Summer is fading quickly from our memory. Hot, sultry mornings are quietly becoming cooler, darker affairs, perfect for a steaming mug of coffee and a slice of summer’s best. Sweet and tangy blueberries, freshly picked the day before add the perfect balance of sweet, fruity resistance to this delectable coffee cake. The addition of cornmeal provides a subtle crunchy texture that gives this breakfast dessert an edge over its competition.
Ripe berries, blueberries in particular, are a delicate ingredient. They quickly bruise and burst under pressure. Neophytes making their first batches of blueberry muffins understand the problem this poses first hand with purple-grey muffins lacking any identifiable blueberry bits. Mixing fresh blueberries into batter only results in their destruction and permanent staining of the resultant batter. Obviously adding the blueberries at the end will solve the problem. But that only takes care of half of it.
By their nature, fresh blueberries are denser then the batter that holds them. Ergo, blueberries added to the batter before cooking just settle to the bottom of the pan creating a layer of cooked blueberries with cake atop. As far as muffins are concerned, fresh blueberries are a nonstarter. Dried blueberries work best in single serve items such as muffins and tartlets.
Our dish uses fresh berries, and fresh berries require a bit of a cheat. We’ll cook the coffee cake for a few minutes to set the bottom and begin the protein setting process. The fresh berries are then sprinkled on the top where they settle a bit and at random depths. The streusel topping is added on top of the berries sealing them in. This way the streusel topping doesn’t sink to the bottom of the cake either.
As with all desserts, coarse salt should be finely ground before adding it to the rest of the ingredients as it won’t have enough time to thoroughly dissolve during wet and dry incorporation. Since this is a cake, the dry ingredients will only be mixed enough to be fully incorporated and no more. Overmixing will always result in tough pastries and cakes, and large salt crystals will result in salty pockets in an otherwise sweet cake.
Fresh blueberries won’t be around much longer so enjoy them for breakfast, or dessert, today.
Blueberry Cornbread Coffee Cake
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ⅓ yellow cornmeal
- 6 tablespoons cold butter, sliced
- ¼ finely ground kosher salt
- zest of one lemon
- 1⅓ cups all purpose flour
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon finely ground kosher salt
- ¾ cup milk
- ⅔ cup buttermilk
- 4 eggs, beaten
- ½ cup butter, melted
- ¼ cup mild vegetable oil such as canola
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly coat a 10-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. In a food processor, pulse together all the ingredients for the streusel topping until the mixture resembles crumbs. Set aside.
Sift or whisk together the flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder and salt for the coffee cake batter in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together the milk, buttermilk, eggs, melted butter, vegetable oil, lemon juice and vanilla extract in a separate bowl. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and stir using a rubber scraper until just combined. Do not overmix. Pour the batter in the cake pan and bake at 400°F for 5-6 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the blueberries on top, pressing them below the surface if it has begun to set. Sprinkle the streusel mixture on top and bake for an additional 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for 15-20 minutes. Serve warm with crème fraîche or sour cream and lemon zest.