For many, blackberries gave us our first taste of foraging. Going brambling, blackberry picking, or whatever it was called in your neck of the woods, was a seasonal family outing, well before the current trend for wild food.
We would come back, fingers stained purple, arms scratched, with bowls and baskets full of wild fruits, ready to be made into crumbles and pies, jams and jellies.
Often those wild blackberries were mixed with apple, but in my blackberry cake they stand alone. Cultivated blackberries can have a surprisingly mild flavour, so here their flavour isn’t masked by other fruit and they can really shine. Blackberries grown in a sunny aspect are luscious and sweet. Less ripened or earlier harvested crops can be tangy. Either can be used here. The more sour, tangy blackberries will give a lovely contrast with the sweet cake.
Whether wild or cultivated, ripe blackberries have a very strong colour. By scattering the blackberries gently into the prepared cake batter, rather than mixing them through, the finished cake has attractive bursts of purple fruit instead of a uniform pink crumb.
As I come from a large family, blackberry picking always had an element of sport to it. The volume of fruit picked often yielded buckets. Extra fruit freezes beautifully and can be used to make ice-cream, or is delicious as a coulis or sauce to embellish other desserts.
Scattered over the cream cheese icing, the colour of the succulent berries bleeds into the icing, so it is best decorated at the last minute. Either way, this light and fluffy cake is a perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up served with a cup of tea. It is also a delicious dessert. It will keep in an airtight container for two to three days, but once the icing is added it is best stored in the fridge. To make it in a round cake tin, increase the baking time to 50 minutes.
225g butter, at room temperature
225g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp boiling water, if required
250g fresh blackberries
Cream cheese icing:
50g salted butter, softened
50g full fat cream cheese
100g sieved icing sugar
Zest of half a lemon
1. Preheat an oven to 160 degrees Celsius, fan, or equivalent, and line a 18cm x 28cm baking tin with parchment paper (or use a 20cm square).
2. Using an electric whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add vanilla. Gradually add the eggs, one at a time.
3. Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a bowl then mix the sieved ingredients into the batter. If the batter is very stiff after adding the flour, mix in the boiling water to loosen the consistency, if required.
4. Transfer half the batter onto the base of the lined baking tin. Toss two thirds of the blackberries in a teaspoon of flour to lightly coat them before scattering them over the batter in the tin (tossing them in flour stops the berries sinking to the bottom). Cover the blackberries with the remaining batter.
5. Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until risen in the centre, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
6. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before upturning the sponge onto a wire rack and peeling away the baking parchment. Allow the cake to cool completely before topping with cream cheese icing.
7. To make the icing, beat the butter and cream cheese together until lump free. Add the sieved icing sugar in three batches, beating till smooth. Lastly mix in the lemon zest.
8. To serve, spread the icing over the top of the cooled cake and scatter with the reserved fresh blackberries.
Variation: Serve with blackberry coulis, made by simmering 150g blackberries with 25g sugar and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, blitzing, then sieving to a smooth purée.