The challenge every summer is to honour all the fresh fruit while it is at its peak, whether that means eating it raw with juice dripping everywhere, dressing up a bowl of ice cream or baking it into a pie. If you are pastry-averse or just want to make something simple, this one-bowl cake is an easy way to show off the season's bounty.
We have named this dessert "summer cake," even though we sometimes make it using frozen fruit in the depth of winter. It is the kind of cake that can be whipped up in less than 20 minutes and doesn't use any special ingredients. We have made it for book club, for last-minute guests or at the cottage with minimal equipment.
It's a cake that defies nervous bakers, as it's very flexible and hard to do incorrectly. It is perfect made with a hand mixer, but almost as good (just a little more rustic) done with a wooden spoon. Any kind of fruit can be used, even soggy berries or sagging peaches that are becoming fruit fly magnets. We like a mix of sweet and tart fruits such as peaches and blueberries or apples and cranberries. It is a classic with damson plums and a kid-pleaser with chocolate chips.
The basic recipe is based on one that Emma found in Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts. Sax was a legendary American culinary writer who passed away at a young age, but his book of 350 recipes is a worthy legacy. We have tinkered with it over the years, landing on this version. We hope that this cake will become a family staple in your home, just as it is in ours.
Tips for a perfect cake
Beat the batter a full 3 minutes to get the correct texture. Even though it looks fine after a minute, it won't be combined well enough for a good crumb.
Make sure the butter is soft.
Any fruit can be used but apples take longer to cook, so thinly slice them instead of dicing. Or precook the apples for 10 minutes with some sugar, which gives the resulting cake a caramel flavour.
For an even easier version, replace the flour, baking powder and salt with 1 cup of self-rising flour and 1 tsp baking powder.
Another variation is to place the fruit at the base of a baking dish with sugar and cover with the cake batter, while results in a similar taste but a different texture.
Bake these in cake pans, spring forms, rectangular gratin dishes – anything that you can put in the oven.
Emma’s Summer Cake
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 peaches pitted and sliced, about 2 cups, or 5 plums, pitted and sliced, about 2 cups
1 cup blueberries
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon or cardamom
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Butter and line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Place unsalted butter, flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, vanilla extract and salt in a large bowl. With an electric hand mixer, beat everything together for 3 minutes. Spoon batter into pan and top with the fruit. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon or cardamom.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into wedges to serve.
Alternatively, divide batter between four 1-cup ramekins and scatter with fruit pushing it down into the batter. You want them to be fruit heavy. Bake until cake tester comes out clean, 40-45 minutes.
Chocolate chip: Gently stir 3/4 cup chocolate chips into the batter. The cake’s texture will be slightly different.
Apple and cranberry: Fold 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries into batter. Thinly slice one large or two small tart apples and scatter over cake, pushing some of them into batter. Add cardamom or cinnamon.
Berry: Scatter 2 cups sliced strawberries, or any mixed berries, over and through the batter.