I’m back again! And this time, I brought caaaaaake!
This cake has made an appearance here before, many moons ago. With an overturned bowl as a stand. And an awkward screened-in porch thing going on in the background. So let’s just forget about that post and focus on this new one, because I’ve made some improvements (to both the recipe and my prop/photo situation). It deserves another moment in the spotlight, because it’s stupid easy to make and de-freakin-licious.
I fell in love with this cake ages ago, back when I was living in Albany, NY, spending my days chasing a shameful amount of office vending machine snacks with way too much coffee, and dating my now-ex M. My long Albany weeks were tempered by weekend trips to visit M’s Italian family downstate. Between holidays and Sunday dinners, I ate an insane amount of amazing food with that family. This cake included.
M’s father began making it not too long before we broke up, so I only had the chance to enjoy it a handful of times. The first time I tasted it, I was only trying it to be nice. He had described it as a “cheesecake,” which is not a favorite dessert of mine. I find it heavy and rich, and can usually enjoy only a bite or two before feeling nauseous. This version looked oddly unlike the dessert I was used to, but I figured it was just the hot mess of cheesecakes. Then I took a bite, and discovered it was nothing at all like a typical cheesecake. It was tangy-yet-light, with layers of cake and berries that somehow managed to remain visually distinct while blending together in perfect flavor harmony. This was my kind of cheesecake.
After M and I parted ways, I thought about this cake a lot. (I thought about all the food that family made a lot. I’ve discussed this before on several occasions, so I won’t make you listen to me obsess over mini sfogliatelle again. [But seriously, MINI SFOGLIATELLE, you guys. *insert emoji gushing streams of tears here*]) I considered contacting M a few times to ask for the recipe, but that email would have been an awkward one. So hi. I know we had a bit of a turbulent relationship that came to a rather unhappy one-sided end, wherein I beat a hasty retreat to VT. That’s been working out pretty great for me. How are you? P.S. Could you ask your dad for his awesome berry cheesecake recipe?!?
Lucky for me, I didn’t have to do that. (Though I might have if I wasn’t able to track down the recipe. It’s that worth it.) My only lead was that M’s dad had been really into Rachel Ray recipes right around the time that this cake made its first appearance. A little bit of internet searching led me here. It was almost certainly the cake. I made it. I tasted it. It was, indeed, THE CAKE. Life: better.
This cake is made up of layers of pound cake brushed with lemony glaze, fresh berries briefly cooked with berry preserves, and a mixture of whipped cream and barely sweetened cream cheese. I’ve made a few tweaks to the recipe over the years, swapping out the sugar in the glaze for raw honey, the cream cheese for Neufchâtel, and adding in a teeny bit of basil just for funsies. An overnight (or several hour, at least) rest in the fridge gives the layers and flavors time to get all sorts of friendly with each other. I opted to make the pound cake from scratch, but it’s just as good with a decent store-bought variety, and that means ZERO oven time (and only a tiny bit of stove top time). I’ve used blueberries and black raspberries for this version, but it works splendidly with a variety of berries. (Though I really am partial to the blueberries.) Basically, it’s the ultimate summer dessert. If you do one thing with berries besides stuffing them straight in your face this summer, pleasepleaseplease make this.
On another note, at the risk of sounding a bit like a sentimental weenie, I feel like I need to acknowledge how nice it is to be back here. I missed the lovely interactions I got to have with all of you guys, and was so happy to have so many sweet comments on my last post. But in my absence, I honestly forgot that I love making, photographing, and writing about food. I realized just how much I missed it when I was in the midst of shooting the cake yesterday afternoon, and it made me feel super warm and fuzzy. Me and the cake, we had a moment. Then I ate it for lunch.
Berries & Cream Cake
(adapted from Rachel Ray)
1/3 cup water
2 tbsp raw honey
1 lemon, zest and juice
10 basil leaves
1/4 cup water
1 cup blueberry preserves
1 1/4 cup blueberries
3/4 cups black raspberries
8 oz. Neufchâtel cheese, softened
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
a few basil leaves, minced
1 loaf of pound cake (approx. 9″ x 4″ x 4″), cut into 1/3-inch slices
Combine the water, honey, and lemon zest in a small sauce pan. Heat until the honey has completely dissolved into the water, then remove from heat. Muddle the basil and add it to the pan. Let sit for 20 minutes, then strain and stir in the lemon juice.
Combine the water, berries, and preserves in a sauce pan. Cook over medium heat until it begins to thicken (approximately 15 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool.
Beat together the Neufchâtel, confectioners sugar, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks, then fold in the Neufchâtel mixture.
Arrange pound cake slices on the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, cutting to fill in gaps where needed. Brush the pound cake layer with a healthy amount of the lemon-honey syrup. Spread half of the berry mixture on top of the pound cake and sprinkle with minced basil. Spread half of the whipped cream over top of the berry layer. Repeat with another layer of pound cake, lemon-honey syrup, remaining berry mixture, basil, and the rest of the whipped cream.
Cover cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 5 hours, or overnight. When ready to serve, run a knife around the inner edge of the pan. Release from the pan and top with fresh berries.