This post is an old one that I wrote and never published, for some reason. I know that berries are out of season here in Germany (um, hello, first snow!) but I figure it's appropriate for my lucky Australian friends, who are already enjoying fantastic weather. I'm jealous. Sorry to those of us (ok, I'm only thinking about myself here!) for whom this is seasonally inappropriate, but it's better than letting it languish in the archives, right? :)
This post is a tribute of sorts. Not to anyone in particular, but to our friend, the blackberry. Yep, I know you think I’ve gone completely nuts. You’re not that far off the mark, except that you’re about 25 years behind the times. No, the reason why I’m writing to honour the blackberry is that it’s a fruit that I’ve never been able to freely enjoy. I’ll explain why.
In Australia, the blackberry is a major pest. How, you ask, could something so delicious be such a massive problem? Unfortunately, blackberries are rather good at spreading and taking over native habitats… they’re also rather good at scratching me to pieces, but that’s another story. So, what happens in Australia, is that wild blackberry brambles get poisoned, to stop them from spreading further. Which means, of course, that their fruit is unsafe to eat – you don’t ever know whether the plant has been recently sprayed, and is yet to show the signs of the poison. So really, it’s just not a good idea to eat them.
Here in Germany, however, the blackberry meets a rather different fate. Rather than being vigorously attacked, it is completely ignored. Normal people don’t bother to pick the fruit, even – the brambles I’ve raided (ahem) were still miraculously intact. I won’t talk about the thorns, or how they’re completely overrun with stinging nettles… but rest assured that sufficient injuries were sustained to make these berries taste even better. What this glut of berries means, to a greedy forager such as myself, is that a person collecting these berries can come home with a good three or four kilograms of fruit, and consequently have no idea what to do with it all. Blackberries are at their best as soon as they’re picked, and if you have the world’s smallest freezer, then you’re going to have to use them fast.
I love to bake. Baking, I’d like to think, is in my blood. From crowding around the breakfast bar in our kitchen, the children of my family absorbed a love of baked goods whilst watching our mother prepare yet another oven-bound glory. Of course, as children, we didn’t know that yet – we just wanted the chance to lick the batter off of whichever utensil our mother would let us have. But as adults, we’re definitely still into our baked goods, and we’ve definitely all got a weakness for cupcakes.
However, this isn’t a cupcake post. This is a cake post, because I only own one 6-hold muffin tin, and that’s not a terribly express way to use a large quantity of blackberries. I won’t tell you about all the ones I scoffed fresh, or mixed with soy yoghurt and oats… I’ll might tell you about the jelly later, though, if you’re lucky. (ed note: mission accomplished!)
I don't mean for this to be an advertisement for cocoa powder or soymilk here, but hey, it's what I used and it tasted good. I don't have any affiliations, but if anyone wants to give me freebies, that would be great. Sadly, I don't see that happening, so I'm going to have to accept that I buy the soymilk that doesn't taste too 'beany' and the only cocoa powder I've found.
Now, the fruit-to-cake ratio does make a difference here. If you add too much fruit, your cake won’t hold together nicely, and it’ll take longer to bake. Though, admittedly, my oven is among the slowest contraptions to grace the world of electrical appliances. However, the idea is to chock as many berries as possible into your cake, so it’s… uh… healthier? To hell with health, I just want to eat as many blackberries as possible.
So, I’m going to just write an estimate of what an appropriate amount of berries would be… and you’ve got my license to double it. Seriously. It would be awfully hypocritical of me to tell you to stick to a recipe, when that’s the one thing I’m completely incapable of doing. The devil on your shoulder is telling you to add more blackberries, and you should believe him when he tells you that it’ll be delicious. I’ve made half my cake vanilla and the other half chocolate, because I’m catering for a mixed audience here… I wouldn’t usually ice a cake like this, but I think today I will, because it’s going to be eaten by a) children and b) men. No photos of that, because I’m transporting it to Muenster un-iced, sorry.
I used a rather large pan for this – it’s actually just really long, and by no means a standard size. I’m sure you could use a 9x9inch pan with much the same results. This is a big cake, but seeing as how everyone knows that berries are fantastically healthy, you’re allowed to eat twice as much.
4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3 cups berries
4 tsp baking powder*
¾ cup cocoa (or to taste)
2/3 cup oil
enough milk or soymilk to bind… perhaps 2-3 cups? Depends on your mix.
2 Tbsp vanilla*
For the vanilla cake:
Sift 2 cups of flour and 2 tsp baking powder into a bowl. Add 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup oil and the vanilla. Then add enough milk or soymilk to mix it into a thick batter. I don’t give quantities here, because I just eyeball it, and also because the amount differs depending on your flour and any extras you might add (like cocoa powder, as below.) If you don’t know what a cake batter should look like, email me, and I’m sorry for your deprived childhood.
Add half the berries and combine gently. Pour mix into a lined cake tin, and use the same bowl to make up the chocolate cake.
For the chocolate cake:
Sift 2 cups of flour, cocoa powder to taste (you can always add more later!) and 2 tsp baking powder into a bowl. Add 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup oil. Then add enough milk or soymilk to make a thick batter. Add the rest of your berries, and gently spoon it onto the vanilla cake already in the pan, being careful not to disturb the layers. (Or swirl it to make a marble cake!)
Bake in a medium oven (180 degrees C, or 160 fan-forced) for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. This cake is best eaten with icecream or (soy) yoghurt, and of course, a cup of tea.
*This is European-strength baking powder. You’ll need a little less if you’re using the American/Australian version, or better yet, omit it completely and just use self-raising flour. I use very heaped teaspoons.
* Vanilla extract is impossibly a) hard to find, and b) expensive here in my town. What I’m sadly having to use is vanilla powder, which isn’t nearly as good. Feel free to adjust vanilla to your personal preference, according to whether you’ve got powder, extract or essence.