|Photo by Katrina Ludlow|
Making this cake, I thought of my stepdad because blackberry picking is his favourite summer sport. In the month of August, he'll be gone for hours at a time, lost in the bushes and in his thoughts, meditating in the sunshine and brambles, returning home with mountains of the little black jewels. He likes to eat them on his cereal or yoghurt but he also freezes a lot of them. So whenever I come home for a visit, even if it's in the dead of winter, I can pop open the freezer and have a little taste of summer in the Gaspereau Valley.
It took some courage to pick the blackberries to make this cake. Right now, we are house-sitting in the tick-mecca of mid-coast Maine, notorious for the small lyme disease carrying deer ticks. Yikes. The first morning we were here, I went out to pick just a quick cupful of blackberries for my breakfast smoothie and returned 5 minutes later with 2 deer ticks on me. So I've gone out picking since that first morning but each time more cautiously and less enthusiastically than the time before. And I've returned each time with both blackberries AND ticks. So I'm putting my lofty goals for blackberry jam & pies on hold until I find a less tick-prone patch. At least I got what I needed for this cake, and I'm glad I did. This one is a keeper.
This summer I've fallen in love with tulsi. Do you know it? Also known as sacred basil, it's used in India in Ayurvedic medicine and Hindu rituals. Herbalists love it because of its numerous medicinal properties. We planted some tulsi in our garden this year and it turned into a giant bushy patch whose fragrance sends me over the moon every time I walk by. When I'm working in the garden and starting to feel tired and achy, I just walk over, stick my face in the flowers and inhale deeply. The bees are in agreement with me on this, they have been hovering over it ever since it's been in flower.
I had been dreaming of capturing the intoxicating perfume of tulsi in a cake and when I saw this recipe for blackberry swirl pound cake, I knew it was going to be the perfect marriage of flavours. When I chopped the tulsi basil and added it to cake, its aroma mingling with the smell of the vanilla batter and blackberries almost shot me straight up to heaven. I realize not everyone has easy access to Tulsi, so if you don't, I would recommend just using a teaspoon or two of your favourite herb in the cake batter instead. Italian basil would work well, I'm sure, as would lemon balm or lavender. If you're not feeling as herb-obsessed as I am, I'm quite certain that a simple blackberry swirl pound cake will be exquisite on its own.
BLACKBERRY SWIRL POUNDCAKE WITH TULSI BASIL
(Based on this Martha Stewart recipe)
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup blackberries
1 cup + 3 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs, whisked
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream or yoghurt (I used half cream, half kefir)
1 tbsp finely chopped Tulsi basil (or your favourite herb)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a standard bread loaf pan (I used a square pan) and dust with a little flour to prevent cake from sticking. In a blender or food processor, puree the blackberries and sugar with the 3 tbsp of sugar. In a bowl, mix flour, salt, and baking powder. In an another bowl, use a mixer to beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla, and tulsi and incorporate fully. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream / yoghurt, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
Transfer half the batter into your cake pan, creating a slight indentation in the centre with slightly raised edges. Pour about half of your blackberry puree in here, being careful to contain the puree if possible so it won't touch the edges of the cake pan too much (otherwise it might burn and make it hard to remove the cake). Top with remaining batter and add the rest of the puree. With a sharp knife, swirl the puree and batter to create an attractive pattern. Bake until golden on top and a toothpick should come out clean (aside from a bit of puree on it). This will take about 1 1/4 hour. Remove the cake, let it cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, then remove and let it cool completely before slicing it. Enjoy!