If you hit the summer season just right, you can easily give your Fourth of July party patriotic flare with a simple bowl of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, topped with whipped cream. There’s nothing so simple, local or delicious. But we had more than the nation’s birthday to celebrate this past weekend; July marks my friend Theresa’s birthday, as well. So this was no time for mere sparklers; I needed to pull out the big blueberry cake.
I mean, of course, a baked good, not a firecracker* (I’m much more comfortable with powdered sugar than I am with black powder.). And Theresa’s favorite birthday cake is a blueberry angel cake with lemon glaze. In fact, it’s the favorite cake in general among my friends. Over the years, it’s been transformed into a strawberry angel cake with orange glaze and blackberry one with pastry cream. But the original cake—the one I discovered years ago—is made with blueberries and is the inspired creation of master pastry chef and James Beard winner Gale Gand.
As often happens for me, the cake was the second thing I noticed when I found Chef Gand’s story in a June 2002 issue of Cooking Light. What first caught my eye was the sweet story of her relationship with her dad… as tender as the angel cake. (I re-read the article every time I make this cake. Swear.) She talked about sharing running and music and art with her father and the little things they did to take care of each other, like training together for a race or preparing simple meals. It’s what cooking and family should always be about—showing you care and making that special someone feel loved. And then… I noticed the cake. I knew it was sure to be a winner.
I’ve always been nervous when making this cake, however, even though I’ve baked it a hundred times by now (Well, a slight exaggeration, but still.). My talented photographer friend Darlene McGee kept me company in the kitchen while I whipped and fretted, measured and fretted, folded and fretted. There’s just no real “save” with this cake. Unlike a frosted layer cake, you can’t hide the uneven layer on the bottom or cover a crack with icing. Hence, my continual nervousness whenever I pull the tube pan from the cupboard. Still, it’s an amazing cake and has never failed me. Chef Gand just nailed this one. With her permission, I’m sharing it with you. Be brave–you’ll be glad you did.
- One and one-half cups sugar, divided (I use Wholesome Foods Evaporated Cane Sugar for this cake and it performs beautifully.)
- One cup sifted cake flour (My favorite is King Arthur; it’s unbleached and the company is reputable.)
- 12 large egg whites
- One and a quarter teaspoons cream of tartar
- One-half teaspoon salt
- One teaspoon vanilla (I have, on very special occasions, scraped vanilla bean seeds into this cake in addition to the teaspoon of liquid vanilla and used the pod to flavor the sugar before it enters the cake. Just Saying.)
- One and one-half cups fresh or frozen blueberries (I have never tried this with frozen berries, though I’m sure it will work. From my own experience, I will share that because my market berries tend to be very plump and heavy, I have had one unfortunate experience of having the cake prematurely drop from the pan while inverted, due—I’m pretty sure—to the weight of those berries. Yes, the cake survived and was still wonderful. I have since kept the berries to one heaping cup. Seems fine. Up to you.)
- Two tablespoons additional cake flour
- One tablespoon grated lemon rind
- One cup powdered sugar
- Three tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Sift together one-half cup sugar and one cup flour.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites using your whisk attachment at high speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and salt. Beat until soft peaks form (Dip your trusty rubber spatula gently into the egg white mixture and pull up a “peak.” Soft peaks curl over.)
- Add one cup sugar, two tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form (Stiff peaks stand straight up.)
- Sift the flour mixture over the egg white mixture, a quarter-cup at a time, and gently fold in taking care to maintain the volume of your batter. Gently fold in the vanilla and the blueberries.
- Combine two tablespoons flour and the lemon rind; toss to coat. Sprinkle over the batter and fold in.
- Spoon the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, spreading gently and evenly. Break air pockets by cutting through the batter with a knife.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.
- Invert the pan and cool completely (Yes, the cake is upside down. This keeps it from deflating and keeps you on your toes in the kitchen. Or at least it does for me. I keep watch and complete my kitchen cleanup and other tasks as I “babysit” my little heavenly confection.)
- Once completely cooled, loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a metal spatula or sharp thin knife. Invert the cake to a serving plate. (Usually, I find I need to run my spatula along the bottom—now the top—of the cake pan to help it free. Another “hold your breath” moment.)
- To prepare the glaze, combine the powdered sugar with the lemon juice in a small bowl; whisk well to create a smooth glaze. It helps to sift the powdered sugar, I think. Drizzle over the cooled cake.
