Blueberry Surprise Cake: a tasty surprise witness to unbelievable testimony

Blueberry Surprise Cake

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.


(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.


  1. Yum! Looks delish and perfect for this week, given our sudden over abundance of blueberries (see tomorrow’s post). You can’t go wrong with butter and sour cream in cake. 🙂

  2. “…a Morbier-like layer of dark blue and brown…” Well, hello! I’ll take some of that. If it’s really good I may start talking about Morbier as having a “…Surprise-Cake-like layer of gray ash running down the center…” Also can’t get enough “entombed blueberries.” They’re so hard to find in New England. Ken

    • Ha! He was on a roll, wasn’t he? Of course, the biggest problem around here now is that every time I bring up some “my father told me” or some such, Steve says: “Remember that blog post? I don’t think your memory is so good.”

    • I was just about to say that I was also thinking of Morbier! And I did not mean that to rhyme!

      Also found the “entombed blueberries” to be a great turn of phrase.

      This was such a fun post to read and a I love the color that you got! Also am applauding the redesign. GORGEOUS! You guys have the best esthetic!

    • Thanks much! Now, I definitely need a vacation. Between all this reformatting and doing the monthly electronic client billing at work this week, my fingers are tired and my eyes are crossing.

  3. rrwriter

    It’s all good – the glorious new look, the recipe, the photos, and the fact that not only Steve’s blueberries but also his research got put to such good use. I wonder if this cake can simply be moved through the fruit calendar: strawberries, sour cherries, mulberries, plums, blueberries, gooseberries, peaches, apples?

    • Thanks so much, Rona. And, of course, you’re exactly right: this cake would be great will all manner of fruits. (Though I’d probably cook down some, like apples and peaches, before “entombing” them.)

  4. That sounds such a good recipe, except we can never get blueberries …how is it the French are endlessly banging on about myrtilles, but there’s not a one to be had for love or money. Apart from that, is the US the only country to measure in cup and sticks or are we the only one who doesn’t? Cup and stick…I ask you! Lovely picture, by the way:)

    • Oh that’s funny. I bet Bonne Maman buys up all the myrtilles for confiture! You’re probably right about the cups and sticks. It’s all rather absurd. But at least we do drive on the “right” side of the road. 😉

  5. Janet Rörschåch

    Oh my! That looks so good. Questions please. I am looking at upgrading my camera. (Currently iPhone 4S.) What are you using? Pros/Cons?

    • Thanks, Janet!

      Easy answer: I have a Canon EOS 50D. And I like it fine. For food photos I usually use a 60mm f/2.8 macro lens.

      Longer answer to 2nd question: I am no expert, but cameras and lenses are so good these days that I don’t think it matters much what brand you go to. Back in film days, I had a Minolta (and still do—I just never use it). It just happened that I was a relatively early adapter to digital SLRs and went with one of the very early entry-level Canon Rebels (I don’t even remember which model). Then, when I went to upgrade I wanted to be able to use some of the lenses I’d purchased, so I stuck with Canon. My best advice is buy the best lenses you can afford and not worry so much about the camera body.

      And don’t knock the iPhone. It takes terrific photos!

      • Janet Rörschåch

        Thank you for such a thoughtful answer! I just want to keep improving my shots. I could upgrade to the iPhone 5 or wait for the 7 to come out. Or I can bite the bullet and get a real slr. Decisions, decisions.

  6. Mmm this sounds like such a delicious cake! I’m in Maine, thinking of blueberries, but I’m not sure they’re quite ready yet around here. If they are, this will be in the oven. (After dark, once it’s cooler)

    • Strange weather! My New England friends are complaining about the heat and here we are in the South and don’t even have the a/c on on July 4. (Not complaining, mind you.)

  7. This sounds like a wonderful cake. I, too, love blueberries but not in jams or preserves, and as much as I like pie, a cake would be nice for a change. Thank you, Steve, for tracking down the recipe, and, thank you, Michelle, for explaining the new banner picture and Gravatar. 🙂

  8. This story made me laugh because I sometimes remember some of my mother’s dishes a little more fondly than they actually were. There are some recipes we still use over and over again, and some recipes that my brother and I groan over whenever the subject comes up (Creamy, shrimp gelatin salad made in a fish mold with a cut pimiento stuffed olive for the eye…I still shudder when I think about that fish, but my grandfather loved it.) At any rate, your cake looks delicious and not a bit scary. The photo is styled beautifully!

    • Thanks, Emma! Steve fiddled around in Photoshop with a part of an old (we hope public domain :)) poster. Even though he was never on the art side, he obviously learned more in his many years in advertising than I thought he had!

  9. Yum! The cabin house we stayed at last year had a Maida Heatter book and I loved looking at it (though sadly never used it). I’d say it was your mom’s, but I guess she always had it…

    Also, I haven’t been on your blog in a while apparently (though I’ve kept up through the email feed). I see we have some socialist realism artwork going on here…

  10. Oh my word, look at that crumb and that berry-bright filling and that topping and eVERYTHING

    I’m hungry and grumpy and none of this is helping. I hope you can hear my kvetching and tummy rumbles from across the sea.

  11. I’m hopelessly in love with your food styling and photography and recipe! This is my first visit here and I know I’d be coming back here from time to time…for the rest of my life 🙂

  12. I have the Desert book by Maida Heatter with the Blueberry Surprise cake plus many more recipes. I’ve made the cake every year for special occasions and my children looked forward it. I searched to see if it was online since my neighbor wanted the recipe.
    It’s a wonderful cake well worth the work. I bought her book in 1982 I think when I was a young woman.
    Enjoy the recipe, and make it for your families.

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