Blueberry-Juniper Rye Cake
With Lemon-Blueberry Curd
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I love all of the recipes that I create for Diversivore, but I feel especially connected to this one. The idea for it just popped into my head one day, but it wasn’t until I was well into the thick of it that I realized that I was creating a cake microcosm of my own life. I was born and raised in Alberta, but I’ve called British Columbia home for the last 7 years. Like me, the cake has one foot in the prairies and another on the coast. I started with an old family recipe for muffins, but it’s been given a thorough BC twist, namely BC Eggs, BC blueberries (literally grown only kilometers from my house), and locally milled (but Alberta-grown) rye flour from Vancouver’s GRAIN. If a cake can have terroir, then this has it in spades. Lastly, I’ve given things the old Diversivore signature touch by showcasing a few underappreciated ingredients (namely juniper and rye) and by giving plenty of variations and tips.
Now the cake is wonderful all by itself, but it’s transformed into something out-of-this-world thanks to the blueberry-lemon curd. This stuff hits all my buttons – sweet and decadent, rich without being heavy, punchy and bright with strong lemon and earthy-sweet blueberry flavours – it’s a little jar of purple sunshine. Sounds like a Prince song. To be fair, I adore curd and I’ll take any excuse to make a batch, so when I got the idea for blueberry-lemon curd, there was no turning back. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier with the result. Blueberry and lemon are perfect together, and the colour is… well, it’s almost unreal. It’s AWESOME. There’s no photo trickery here – it truly is that magnificent shade of purple. Go blueberries.
Lastly, I want to send a big ol’ virtual high-five to BC Egg for being so eager to explore recipes like this. When I first spoke with them about creating this series of recipes, one of the topics we discussed was just how important eggs are in baking, and how much you can do with them without realizing you’re eating an egg. When you’re trying to promote eggs, there’s a tendency to think of recipes that are obviously and visually egg-focused. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and it’s exactly what I did with the first recipe in the series, but sometimes we forget just how important eggs can be when we don’t even see them. In fact, when I told my father-in-law about this recipe, he was concerned about the lack of eggs. There are SIX eggs in this folks. Two in the cake, and two whole eggs plus two yolks in the curd. You might not see them, but they’re busy working their dessert magic. Go eggs.
This recipe is based on an old family recipe for blueberry streusel muffins. I changed up the flour types, tweaked the batter and the spices, and dropped the streusel in favour of a glaze. The resulting cake is flavourful and incredibly moist, but it’s also easy to adapt or tweak. I’m going to walk you through some of the components and possible variations in order to help you get the most out of the dessert.
The combination of light rye flour and all purpose flour yields a wonderfully moist crumb with an earthy and delightfully distinctive flavour. Fans of rye flour are probably on board already, but if you’re a little hesitant, rest assured that this isn’t going to taste like a loaf of dense, dark pumpernickel. Rye is a complex, nutty, somewhat malty tasting grain and it works beautifully in a huge variety of sweet and savoury baked goods. That being said, rye does not behave exactly the same way that wheat does. Both wheat and rye contain the proteins gliadin and glutenin. These proteins combine to form gluten, whose stretchy elastic nature is responsible for giving structure to flour-based goods like bread. Rye, however, contains far less glutenin than wheat, meaning that it produces less gluten. Still some, mind you – just not as much. Because of this, doughs or batters made with the flour alone won’t have the same texture found in wheat-based goods. This recipe specifically uses a combination of the two flours in order to balance the flavour of the cake and to keep it from becoming too dense. When I watched this bake, a ridge formed in the center of the loaf pan much like you’d expect from a wheat-based loaf. However, as the loaf cooled, the ridge flattened and left a flat, uniform cake that was just the right density for me. It works perfectly with the plentiful blueberries that are interspersed, and makes for a contrasting but complementary base for the curd.
Rye flour is experiencing a baking renaissance these days (hooray!), meaning that it’s becoming easier to find. More and more artisanal and commercial mills are offering rye flour to their customers, so it shouldn’t be hard to track down. If you happen to live in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver as I do, look into GRAIN and their incredible stone mill-ground rye flour. Made with Alberta-grown whole rye grain, it’s an incredible product and a great value. I used it to make this cake, and you can rest assured that it will be making regular appearances in my kitchen.
Dark vs. Light Rye
Dark and light rye flours are a bit confusingly named, as they don’t differ substantially in colour. Dark rye flour is a whole grain flour, made using the entire rye grain. Light rye flour is made with rye that has had the outer bran and germ layers removed, leaving only the core endosperm layer. Breads and cakes made with dark rye will indeed be darker in colour, but not ridiculously so. You can see from the photos that this cake is relatively dark, but nowhere near the deep chocolate colour associated with many rye breads. This isn’t really very surprising, as most dark rye bread are actually coloured with molasses or cocoa.
