With the melancholy downpours of English midsummer comes a craving for cake. Admittedly, this base and almost gastronomically primitive longing of mine is not a bi-annual one but is shamefully perennial, come rain or shine. Nevertheless, it being July, I feel a duty to make a cake that is a trifle lighter, and slightly more delicate than the dense chocolate fudge cakes that are typical of the winter months. This is decidedly a summer cake – though cake is intrinsically sweet, this one is less tooth-achingly sweet than others, and there is a distinct lack of cloying icing or buttercream. The berries in this cake are a suitably seasonal addition, a subtle nod to the summer that is struggling to materialise; they add a sense of freshness, and, once cooked, lend a delicate tartness, enhanced by the whisper of citrus from the lemon zest.
The cake is best eaten on the same day its made, whilst the crumble is still crisp; it keeps well in an air-tight container, but the crumble topping will begin to soften from as the moisture from the fruit seeps in (nonetheless this softer cake is still delicious). I’ve used blueberries, raspberries and blackberries here but feel free to be flexible with the fruit you use – any seasonal currants or berries would work well, as would a sliced ripe peach or two. If you’re using either fresh strawberries or frozen berries, toss them in a little cornflour beforehand to absorb excess liquid during baking. This is delicious with a cup of tea, but serving it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream would turn it into a very acceptable pudding.
For the cake
175g butter or margarine, at room temperature
175g caster sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
175g self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
grated zest of half a lemon
1 tsp of vanilla extract
For the crumble
75g plain flour
75g cold butter
75g demerara sugar
Line the base of a 20cm, loose-bottomed cake tin with baking paper. Set the oven at 170C/gas mark 4.
Beat the butter and sugar together in a with an electric whisk/food mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat the eggs lightly in a small bowl then add, a little at a time, to the creamed butter and sugar, pushing the mixture down the sides of the bowl from time to time with a rubber spatula. If there is any sign of curdling, stir in a tablespoon of the flour.
Mix the flour and almonds together with a pinch of salt and beat into the butter/sugar mixture in two or three separate lots, with the mixer at a slow speed. Mix in the lemon zest and vanilla, then scrape the mixture into the cake tin. Scatter the berries over the cake mixture.
For the crumble topping, rub the butter into the flour until you have what looks like lumpy breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, then scatter the crumble over the berries.
Bake the cake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Test with a skewer – if it comes out relatively clean, then the cake is done. Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes or so in the tin, run a palette knife around the edge, then slide out on to a plate.