Helpful Green Gal Hints:
If you are lucky enough to have very fresh market eggs, it will be easier to break and separate those eggs when they are good and cold. However, you will get far more volume from the egg whites if you let them come to room temperature before beating them. Maybe a couple of hours carefully protected in your cupboard.
This cake is very light and airy, so allow for generous slices–serves about 8 people. Add some ice cream and it might go further. People do ask for seconds–so be warned. I feel I spend at least an hour preparing the cake for the oven and about three hours “watching” it cool. Plan for half a day of intermittent work in the kitchen. Worth every minute, I promise.
Well, I just couldn’t stop with the cake because blueberries are my absolute favorite summer fruit. I have used fresh blueberries in salads, French toast, pancakes, crisps, pies and streusels, not to mention just shoveling them into my mouth by the handfuls. So to accompany this cake I came up with… wait for it… Blueberry-Lavender Lemonade Vodka Spritzers! Boom!
Lavender is an easy-to-grow herb that works in the kitchen, the bath and the bouquet. What workhorse of an herb! I’ve added it to ice cream, put it in biscotti and steeped it in lemonade… it’s a great little mixer, too.
Blueberry-Lavender Lemonade Vodka Spritzers
- Eight to 10 large organic lemons, cut in half
- One handful of fresh lavender stems. (While the flowers are pretty and can top your drinks, the flavor is in the leaves.)
- One cup organic sugar (I do not recommend raw sugar here because it will discolor this beautiful beverage. Use unbleached evaporated cane sugar, for instance from Wholesome Sweeteners.)
- Boiling water, about 10 cups or so (enough to fill your largest pitcher)
- One to two cups fresh blueberries
- Your Favorite Lemon-Flavored Vodka (I used Absolute Citron.)
- Sparkling Mineral Water (We love San Pellegrino.)
- Lavender flowers, leaves and blueberries for garnish
- Put your sugar in the bottom of the biggest glass pitcher you own and place a metal spoon in the pitcher, which will conduct the heat away from your glass as you add boiling water and will prevent—fingers crossed—the glass from cracking.
- Add your cut lemons and your lavender stems to the pitcher. Then carefully and slowly pour the boiling water into the pitcher, over the lemons. Allow the lemons and the lavender to steep for at least five hours—up to eight hours.
- About an hour or two before making your cocktails, take a reamer and juice your lemons (seeds and all) into the pitcher. Discard the peels and the lavender stems. You’ll end up with a pulpy, sugary-sweet beverage that is ready to drink over lots of ice and simply screams SUMMER. Stir the lemonade really well to distribute the sugar and strain into your ice-filled glasses. You are now set for an afternoon on the porch with a good book. But if you are in the mood for a few more fireworks….
- Find some fancy glasses, and put a tablespoon of fresh blueberries in the bottom of each. Muddle the berries to release their juices. Add a shot of vodka and some ice. Pour three-quarters of the way full with your lemonade and top with a splash of sparkling water. Give it a quick stir and garnish with lavender blossoms and a few berries.
Well. This was quite the Independence Day extravaganza. And after the party was over it was time to clean up the back porch, throw out the empties and clean up the diet a bit–ya think? As luck would have it, blueberries are FULL of antioxidants. Take away the sugar and the vodka (sigh) and it’s one of those amazing superfoods.
For instance, there a great article titled “Three Foods for Better Blood Pressure” that puts blueberries at the top of the list. The article also suggests pistachios and tea—pretty common and yummy ingredients, too. Take a look! And then, download this free guide from Delicious Living Magazine on creating a detox plan for yourself. That way, the next time you shoot off a few fireworks you won’t crash and burn. Be well!
I have to thank Jackie and Debbie Mills of The Family Garden for their amazing eggs (And thank the chickens, please.) and scrumptious blueberries, Darlene McGee for capturing my success in the kitchen with such flare, the New Hope Network Blogger Co-Op for making trusted resources readily available to those who read this blog, and, of course, Chef Gale Gand for granting permission to share the ultimate Blueberry Angel Food Cake.
*According to the Fireworks Alliance, a “Cake”, sometimes referred to as “repeaters” or “multi-shot aerials”, is an item that has a single fuse which is used to light several tubes in sequence. Cakes can have a variety of intricate aerial effects, including spinners, fish, flower bouquets, comets, crossettes, and other elements. Cakes are the most popular consumer fireworks item outside of sparklers and firecrackers.