berries

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel

I know I’ve been posting a lot of recipes with strawberries lately, but strawberry season is fleeting and I need my fix okay?

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel | Brooklyn Homemaker

I mean, strawberries are pretty freakin amazing so you should probably have your head checked if you find yourself taking issue with my posting too many* strawberry recipes.

*no such thing

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel  | Brooklyn Homemaker

I grew up loving strawberries, and all berries for that matter, thanks in part to my grandfather’s garden. Grandpa’s garden is actually larger than the footprint of his house, and the house itself is actually pretty large.

Several years ago an insurance company flew over his house taking aerial photos of homes in the area after a big storm. Luckily there wasn’t any damage to his property, but they mailed him a glossy 8×10 that he framed and hung over his favorite recliner in the living room. Until then I’d never realized just how big the garden was, but seeing it from overhead really put it’s size into perspective.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel  | Brooklyn Homemaker

In addition to the garden he also has a small orchard filled with apple, pear, plum, & peach trees; a trellis weighed down by grapes stretching the length of his barn; and a separate patch of walnut and chestnut trees shading the lawn behind the barn.

It’s basically my mission in life to eventually have a piece of property as large, beautiful, and bountiful as my grandfather’s little oasis in the Fingerlakes. For now though, I’ll have to be satisfied with trips to the farmer’s market instead.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel  | Brooklyn Homemaker

Within the garden itself he’s always got rows and rows of tomatoes, squash, peppers, and beans, along with a huge strip of asparagus, but his berries have always taken up the largest portion of his plot. He used to have a big stretch of raspberry bushes, but they attracted japanese beetles so he took them out a few years back. His latest and greatest joy is his blueberries, and every time I visit he’s talking about a new soil amendment he’s trying to get higher yields, or a new trick he’s testing out to keep the deer away.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel  | Brooklyn Homemaker

As far back as I can remember, his strawberry patch has taken up almost a full quarter of the whole plot. Growing up we used to spend hours picking strawberries with Grandpa and carrying bowls of them into the house to help Grandma clean them. As soon as they were washed she would hull and slice them, macerate them in sugar, and freeze most of them to eat in the colder months to come. Oddly enough Grandma and Grandpa weren’t big fans of eating strawberries in their fresh natural state, though my sisters and I certainly ate plenty.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel | Brooklyn Homemaker

What better way to celebrate the first official week of summer than combining two of Grandpa’s favorite berries with a simple, tender crumb cake baked in a cast iron skillet?

While Grandpa doesn’t grow basil I decided that I’d try using up some basil sugar in the streusel topping just for kicks. I have a bunch of basil sugar left from my birthday cake experiments, so why not? I thought the basil flavor, rather than using the more traditional cinnamon, might make this cake taste even more summery and bright.

I was right.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel | Brooklyn Homemaker

The base of this cake is moist, tender, buttery, and perfect. Thanks to being baked in a skillet, the sides are almost as crunchy as the crumb topping. It’s absolutely bursting with fresh ripe berry flavor brightened up with a touch of lemon. There are so many berries that the cake practically fell apart when I tried slicing it before it was completely cool. The streusel topping adds even more warm weather brightness with unexpected hints of fresh green herbal loveliness from the basil sugar (and plenty of butter).

While I think the basil sugar kind of elevates this cake into a whole new level of summer perfection, I know it might sound kind of crazy to some of you. If you’re not feeling quite as adventurous and I was, and would prefer a more traditional streusel topping, feel free to skip the basil and add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon instead.

mixed berry skillet cake with basil sugar streusel  | Brooklyn Homemaker

Mixed Berry Skillet Cake with Basil Sugar Streusel

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Topping:
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold is fine
Pinch of salt

Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, cleaned and dried
1/2 lb (about 1 1/2 cups) fresh strawberries, cleaned, dried, & quartered
1/2 cup buttermilk
confectioners sugar for dusting, optional

Heat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9 or 10-inch cast iron skillet. (or alternately butter and flour a 9 inch round cake pan)

Using a food processor (or mortar and pestle), prepare the basil sugar by grinding the basil into a paste fist and then adding the sugar and pulsing until very well mixed. The sugar should absorb the basil pulp and turn vibrant green with a texture similar to that of brown sugar.

Prepare the topping by mixing the flour, sugar, and salt, then cutting the butter in with a pastry blender or fork (or even your fingertips) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Refrigerate while you make the rest of the cake.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt until well combined. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl with handheld mixer), cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy (about 3 to 5 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Mix lemon juice into buttermilk. Alternate 3 additions of flour and 2 additions of buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, mixing until just incorporated after each addition. The batter should be quite stiff. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to gently fold in berries until evenly distributed.

Spread batter into prepared skillet and smooth it flat. Sprinkle with prepared streusel, breaking it up as you go if it’s clumped together. Bake in heated oven for 45 – 55 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes (an hour is better) before slicing.

