Every morning at this time of year, I drive past the bucolic Sweet Berry Farm, where fruit bushes sit temptingly just a few feet back from the road. Cars line the dirt driveway and, scattered amongst the bushes, you can see hatted heads pointed down, methodically plucking plump, purplish-blue berries and plinking them into baskets. One bush alone provides seemingly endless bounty.
Normally when I pick my own, I just leave a bowl in the fridge and grab a handful whenever I reach in. But a recent batch of these marvelous morsels inspired me to do something more.
Their smell and flavor evoke happy memories of our family vacations at the beach and of my grandmother’s blueberry cake, which she made in the same berry-stained square pan every time. She’d cover the cake in tinfoil to keep it fresh – which was silly, because the cake never lasted very long. Eventually, she got in the habit of making two cakes – one for my brother and one for the rest of the family. We’d eat it for breakfast as often as for dessert, or anytime we wanted something a little sweet.
The recipe below mimics the one my grandma used to make. It’s adapted from Sandra L. Oliver’s Maine Home Cooking, which is brimming with classic Down East recipes and hearty homemade cooking using fresh ingredients from land and sea.
There’s no use holding back here. Every tablespoon of butter and cup of sugar should be measured out; don’t replace or remove ingredients in an effort to make these blueberry-cake muffins “healthier.” Accept them for what they are: a full-fledged indulgence.
The muffins explode with fresh blueberries – and tossing them in flour first keeps them from sinking to the bottom of the cake. And the cinnamon sugar topping makes them extra special. The streusel bakes to crisp, golden perfection atop the cake, while the blueberries below become heavy with juice and sweetness. I swapped out Maine’s famous small blueberries for the plump ones grown here in Little Rhody, and find them to be equally delicious. As soon as you bite into one of these muffins, the berries burst and the rush of juice and cinnamon takes over your senses.
In the hope that muffins would last a little longer then a cake, I further tweaked the recipe slightly to accommodate muffin pans. Plus, my kids will eat almost anything in muffin form and this makes them portable – a win-win in my house.
As it turns out, however, the muffins don’t last any longer then the cake. But you can still serve them straight out of the oven for breakfast, as a dessert topped with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries, or any time you want a treat.
makes about 18 muffins
For the topping
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup desiccated coconut (optional)
For the cake
1 stick butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
2 cups fresh blueberries, tossed 1 tablespoon of flour
Prepare the topping first. Using a fork or your hands, cut together the ingredients until combined. (I find it easier to mix with my hands.) Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour the muffin pans.
Cream the butter and sugar. Add in egg yolks and vanilla. Mix until combined.
In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Set aside.
In another bowl, sift together flour and baking powder then add it to the butter and sugar mixture, alternating with milk till combined. Next, fold in the egg whites gently, followed by the blueberries.
Scoop a heaping tablespoon of mixture into each muffin round. Sprinkle each muffin with the cinnamon topping. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean.