I know it is an expression usually connected with the winter Holidays, but can you say ’tis the season even in summer? I say yes. ‘Tis the season of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, and all berries in-between, fresh from the bush. ‘Tis the season of peaches, apricots and cherries. And in Paradise ’tis the season of lychee and mangos galore! And all of the above is what I have been eating and cooking with… except lychee actually. I just scarf those.
As a child growing up in Italy, between my family’s garden and that of my aunt Adriana, we had access to fresh fruit which we picked ourselves straight from the trees: cherries, sour cherries, figs, apricots, two types of plums, raspberries in the summer, and apples, grapes, pears, chestnuts, persimmons and walnuts in the fall. I am sure I am forgetting something, too. All were organically grown, of course, as at that time nobody – at least nobody that wasn’t growing in “industrial” amounts – would even dream of using pesticides. If a fruit had a warm in it or had been pecked by the birds, it meant one thing: it was good!
I still remember climbing the cherry trees not just with my brothers and cousins, but my dad, mom, aunts and uncles plus several friends. There were about 10-12 trees scattered around the garden and, as you can imagine, we ate as many as we picked. Still, a lot got picked!
Oh, and the juicy plums! The kind that you bite into and just let the juices run down your chin because they are so good you don’t care what a mess you are making. We did not grow blueberries, of course, but picked those from the bushes growing wild in the Swiss Alps.
My family is a family of cooks and good food appreciators who like to grow their own fruits and vegetables. We are definitely not hunters, but very much gatherers.
Side trip down fruitful memory lane aside, let’s get to the cake. A Gugelhupf is basically a pound cake baked in a fluted mold with a hole in the center. The original recipe for this cake is a blend of two from my time in Germany, where it is usually called Grossmutter Gugelhupf (Grandmother’s Bundt Cake). I found one recipe in a book, while the other was given to me by one of my then neighbors. I baked one recipe and it was good, but… Then I baked the other recipe and it was also good, but…
So I blended the two, tweaked, et voilá: a cake that cake as close as possible to that said aunt Adriana used to make for us as children. Somehow, despite her casual baking style (oops, I forgot to add the eggs!), she managed to keep the cake the same for years. Then, one day it had changed, and not just in shape. It just was no longer the same, even though I am sure the basic ingredients of flour, butter, sugar, milk and eggs had remained the same. I was never able to help her figure out what she had done different.
This one comes as close to the one from my memory as possible. Actually, I am sure this one is better, more balanced and better executed. But you know how it is with comfort foods from childhood… nothing is ever quite like it.
It had been a long time since I last tasted this cake, so I decided to bake it and share the recipe with you. I made it with blueberries because I found some wonderful organic blueberries at the market; with lemon because that is my favorite flavor for pound cake, and with thyme because it was peeking at me from the pot and it just goes so well with lemon, don’t you think?
GUGELHUPF WITH BLUEBERRIES, LEMON & THYME
yields: 1 standard size bundt/pound cake (about 10 portions)
– 380 gr. (13.4 oz.) sugar
– 220 gr. (7.8 oz. – ca 2 sticks + 2 Tablespoons) butter, soft to the touch + extra for the cake mold
– 340 gr. (12 oz.) all purpose flour, passed twice through a sieve + extra for the cake mold and blueberries
– 240 ml. (9 fl. oz. – ca 1 cup) milk
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1 pinch of salt
– 4 large eggs
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 200 gr. (7 oz. ca.) fresh blueberries
– finely grated rind of 3 lemons
– 4 Tablespoons fresh Thyme leaves + extra for garnish if desired
– powder sugar for dusting
You will also need 1 bundt-pound cake form 24 cm/9.5″ diameter.
Start with all ingredients at room temperature.
Tip: use a gentle hand when grating the lemon peel and make sure you only get the yellow part, leaving the bitter white part behind. This applies to all citrus peel, even when scraping it or slicing it off. Take a peek at the photo below.
1. Using a pastry brush, butter the chosen cake mold thoroughly. If you are using a fancy one like the one I used, make sure you get every tiny nook and cranny. Coat with flour and tap off the excess. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/356°F.
2. Place the double-sieved flour, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl and blend together.
In a large glass or stainless steel prepping bowl, whisk the sugar with the butter until light and fluffy. Add the grated lemon peel, then whisk in the eggs one at a time, blending completely before adding the next one. Add the vanilla extract.
3. Sprinkle in the thyme leaves, then start working in the sieved flour and milk in alternate small batches, making sure to start and finish with the flour. Blend each addition well before adding the next. Using a rubber spatula, brush down the sides of the bowl to make sure all the ingredients are blended in.
4. Lightly coat the blueberries with a little flour, then add them to the cake batter for last, picking them up with your fingers to make sure any excess flour stays in the bowl and does not end up in the batter.
Flouring the blueberries will prevent them from sinking all to the bottom of the cake. Fold them in using the rubber spatula.
5. Pour the cake batter into the buttered and floured mold making sure to distribute it evenly. Tap the filled mold on the counter a couple of times to get rid of any air bubbles and then place it on the center rack of the pre-heated oven to bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until an inserted wooden skewer comes out clean.
Remember every oven is different. Hopefully, you know yours and you will know when the cake is done.
6. Place the cake on a rack to cool for about 30 minutes, then carefully flip it upside-down and un-mold it onto another rack to complete the cooling process to room temperature. Dust with powder sugar and… enjoy!
What is your favorite cake? And do you have some foods and flavors from your childhood you wish you could recreate? What memories do they bring back?