Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Graeter’s and Jeni’s have always been my go-to places to grab a cold, creamy treat on summer nights. While my friends tended to gravitate to Jeni’s unexpected vibes and flavors (red cherry goat cheese, anyone?), my dad has always been a firm believer in Graeter, preferring their old-school setup, no frills and simple, classic options (their cookies and cream can’t be beat, in my opinion). Although I’m constantly hesitating between the two (I’m currently in a Graeter phase), I remember falling in love with Jeni’s iconic Brambleberry Crisp. flavor the first time I had it years ago: each pie-shaped ball is swirled with the perfect ratio of blackberry jam and chunks of brown sugar oat streusel.
This month’s cake is directly inspired by my favorite Jeni’s flavor and doubles as my ode to the long, slow (and calm) Ohio summers. Made in an 8 inch by 8 inch pan, the Lemon Sour Cream Cake is topped with ripe summer berries (I use a combination of raspberries and blackberries) that bake just enough jam while retaining some of the their structure. It’s all topped with an oatmeal streusel, which turned out to be my favorite part of the cake. and the bane of my existence during the development process: iteration after iteration, my streusel kept melting and/or sinking into the cake. While all of the testers ended up tasting great (there were a lot), I was determined to create a cake that look at the part too.
After some extensive research, I increased the flour and reduced the butter in the streusel, and took a helpful tip from the very knowledgeable Rose Levy Beranbaum to sprinkle the filling 30 minutes after baking. The reason behind this, as I learned from my conversation with cookbook author and food stylist Yossy Arefi (another smart and wonderful baker), is that it is imperative that the cake has enough structure to support the weight of the streusel. Allowing the cake to harden a little in the oven before adding the streusel helps create a stronger base that won’t immediately swallow the filling. Thanks to these baking experts, I ended up with the streusel-laden cake I imagined.
This cake celebrates summer in all its ripe, bountiful glory: crisp, just-enough-sweet oatmeal streusel gives way to tender cake and baked berries, with cinnamon and lemon zest adding beautiful notes of nuances. If you want something a little more over the top, serve squares of cake with a scoop of high quality vanilla ice cream, lightly sweetened whipped cream – or if you’re feeling extra (basically me, all the time ), alongside a pint of Jeni’s Brambleberry Crisp itself. There really is no better way to soak up this fleeting and delightful season.
Summer Berry Streusel Cake
Makes an 8 x 8 inch cake
For the oat streusel:
¼ cup (50 grams) light brown sugar
⅓ cup (47 grams) all-purpose flour
⅓ cup (30 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
For the cake:
1 cup (140 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
⅔ cup (133 grams) granulated sugar
⅓ cup (67 grams) light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (114 grams) full fat sour cream, at room temperature
¼ cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 ounces ripe summer berries (raspberries, blackberries, or a combination)
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8×8-inch square cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper, leaving 2 inches overhanging the sides (to make it easier to unmold the cake after baking) and grease the parchment paper.
2nd step: Make the oatmeal streusel: In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon, and salt and mix thoroughly with your hands. Work the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers until the streusel looks like wet sand and clumps together when you squeeze it (a few small chunks of butter are fine). Chill the streusel in the refrigerator until use.
Step 3: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Step 4: In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add the sugars and lemon zest and cream the mixture until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Step 5: Beat the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat until smooth.
Step 6: Add half of the dry ingredients to the bowl and beat until just combined. Gently stir in sour cream and milk, scrape bowl, then add remaining dry ingredients and beat until combined and batter is smooth. Be careful not to overmix.
Step 7: Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a small angled spatula. Sprinkle the berries evenly over the top of the batter. The dough will rise around them, so there is no need to press them down.
Step 8: Bake the cake for 35 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and quickly but gently sprinkle the streusel over it in an even layer – the cake will be very delicate. Carefully return the cake to the oven and bake for another 17 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean or with a few moist crumbs.
Step 9: Let the cake cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes, then gently run a small offset spatula around the edges to loosen it. Using the parchment paper sling, carefully transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving.
Joy Cho is a New York-based freelance writer, recipe developer, and pastry chef.
Heavenly Night is a Filipino American food, travel and portrait photographer based between Portland, Oregon and San Francisco.
Recipe tested by Deena Prichep