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Summer’s berries, suspended in cake

A shallow pan keeps the colorful berries, which might normally sink into the batter, on top of a buckwheat berry striped cake.
A shallow pan keeps the colorful berries, which might normally sink into the batter, on top of a buckwheat berry striped cake. The New York Times

There are very few sad moments when it comes to baking butter cakes with ripe summer berries.

True, there could be some fretting when it comes to waiting for the cake to cool. And there’s always the resigned sigh when the last piece is devoured and all the crumbs licked off the plate.

But for the most part, a soft, moist cake dotted with juicy berries that explode into tart jammy pockets in the oven’s heat should yield nothing but pleasure.

Unless, that is, you’ve got your heart set on a cake in which the berries remain on top in a colorful design instead of sinking into the batter.

This was my goal, and it seemed like a modest one. But as I witnessed cake after cake emerge from the oven with the pretty berries I’d arranged on top sunken beneath the golden crumb, I realized it would take some finessing.

I could have tinkered with the structure of the cake so it could physically support the berries. But I didn’t want to muck with its melt-in-the-mouth lusciousness. Rich with butter and almond flour for tenderness, and speckled tan with buckwheat flour for a nutty, grainy depth, the crumb had the taste and texture I wanted.

So instead, I changed pans.

Part of the reason berries sink in a butter cake is because there is plenty of room underneath them in a standard cake pan. In a shallower pan, there’s no place to fall.

A 10-inch tart pan worked perfectly. The berries stayed on top of the batter, collapsing only minimally and retaining their color and shape. And the cake surrounding them was still soft and velvety.

Feel free to lay your berries in any shape you like — stars, smiley faces, rhombuses. I went with stripes. Other fruit works well, too, if you’ve got plums or nectarines instead of berries.

Then be sure to serve this cake on the same day that it’s baked. Leftovers will make for a rather soggy breakfast the next day. And that is a sad cake moment you ought to avoid.

Buckwheat berry striped cake

Total time: 45 minutes; yield: 10 servings

1/3 cup (40 grams) almond flour

1/3 cup (45 grams) all-purpose flour

1/3 cup (45 grams) whole wheat flour

1/4 cup (30 grams) buckwheat flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 stick (114 grams) butter, softened, more for buttering pan

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1/4 cup (60 milliliters) buttermilk, sour cream or whole milk yogurt

1 cup mixed berries, such as strawberries, blueberries or raspberries, more as needed

1 tablespoon turbinado (or use granulated sugar)

Confectioners’ sugar, for serving

Whipped cream or crème fraîche (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees and butter a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Line the bottom with a round of parchment, and butter that as well.

In a large bowl, whisk together almond, all-purpose, whole wheat and buckwheat flours, baking powder and salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sugar and vanilla extract until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Beat in buttermilk. (The mixture will look curdled, and that’s OK.) Stir in flour mixture until just combined.

Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing and leveling the top. Place berries on top of batter and sprinkle with turbinado or granulated sugar.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack and unmold. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and serve, with whipped cream if you like.

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