I’m not playing Portal 2 right now, but based on what I’ve read, I wish I were. In due time, I guess. I know that cake jokes are just that, a joke right now, but I still remember what a great gaming experience it was to come across “The cake is a lie” in the original game. It was such an amazing moment, to get a glimpse of what was going on behind the test chambers and to come across these frantic scribblings about dishonest dessert. I mean, what the hell? When the implication of what the truth of the lying cake was, it all fell into place and finally, your suspicions were confirmed that the entity leading you through the course didn’t have your best intentions in mind.
I mean, come on. Jokes aside, that was awesome.
So, with this in mind, and on the occasion of Portal 2, this week’s column is all about the cake. Sour Cream Blueberry Crumb Cake to be exact.
While I’ve always loved to cook, until recently, baking filled my heart with dread. Cooking requires recipes, sure, but you can go off the reservation and freestyle, even if I don’t. Baking, on the other hand, is very precise. The reactions that take place while baking require things to be measured precisely and at the right temperature in order for things to be successful. I used to make cakes and they’d either never rise, or they’d rise to unsustainable heights and then their centers would collapse. It was frustrating and incredibly disheartening so I stopped doing it.
Then I got the book Cookwise for Christmas. Cookwise is an excellent book because it teaches you why things happen the way they do while cooking, in other words, the science behind cooking. Knowing the science behind cooking is such a fantastic tool to have as it not only helps you understand what went wrong, or how to cook effectively, but it also allows you to better experiment as you can understand what flavors go with what. Of course you can get that through experimentation, and you should experiment, but experimenting when baking, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing in the first place, is not the best way to make your way through the cake forest.
So, armed with Cookwise, I went about figuring out why I wasn’t able to bake. First of all, I was checking the cakes too much and it was causing huge temperature fluctuations in the oven temperature. Second, I wasn’t bringing the cold items up to room temperature. Finally, I was either not beating enough, or beating too much air into the batter. All of this together led to a cavalcade of subpar cakes. Once I figured out what I was doing wrong, things made a huge turn for the better and I fell in love with baking cakes. That love has since been eclipsed by the love of making pies, what can I say, I’m a fickle baker, but I still remember how great it felt to finally get something as wonderful as a cake made from scratch right.
This is the recipe I learned to make cakes on, and it is a truly delightful cake. Moist and buttery with a delightful layer of blueberries and a sweet and crunchy crumb topping. It’s also pretty easy to make, especially for first time bakers, with one caveat. You need a stand mixer for this one. I have tried to do it with a hand mixer and it wasn’t nearly as good. I understand that stand mixers are expensive but if you’re planning on making cakes on a regular basis, it is totally worth it. I have a big, black beast of a Kitchenaid and it is, hands down, one of the best purchases for the kitchen I have ever made.
Enough of that though, let’s get baking.
Sour Cream Blueberry Crumb Cake from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle and John Uher
1. 1 cup all purpose cake flour
2. 1/4 cup sugar
3. 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
4. 1 tsp cinnamon
5. 1/8 tsp salt
6. 7 Tbl melted unsalted butter – Yes that’s a lot of butter but trust me, we’re just getting started.
1. 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
2. 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
3. 1/4 tsp salt
4. 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries – If they’re frozen, don’t thaw them out.
5. 1 cup sour cream – I usually take it out and put it on the counter before I get started making the cake.
6. 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
7. 10 Tbl (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter – Make sure you set the butter out for 30 – 40 minutes ahead of time so that it can soften.
8. 1 cup sugar
9. 2 large eggs – Get the eggs up to room temperature by putting them in a bowl of warm water while the butter is sitting out.
1. In a medium bowl, mix the dry topping ingredients together. Add the melted butter and mix with a fork until the butter is completely absorbed. Set aside.
2. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9 x 9 cake pan. I use Crisco followed by flour. You can also use butter, or cooking spray in a pinch, but I’ve found that the flour doesn’t stick as well with cooking spray. Even if you have a nonstick pan, grease and flour as the flour lets the batter climb up the sides of the pan.
3. In a medium bowl, mix all of the dry cake ingredients together.
4. In another bowl, toss the blueberries with 1 Tbl of the flour mixture from the previous step. Make sure the berries are all evenly coated. Set aside.
5. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and vanilla extract. Set aside.
6. Using the paddle attachment of your electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar at medium speed about 4 or 5 minutes, until the butter is nice and fluffy.
7. Beat the eggs into the butter mixture one at a time, scraping down the sides as needed.
8. Once the eggs are fully incorporated, reduce the mixing speed to low and add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with half of the sour cream mixture. In other words, beat in 1/3 of the flour, then 1/2 the sour cream. 1/3 the flour mixture, the remaining half of the sour cream and finally, the remaining 1/3 flour mixture. Make sure that the new ingredients are fully mixed before adding the next ones. Stop to scrape down the side of the bowl as needed.
9. Once fully mixed, remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the blueberries.
10. Scrape the batter into the cake pan and smooth the top of the batter with a spoon.
11. Sprinkle the crumb topping on top of the batter, breaking up any large lumps.
12. Bake the cake for 45 minutes or until a cake tester placed in the center of the cake comes out clean. I use spaghetti as a tester. Feel free to use whatever thin, needle like object you have. No syringes, obviously.
13. Let the cake cool and then serve from the pan.
It seems complicated, but it’s really not and it makes a fantastic cake that goes down great with a ice cold glass of milk. And, unlike cake jokes, it never gets old.
Still hungry? Check out the Don’t Shoot the Food archive.