This berry buttermilk cake is a light and tender everyday cake with jammy berries, a crunchy lid, and all the flavors of summer. (Jump to Recipe)
I’ve been holding out on you. I really have. I’ve had the recipe for this cake for nearly three weeks, and I am only just now getting around to sharing it with you. It’s worth the wait, I promise.
Summer is finally here – unofficially, I suppose, since we haven’t reached the summer solstice yet, but you wouldn’t know it if you’re in Chicago. On Sunday, Brian and I took a walk around the city and it felt like the middle of July. The sun was blazing, we were in shorts and, within 20 minutes of starting the walk, we were searching out ice cream with desperation. We wound up with root beer floats, which agreed with us quite nicely. Don’t root beer floats taste like childhood to you? Or is that just me?
One of the things I love about summer here is our long weekend walks together in the city. They’re usually on Sunday afternoons, when the weekend has gone on long enough that we’ve tired of lounging on the couch or seeing friends, and we want to stave off that awful Sunday night feeling for a little longer. Often we don’t know where we’re going when we walk out the door, and that’s the best part. One of us picks a direction, and we just walk.
Chicago isn’t like New York, where you find yourself in a new neighborhood nearly block by block. No, here the neighborhoods are larger, more defined, each with their own voice and character. Some are in transition, not quite sure of themselves yet, while others are like old souls. I love the reinvention you can feel in the West Loop; the ever-changing excitement of River North; the quiet stateliness of the Gold Coast. I love Old Town’s newness and Wicker Park’s hipsters. I love the college feel of Lincoln Park and the ramshackle used bookstore we frequent in Lakeview, where the owner threatens to be overtaken by the haphazard stacks of books he builds around himself.
Mostly, though, I love that Brian and I discover these places together. Sometimes our walks take us to places we know well; sometimes to places we don’t. Sometimes we talk, and sometimes we walk in companionable silence. Sometimes we stop for a beer along the way; sometimes for ice cream. We’ve been taking these long walks together since our college days, and it’s a ritual that I hope we don’t retire anytime soon.
Another of my favorite summer rituals in Chicago is the weekly farmer’s market on Division Street. Every Saturday morning, two full blocks are closed down for all of the Midwestern farmers to sell their wares. I see the same people every year, selling strawberries at the beginning of summer and pumpkins at the end. I can’t express to you how much joy the farmer’s market brings me. Maybe that makes me weird, but it can’t be much of a surprise. I wander up and down the stalls, just staring and wondering how tomatoes and onions and potatoes and chard and corn can be so beautiful.
And that’s just the vegetables. Don’t even get me started on the fruit. We’re not quite at the point yet where the berries are fragrant and overflowing out of their little baskets, but we will be soon, and what a glorious day that will be. For now, though, there are small sweet strawberries and rhubarb and the earliest cherries. And we can make do with grocery store berries for this lovely cake, to tide us over until the real deal appears.
This batter comes together so easily – just a few simple ingredients blended together in one bowl with a hand mixer (or stand mixer, if you’re extra fancy). The buttermilk makes this cake light and just slightly tangy, and produces a supremely delicate crumb. Note that you don’t have to buy buttermilk at the store if you don’t want to – I added a note below on how to make a version with regular milk. I added lemon zest and just a bit of almond extract for extra flavor, and in my humble opinion, it makes all the difference.
I used a few different kinds of berries to dot on top of the cake because that’s what I had on hand, but you could definitely just pick your favorite and it would be lovely. As the cake bakes and rises around the berries, they sink into the batter and become jammy and delicious.
The part that you absolutely cannot skip is the sprinkling of granulated sugar on top, before it goes in the oven. It may seem unnecessary, but trust me, it’s worth it. When you bite into the cake, it has the best crunch from that little bit of sugar, and the contrast with the tender, light cake is just fantastic.
I also added a dusting of powdered sugar, totally optional. It would also be great with whipped cream. I don’t think it needs much more than that – this cake is a star all on its own.
I don’t think this cake would be out of place at a summer brunch, a birthday party, a 4th of July barbecue, or a quiet Tuesday night on the couch. It’s not fancy or fussy, and it’s endlessly versatile.
I hope you make this cake as summer comes into its own, and enjoy it all season long!
Berry Buttermilk Cake
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup buttermilk*
- 1 heaping cup mixed berries (I used strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar , for topping
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Generously grease a 9-inch round cake pan and set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat softened butter and sugar together with a hand mixer or stand mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. This will take longer than you think it should - keep going until it's quite pale in color.
- Beat in the egg at medium speed until fully combined, then beat in almond extract and lemon zest.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add a third of the flour mixture to the batter, and mix at low speed until just combined. Pour in about a third of the buttermilk, then mix at low speed again until just combined. Continue alternating the rest of the flour and buttermilk. Mix just until combined each time - don't overmix. The batter will be quite thick.
- Scoop the batter into the cake pan, and spread it out evenly. It will seem a rather thin cake layer, but don't worry, it will puff up in the oven. Arrange the berries evenly scattered over top of the batter. Sprinkle the 1 1/2 tablespoons of granulated sugar over top. Don't skip this step - it produces a lovely crunch when baked!
- Bake until cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 22-25 minutes. Mine needed 25 - watch carefully, as my toothpick came out wet at 23 minutes but clean at 25!
- Cool for 20 minutes in pan, then run a knife along the edges and invert onto a cooling rack or plate to cool completely. Note you'll actually have to invert it 2 times - once upside-down onto a rack, and then back upright again onto another rack or plate.
- Serve cooled cake dusted with powdered sugar or topped with whipped cream!
Like this recipe? Sign up for my email list to receive my recipes straight to your inbox every time I post!