If you can find a good quality dark (i.e. whole grain) rye flour, use it. If not, light rye flour will also work very nicely. Should you come across something called pumpernickel flour, it’s best not use it here. Pumpernickel flour is generally a mixture of dark rye flour and coarsely ground dark rye meal. The meal is responsible for the chewy/grainy bits found in true pumpernickel bread, but would be out of place here.
No rye flour? No problem. Check out the variations below.
Juniper isn’t something that you see in every cake, but it’s a great ingredient to play around with. Most people are familiar with juniper berries as an ingredient in gin, and that’s exactly where I got this idea. Blueberries and gin go together amazingly well, and part of that has to do with juniper. Juniper berries have a tart character with elements of pine and lemon – all flavours that pair beautifully with both rye and blueberry. The cake itself is not too heavily spiced, but the juniper and cinnamon in both the batter and the glaze on top really do add depth and unique flavour to the cake. This recipe calls for dried juniper berries, rather than fresh. Of course if you have access to fresh juniper berries, you can always dry your own.
As for finding dried juniper berries – well, that one’s a bit hit and miss. Gourmet spice and grocery stores are a strong bet, but you may want to call around first. If you can’t find them in your home town, check online – there are an increasing number of high-end spice merchants with great prices and fantastic ingredients to be found on the ol’ interwebs.
This is a pretty easy cake – not prone to over-cooking and easy to check for doneness. Nonetheless, there are two simple steps that make it much easier.
- Line the loaf pan with parchment paper. This cake is prone to sticking, and while you can grease the tin, parchment paper is WAY easier.
- Don’t rely too heavily on the stated cooking time – use a toothpick instead. Ovens can vary so much it’s not even funny. You want to bake this until a toothpick can pierce the center of the cake and emerge clean. Once you’re at that stage, remove the cake, do the glazing step, and let the whole thing rest for a while.
If you decide to adapt the cake to a different size (see below in Variations), these tips still apply.
The Way of Curd
Fruit curds have a bit of an image problem, and I’d like to chip in my two cents on that issue. First of all, to the uninitiated, the word ‘curd’ doesn’t always evoke silky, dreamy, delicious dessert. Sharing etymological roots with the word curdle, it’s easy to understand why we don’t exactly think tasty thoughts. But fruit curds are, in my opinion, some of the very best and most decadent dessert components out there. Butter and eggs make for a rich and silky base, elevated and enlivened by tangy and sweet fruit flavours. Like a good custard, there’s no cooked egg-y flavour to a curd, despite the fact that quite a few eggs are used to make it. Simply put, it’s exquisite stuff – and while lemon curd is the perennial classic, you can do a lot with curds (as you can see).
For those of you already familiar (and presumably enamored with) curd, there remains another hurdle – it can seem tricky to make. Curds, custards, sabayons, and many other wonderful desserts require that you very carefully cook the eggs without overheating them. Failure to keep stirring, or working at too high of a heat can yield butter sweet scrambled eggs instead of silky curd, and that’s not what you want. Fortunately, making curd can be a lot easier than many people realize – and if you have a high-powered blender, it can be ridiculously easy.
The High-Powered Blender Method
I’ve made fruit curds several ways before, but this was the first time that I used my Vitamix blender. It was ridiculously easy, and there’s no arguing with the results. As you can see from the photos, the curd was perfectly set and wonderfully smooth. In fact, the Vitamix gave me the option of using a fruit like blueberry in the curd without having to add an extra step to break up the bits of skin.
The basic method is outlined on Vitamix’s website, though I used different proportions of ingredients (and blueberries of course). Once you’ve cooked the blueberries with the lemon juice, they and all of the remaining curd ingredients go into the blender. Start at the lowest setting and gradually increase the speed until the blender is running at the highest speed. Run the blender for 5 minutes, then turn it off and allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes before transferring to another container and refrigerating. The curd should be fairly thick already as it comes out of the blender, and it will thicken even more when refrigerated. The consistency of the cooled curd should be somewhat like a soft pudding.
The coolest part about all of this is just how it works – the heat of the high-powered blender is perfect for cooking and setting the eggs in the curd. And of course, the blades keep everything spinning and give you a perfectly smooth final product.
Note that this technique is specific to high-powered blenders like the Vitamix, and is not likely to work with a small low-speed blender.
The Food Processor Method
If you don’t have a Vitamix or other high-speed blender, you can still use some kitchen gadgetry to make curd without too much fuss. A food processor will allow you to make the prep quite easy, though you will need to cook the actual curd on the stovetop. I first tried this method a few years ago, and while I can’t remember where I first heard about it, there’s a decent chance it was from this lovely Kitchn piece.
As with the blender method, you begin by cooking the blueberries with the lemon juice. The cooked fruit is then added to a food processor and blended with all of the remaining ingredients until well combined. Make sure your butter isn’t too cold/hard before starting this step. Once the mixture is well combined, the ingredients can be transferred to a small saucepan and heated on the stovetop. Use a low heat to cook the curd, stirring frequently until well thickened (~12-15 minutes). Do not be tempted to increase the heat or leave the curd unattended, as you can easily end up with chunks of scrambled egg.
