulled pork with a large side of personal space," is what I told him, loudly. "Don't touch me again or I'll defend myself." I meant it too. I was 9 months pregnant and Skeev was lucky I wasn't carrying a weapon of some kind. He was stunned that I would stand up for myself, clearly, and very defensive about it, claiming to have meant no harm by it. I didn't give one tiny rat's ass, though; don't be creepy and rub up against me when it's 96 degrees outside and I'm as pregnant as I can possibly be or I'll stab you in the skull with a screwdriver. How's that for the moral of a story?

After I made a huge scene in a crowded take-out restaurant, my mother was even more inclined to indulge me. She did so by baking me a blueberry buckle, a tender yellow cake full of fresh blueberries and topped with a crumbly, buttery brown sugar topping. It's sort of half dessert, half coffee cake, rich and not-painfully-sweet but gorgeously indulgent feeling. She found it in Cook's Illustrated, and I've baked it for every friend whose had a baby since then. It's one of my favorite things.

Don't use frozen blueberries. They're too mushy and gloppy, and they'll leave you with a homogenous, creepy blue-green cake. Hold out until mid-June, at least, and make it then, when blueberries are sweet and fresh, and preferrably local. Yum.

1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into 8 pieces, softened but still cool

1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/4 stick), softened but still cool
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
4 cups fresh blueberries(about 20 ounces), picked over

1. For the streusel: In standing mixer fitted with flat beater, combine flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt on low speed until well combined and no large brown sugar lumps remain, about 45 seconds. Add butter and mix on low until mixture resembles wet sand and no large butter pieces remain, about 2 1/2 minutes. Transfer streusel to small bowl and set aside.

2. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides with nonstick cooking spray, line bottom with parchment or waxed paper round, and spray round; dust pan with flour and knock out excess.

3. Whisk flour and baking powder in small bowl to combine; set aside. In standing mixer fitted with flat beater, cream butter, sugar, salt, and lemon zest at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes; using rubber spatula, scrape down bowl. Beat in vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds. With mixer running at medium speed, add eggs one at a time; beat until partially incorporated, then scrape down bowl and continue to beat until fully incorporated (mixture will appear broken). With mixer running on low speed, gradually add flour mixture; beat until flour is almost fully incorporated, about 20 seconds. Disengage bowl from mixer; stir batter with rubber spatula, scraping bottom and sides of bowl, until no flour pockets remain and batter is homogenous; batter will be very heavy and thick. Using rubber spatula, gently fold in blueberries until evenly distributed.

4. Transfer batter to prepared pan; with rubber spatula, using a pushing motion, spread batter evenly to pan edges and smooth surface. Squeeze handful of streusel in hand to form large cohesive clump; break up clump with fingers and sprinkle streusel evenly over batter. Repeat with remaining streusel. Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool on wire rack 15 to 20 minutes (cake will fall slightly as it cools).

5. Run paring knife around sides of cake to loosen. Place upside-down plate (do not use plate or platter on which you plan to serve the cake) on top of cake pan; invert cake to remove from pan, lift off cake pan, then peel off and discard parchment. Re-invert cake onto serving platter. Cool until just warm or to room temperature, at least 1 hour. Cut into wedges and serve.

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