Remove the cake from the skillet for storage if there’s any left (there won’t be). Cake should keep, well covered at room temperature, for up to three days (or a bit longer in the fridge).

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strawberry rhubarb skillet cake

You guys. I have a confession to make.
I’m the world’s WORST blogger.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

It’s been sunny and warm for the past few days and I had to draaaag myself indoors to write this post. I’ve really wanted nothing more than to lay out in the yard after work and snuggle puppies and drink rosé.
Russell’s been visiting family in LA and I should be taking this opportunity to catch up on my writing, but once the sun goes down and the spring chill sets back in, I’d rather be watching reruns of the Walking Dead or RuPaul’s Drag Race with a pint of pistachio ice cream.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

In addition to laziness and springtime distractions, I’ve also fallen victim to springtime cravings. The arrival of warm weather and green leaves makes me crave fresh produce and bright spring berries like crazy. I mentioned last week that as much as I crave these foods, local production hasn’t caught up to my cravings just yet and so far the produce at the green markets leaves a bit to be desired.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’ve been trying to hold out, but the other day I caved. I’m really the worst.

Just awful.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Wandering the aisles of the grocery store the other day I stumbled across a big bucket filled with rhubarb stalks. Conveniently located behind the rhubarb were stacks and stacks of organic strawberries fresh from the freight truck.

I tried to resist, but their strawberry siren song was too much for me and I circled the produce section twice before finding them in my basket at the checkout line.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Truth be told, I had no damned clue what I would do with my pre-season berries and rhubarb but I just HAD to have them. There aren’t many things in this world that I love more than a strawberry rhubarb pie, but a pie is so filling-centric that I know I need to wait for strawberry season proper to go that route.

In terms of flavor, nothing beats a berry that was ripened in the sun, in season, a few miles (or footsteps) from your home. These bright red little berries however, fresh off the truck from California, travelled a looooong way before finding their way onto the shelves at the Food Town in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They were pretty durn good, especially after not tasting a fresh strawberry for months, but they tasted nowhere near as fresh and flavorful as they will in a few short weeks.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Tart rhubarb and a healthy bit of sugar would help doctor up my lackluster berries, but in this case they would need to be more of an accent flavor and less of the main attraction. I needed to come up with a recipe that would elevate them and let them shine without expecting too much of them.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

It didn’t take me long to think of a rustic skillet cake I made last summer, with caramelized peaches and cornmeal. Perfect! I didn’t want to go the cornmeal route this time, but the basic idea was spot on. I’d cook the sliced berries with the rhubarb, a bit of butter, and some sugar; and then I’d pour them over a tender buttermilk cake baked in a big ol’ cast iron skillet.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

This cake is perfect.

In another week or two, when strawberries are actually in season here, this will definitely be happening again because then it’ll be even more perfect than it’s current state of perfection.

Topped with fresh barely sweetened whipped cream, it’s like a jammy little slice of strawberry shortcake.
Rustic and unfussy. Sweet and tart. Fluffy and tender. The cooked strawberry rhubarb is sweet and bright and jammy and fresh. The cake is just sweet enough and a tiny bit tart from the lemon and buttermilk. It’s buttery and light and moist and just…

perfect.

strawberry rhubarb skillet cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Strawberry Rhubarb Skillet Cake

adapted from Joy the Baker

Strawberry Rhubarb filling:
1 cup sliced rhubarb (from about 3 stalks)
2 cups hulled and quartered strawberries
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt

Cake:
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
zest of one lemon
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons turbinado sugar or coarse finishing sugar

Preheat oven to 350 and move a rack to the center position.

Combine strawberries, rhubarb, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, and pinch of salt in an 11 or 12 inch skillet.* Place over a medium high flame and cook, stirring frequently, until fruit is soft and coming apart and juices have reduced to a thick syrup, about 10 to 15 minutes. Do not let juices burn.

Scrape strawberry rhubarb mixture into a bowl to cool and scrape skillet clean with a silicone spatula. It’s okay if a little residue remains.
Melt butter in skillet and pour out all but 1 tablespoon to cool. Coat skillet evenly with remaining tablespoon. Add lemon zest to cooling butter and stir to combine.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Set aside.
In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk, lemon juice, eggs, vanilla and butter.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture all at once.  Stir with a silicone spatula just until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl until there are no dry pockets of flour. Do not over mix.  Pour batter into the prepared skillet and spread (or shake) smooth.  Dot the batter with strawberry mixture as evenly as possible, and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Allow cake to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. If desired, serve with a generous dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream or a light dusting of powdered sugar.

Cake will last, removed from skillet and well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.

*If you don’t have a cast iron skillet you can cook the strawberries and melt the butter in any pan you have, and use an 11-inch round tart or quiche pan, or a 9×13-inch pan for the cake. The batter may spread more thin so you’ll need to keep a close eye on it in the oven.