The Old School Method
So what can you do if you want to make curd but you don’t have any spinning blades at your disposal? You can go old school of course! This is more-or-less the traditional method for making curd, and while it does take a bit of time, it’s still not that difficult to execute.
Basically, we separate this technique into two sections in order to avoid overcooking the eggs. As with the other methods, begin by cooking the blueberries and lemon juice together on the stove top over low heat. Cook until the fruit is very soft, stirring frequently to break the fruit down further. You may want to add a few teaspoons of water as you cook to keep the mixture from scorching. Once the blueberries are very soft, remove them from the stove top and press them through a mesh strainer to remove the solids. Try to get as much of the soft cooked blueberry puree as possible while leaving behind any tough bits of skin. Return the puree to the stove top over low heat along with the butter, sugar, and lemon zest (note that you can also add the zest during the first step, but I prefer to leave it in and mince it very finely). Stir until the butter is melted and everything is well combined, then set aside to cool.
Whisk together the eggs and egg yolks in a small bowl and set aside. Once the mixture is near room temperature, fold in the eggs and return the pot to the stove to and heat again, once more over low. Cook the curd, stirring frequently until well thickened (~12-15 minutes). Do not be tempted to increase the heat or leave the curd unattended, as you can easily end up with chunks of scrambled egg.
To Strain or Not To Strain?
Once the curd is cooked, you can either leave it as is if it looks smooth enough, or pour and press it through a fine mesh strainer in order to yield a smoother end product. When it comes to the Vitamix method, there’s generally no need to strain. As you can see from the photos, the final product is extremely smooth. The other two methods may warrant straining if you and leftover bits of blueberry skin or lemon zest, or if you’ve got any bits of over-cooked egg.
Once you’re happy with the consistency of your curd, allow it to cool somewhat then store it in the fridge. It will keep for at least 1 week, assuming you can make it last that long.
Diversivore is all about bringing love and attention to some underappreciated foods, but I also recognize that you want to have a fall-back in the event that you can’t track something down. This recipe is quite adaptable, and there are a few variations you can explore, either out of interest or necessity.
If you can’t find rye flour (or if you don’t like it), you can make this with 3.5 cups unbleached all purpose wheat flour. The resulting cake will be lighter in colour and flavour, but still very tasty. You could also use a good whole wheat flour for a different but still delightful variation.
I haven’t yet tested this recipe with any gluten-free flours, but given that it is a denser, moister sort of cake the possibility is there. Let me know if any of you enterprising sorts give it a whirl!
Blueberries are my favourite fruit to use in this recipe, but you can adapt his to other fruits as well. Raspberries make for a lovely twist and a beautiful pale pink fruit curd. I haven’t tried it yet, but cherries would likely work quite well too, as they’re a natural rye partner.
This recipe was adapted from one for muffins, so I know for a fact that it can work in a number of sizes. I haven’t tried every possible iteration of course, but here are some general notes for those looking to experiment. Regardless of the method you choose, take note of the Baking Tips section above for best results.
Loaf Pan – this is the cake style I went with here, along the lines of a lemon loaf or banana bread. It worked very well, but I will note two things:
- It’s a fair bit of batter and that necessitates a larger loaf pan (the one I use is 30 cm/12 inches long), and
- It makes for a long cook time (about 75-85 minutes, depending on the oven).
If you wanted, you could use two smaller loaf pans and a shorter cook time. Use a toothpick to check the doneness of the cake as you would for the large loaf, but start checking sooner.
Square Pan – a nice variation for making squares of cake, perfect for tea time. Reduce the cook time and make sure to check for doneness at the center of the cake.
Round Cakes – use two 10 inch (or three 8-inch) round cake pans and reduce the cooking time substantially, checking for doneness with a toothpick. This is a great option if you want to make a cake with layers of blueberry curd in between. A gorgeous and very unique variation.
Bundt Pan – I haven’t tried this one, but I have no reason to believe it would be a problem, especially given the fact that the cake isn’t prone to burning to begin with. Cook time should be reduce somewhat, though it will probably still take a fair bit of time if the pan is fairly full.
Muffins – this makes for wonderful and very moist muffins, absolutely loaded with blueberries. In fact, it can seem like there are TOO many blueberries when you’re spooning portions into the muffin tin, but trust me, it works. Do make sure your batter is evenly mixed so that you don’t get too many berries in one cup and not enough in another. Baking time will be substantially reduced; somewhere around 20-25 minutes. As always, use a toothpick to check whether or not the muffins are done.
Nutritional Information is given for a 1/12th portion of cake plus approximately 1/16th of the total curd recipe.
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
Other Egg Recipes on Diversivore
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