As an attorney, Michelle is keenly aware of the unreliability of eyewitnesses, preferring the certainty of written documents to sworn statements which often color fact with fanciful opinion. Steve, who has himself coached “testimonials” from video subjects (“Would you say this hospital is one of the finest in the state?” “Yes.” “I meant would you say that to the camera.”) can be troubled by “true stories.” Which is probably why he started to poke holes in Michelle’s childhood recollection of her mother’s blueberry cake.
Michelle’s story was quite wonderful; a tale of love, loss and longing. It seemed that, years ago, her mother made a wonderful blueberry cake with a tangy lemon glaze. It was a sheet cake, Michelle insisted, from a Maida Heatter cookbook her mother no longer possessed. “We’ve looked for it time and again,” Michelle told Steve, “but I’m afraid it’s gone for good.” Steve, a great believer in all things Internet, asked Michelle for a few more details, and started searching for “Heatter,” “blueberry” and “lemon” with his trusty Google. After a few moments he stumbled on a seemingly dead blog entry on “Blueberry Surprise Cake,” featuring a somewhat schlumpy concoction made in a pie plate. “That can’t be the recipe,” said Michelle, insisting the true Heatter version used a sheet pan. A few Googles later Steve came across the index for a Heatter cookbook showing where to find the original recipe. A quick email to Mom revealed the awful truth: not only did she still have Heatter’s cookbook, but the recipe really did produce a round cake.
By this point Michelle was unsure if the cake would even be that delicious, given that the rest of her story hadn’t held up too well. Steve, however, was insistent that something be made with his weekly overabundance of blueberries. We’d already decided we could pass on the blueberry jam this year, and we had too many breakfast items about to want pancakes. Thusly, Michelle set about to make the Surprise Cake.
Since Heatter is widely celebrated for her cakes, it is somewhat unsurprising that this one turned out to be delicious. A short process entombs blueberries and pecans inside a moist batter, which is then glazed with tart lemon and sugar. Slicing reveals a Morbier-like layer of dark blue and brown, the berries lending their tart sweetness to the cake and helping to keep it moist for many days. We think it’s something any blueberry lover should enjoy—just don’t make us swear to it.
BLUEBERRY SURPRISE CAKE
(adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great American Desserts)
- 1 c. fresh blueberries
- 3 TB granulated sugar
- 1 t. cinnamon
- 1/4 t. nutmeg
- 1 t. lemon juice (grate the lemon rind before juicing to use in cake)
Combine ingredients in a small bowl, tossing gently. Set aside.
- Butter and fine dry breadcrumbs for pan
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 2 t. baking powder
- 1/4 t. salt
- 2 sticks (8 oz.) butter, at room temperature
- 1 t. vanilla extract
- 1-1/3 c. sugar
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 c. sour cream
- Grated rind of 1 lemon
- 1/3 c. toasted and cooled pecans, in medium pieces
Preheat 350°. Butter a 9″ springform pan and dust lightly with breadcrumbs.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Beat butter until soft, then beat in vanilla and sugar. Add eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated. Add sour cream and beat until fully incorporated. Add dry ingredients and beat on low speed only until smooth. Stir in lemon rind.
Place half of the batter in the prepared pan and level it out with a rubber spatula. Spoon on blueberry mixture, keeping it an inch or so away from the sides of the pan. Stir the pecans into remaining batter and spoon it over the batter and blueberries in the pan. Level with a spatula.
Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly pressed with a finger.
Let stand in pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutess. While the cake is cooling, prepare the glaze.
- 1 c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 TB lemon juice
- A few drops of boiling water
Whisk ingredients together. Remove sides of springform pan. Drizzle glaze over warm cake, letting some run down the sides if you like.