Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Delectable Deviation

Okay, so I thought that I would only include healthy things on this site, but the cake I made today calls for an exception.

One of the most delicious desserts of summer is simply fresh blueberries (or any fresh berries or even grapes) with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of brown sugar. This can be improved by adding a little bit of lemon zest, or by sticking the whole thing under your broiler until crispy like she did.

But I'm going to visit family over the weekend and feel like I should bring something that is portable and that requires no on-the-spot preparation once I arrive at my destination. Fresh berries are generally highly perishable and too delicate for distant, nonprofessional, unrefrigerated transport. A cake is the perfect solution for such a problem. They keep well.

The remains of sour cream in my refrigerator have been begging to be used, but after many desserts of blueberries, sour cream, and brown sugar and a stint with a burrito last night, it needed to be gone from my refrigerator or face the trash can.

So I've found plenty of recipes for sour cream cakes, usually coffee cakes, some even including blueberries. I've found lots of recipes for lemon cakes, some also including blueberries. I haven't yet found one for fresh lemon, blueberry, and sour cream (maybe the acid from the lemon juice would curdle the sour cream? most recipes used lemon extract or zest). I was largely disappointed with what I found. What follows is an amalgamation of several somewhat promising recipes plus my creative adaptations and measurements resulting from a zero-hour unexpected paucity of ingredients.

I generally prefer cooking to baking because it's very correctable if anything goes wrong. You can always make adjustments. Baking is not only less flexible, but is more intimidating. Once you've thrown whatever you're baking in the oven, there's no turning back. Chemical reactions are taking place at every step and you could be doomed at any point. Measurements should be as close to exact as possible. Despite receiving excellent grades in the laboratory component of organic chemistry and having an uncanny ability to eyeball things to the microgram (really, the lab director would stare at me in disbelief week after week), baking has eluded me. No matter how much research I do, I can never figure out what goes wrong and I'm always afraid to change quantities of anything except sugar.

Well, I don't have a scale in my kitchen right now. It's in storage. But I realized that American home bakers using the imperial measuring system are kind of, well, always messing around with vital quantities. So I went for it. Who knows if I'll be able to replicate this again. It can't not be delicious to try.

The outside temperature today was 90 degrees with 65% humidity.

Meyer Lemon and Blueberry Sour Cream Cake

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
juice of 1 Meyer lemon (about 3 tbsp)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I used Arrowhead Mills organic unbleached white flour)
1 tbsp baking powder (I used Clabber Girl)
1/4 tsp salt (I used Morton coarse Kosher salt. I know, too big. It's all I had.)
1 1/4 cups fresh blueberries
pinch of flour
zest of 1 Meyer lemon

Grease and flour a 9" x 13" baking pan. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next ingredient. Add sour cream, vanilla extract, and lemon juice and mix until combined.
Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder with a fork. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until smooth, being careful not to overmix. Gently shake blueberries with a pinch of flour to coat (this keeps them from sinking to the bottom of your cake). Fold blueberries and lemon zest into cake batter. Pour batter into baking pan. Bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

I used a 9" x 9" baking pan and a standard loaf pan filled to about 1" deep so I could test what this would taste like before I embarrassed myself by bringing an experimental cake somewhere. I shouldn't have worried. This is one of the best cakes I have ever had. It's really good. Like, opening up a store in SoHo that only sells this cake and charging $11 a slice for it wouldn't be unreasonable good. Transcendental.

I'd also like to give a shoutout to my local Whole Foods for randomly having fresh Meyer lemons in their store in July. I don't live anywhere near California. I am convinced that the Meyer lemon is what elevated this cake to incredible status because while I love lemons, I don't even really like lemon cake and I usually avoid consuming or baking anything of the general category of lemon flavored baked goods. This recipe also incorporated two of my favorite Whole Foods finds:
1. The fabulously priced (at $5.99) two pound container of blueberries. You hear that?! Two pounds! They last all week! They're delicious and nutritious! I buy at least 1 box of these every week and when I don't find them, I get panicky. I've never found a bad berry in one of these huge boxes (the pint containers are another story). And you could probably get me to pay $7.99 or even $8.99 if you were to offer the same size container but organic, you hear me?
2. Arrowhead Mills flour, all varieties. It comes in small bags so it doesn't get stale at the relatively slow rate I use flour. It's also delicious and very consistent from one bag to the next.

No, Whole Foods didn't pay me to say any of this. I wish they would. And by that, I mean, I wish I could be an ingredient/product hunter/evaluator for them, which would pretty much be my ideal job. They wouldn't even have to pay me that much.

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