I’m particular about my fruit. I like my grapes firm and cold, bananas greenish or not at all, and strawberries blemish-free. Fruit that is just at or slightly past peak is not for me. The flavors are too intense, too fruity for my palate.
Oddly, these preferences alone don’t prevent fruit from aging on my counter or in my fridge. When it does, it’s time for “Slightly Past Prime Cake,” a homey and homely white cake to which you can add almost any overripe fruit, especially berries and stone fruit.
Strawberries in particular seem to sit for days in the market, hard and greenish, but ripen almost immediately as soon as they enter my house. As happened this week with a lovely basket of berries that I meant to get to on Sunday. By Monday, they were a touch squishy, and by Tuesday they were cake. It happens.
The basic recipe is straight out of the 1940s. My mom made a version of it throughout the summer that we called “Rotten Fruit Cake.” In my version, modernity comes from creme fraiche for the dairy and a generous sprinkling of turbinado sugar over the top before baking to get a crunchy sparkly crust. I serve it with mascarpone whipped cream and another pinch of the turbinado. It improves on sitting, second day slices are best.
I never get tired of this cake! Try it. You might think differently about aging!
Slightly Past Prime Cake
Oven at 350. Butter bottom and sides of a 10-inch cake pan with a removable bottom.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup crème fraiche
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 pound berries or stone fruit, about 1/4 of the fruit reserved in a separate bowl:
- Weigh stone fruit only, not pits, sliced into about 1/4-inch slices
- Strawberries, hulled and halved
- Blueberries and small raspberries or blackberries can be used whole; extra large berries should be halved
- 2-3 Tbs turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. (I just toss this a few times with a balloon whisk.)
Sprinkle a little sugar over the reserved fruit and set aside.
Mix butter and sugar in an electric mixer on medium until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Reduce speed and mix in the egg, crème fraiche, and vanilla.
On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
Using an old fashioned potato masher, pastry cutter or two forks, mash the reserved fruit. (Pour off some of the juice if the mixture is very wet. You can use it in cocktails before dinner.)
Add the mashed fruit to the batter and mix on low until combined. Be careful not to over-mix, you want some small pieces of fruit.
Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with an offset spatula. Arrange the strawberry halves decoratively over the top, pressing them down slighty with the offset spatula. Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.
Bake in the 350 oven for 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to 325 and bake for about an hour, testing in the last 10 minutes with a toothpick – it should come out clean.
Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes.
Push cake up from the bottom of the pan and slide onto rack. Place a cookie sheet, bottom side down on top of the cake. Gently grasp the sides of the rack and the cookie sheet, and flip the cake onto the cookie sheet. Remove the rack and, using a small offset spatula, gently pry off the pan bottom. Replace the rack and gently flip the cake back onto the rack to cool completely.
Good the first day, better the second, having sat at room temp loosely covered with plastic wrap. Serve with mascarpone whipped cream and a pinch of turbinado sugar. (After day two, either refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.)