I grew up in a small house in the country. This time of year I could see flickering constellations of yellow fireflies hovering over the bean fields from my bedroom window at night. Behind our property, the horizon line was divided by a corn field, then woods. Our house sat sandwiched between these two typical Indiana crops along with a yard that was big enough for kickball games, sprinkler races, and our very own strawberry patch. It was in that backyard patch where you could find me and my big sister squatting, weeding, and snacking on sun-warmed strawberries on summer afternoons.
Almost every night for dinner my mom made fresh pie or fruit salad that included the strawberries that survived the journey from the backyard into the house. When we reached a surplus of berries, especially those blood red, almost-over-ripened, starting-to-get-mushy ones, my mom would make jam. I remember the heat from the strawberries stewing on the stove top was no match for the already hot and heavy Indiana summertime air. The scent that it added to the atmosphere made the humidity not only bearable but luscious.
Maybe that’s why I like this cake. When it is baking it smells just like it used to in our humid, un-air-conditioned house in the country while my mom was stirring strawberries on the stove top and bread was baking in the oven. I call it a breakfast cake not only because it includes an egg, some buttermilk, and fresh fruit, but because it is a satisfying pairing with your routine breakfast beverage. No frosting or glaze is necessary since the baked cake comes out of the oven with a top crust of roasted red fruit and a crown of brown sugar crunch. Of course you can eat this cake at any time of day. Eat it after dinner for dessert with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or dollop of whipped cream and single espresso. Eat it for an afternoon snack. This cake is not fussy. It is comforting and just sweet enough to cut the density of the day much like the sumptuous humidity of jam-making days in the country.
Strawberry Buttermilk Breakfast Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Strawberry Cake
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pie plate
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup – 1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch pie plate. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl.
Put butter and 3/4 cup brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium-low; mix in egg, buttermilk, and vanilla.
Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture.
Transfer batter to buttered pie plate.
Arrange strawberries on top of batter, cut sides down and as close together as possible.
Sprinkle at least 2 tablespoons brown sugar (or demerara sugar) over berries.
Bake cake 10 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Bake until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 50 minutes more.
Let cool in pie plate on a wire rack.
Cake can be stored at room temperature, loosely covered, up to 2 days.