5 Life Lessons I Learned From Blueberry Cake With Peanut Streusel

June 18, 2015

Would you like a piece of cake right now? For Goodness Cake is here for you. Every week, we'll be sharing recipes that prove why cake should be its own food group.

Today: Five things my mom taught me that I ignored—until I made this cake and realized she was right all along. 

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1. Listen to your gut.*
An 8-inch pan is not the same as a 9-inch pan. I know this, you know this, and there's no question that Alice Medrich knows this, too. But, when what I did have was an extreme desire to make Bryan Voltaggio's Blueberry Cake with Peanut Streusel and what I did not have was the proper 9-inch pan, I ignored this innate geometrical knowledge. I went forth, foolishly. I creamed the butter, scooped the flour like Kristen taught me, and folded in the blueberries with a gentle hand, all the while suppressing the itching hunch that this would not work. 

When the 8-inch cake had been in the oven twenty minutes longer than the recipe called for, I panicked. The edges were set, so I ignored the wet crumbs that stuck hauntingly to the toothpick cake tester. I was not being optimistic—I was being delusional. The center sank, crater-like, almost as soon as the cake came out of the oven. As soon as I tried to cut into the cake, it was confirmed: The inside was molten. 

*With some exceptions (see lesson 3). 

2. It's okay to ask for help. 
I normally bake cakes when I'm alone in my apartment. I stomach the losses by myself, then rebuild my ego by feeding the unfortunate cake to my roommate, who has been known to mistake a lump of flour for a white chocolate chip (bless her soul). When I made this cake, however, I was in the office with my some of the best bakers I know. I couldn't shovel the cake goo into a Tupperware to repurpose later and pretend it hadn't happened. 

The second time the cake was underbaked, I was also at the office. I threw up my hands and deferred to Derek, our Test Kitchen Manager, and Stephanie, our Head Recipe Tester. I don't think I'll embarrass them by saying that they, too, were met with raw cake when they followed Voltaggio's recipe exactly (even using the correct pan). But now I had dragged them into the swamp with me. We were all in this together, as one—'til fully-baked blueberry cake would we part. 

3. Never give up on your dreams.
At this point, you're probably wondering why I made this cake so many times. How does that saying go? "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me"? So this cake didn't work the first time. Or the second time. Or the third time either. But the raw cake was good. Really good. I couldn't muffle my hopes. (Continue on to lesson 4 to find out why.)

And on the fourth trial, Team Blueberry Cake was finally met with success: a clean cake tester and an unsinkable cake. While the original recipes instructs that the cake be baked for 50 to 65 minutes, we found that the cake needed to stay in the oven for at least 1 hour and 45 minutes (and even longer if you use an 8-inch pan, which is, indeed, possible). 

This bake time will be long after the perimeter is set and 1 hour longer than you'll want to leave any cake in the oven. But here's an instance where you should quell your gut (I know! I know! That's lesson number 1, but I said there were exceptions!) and let it bake. 

4. Don't be afraid to be different. 
Cake can be spicy. Cake can be weird. This one is both. The recipe name—Blueberry Cake with Peanut Streusel—is deceptively ordinary. Read beyond the title and look at the ingredient list, which calls for cayenne pepper, peanut butter, and lime juice. Like your typical blueberry cake, it's polka-dotted with plenty of indigo berries, but unlike that old standby, you can use some of the leftover ingredients to make a cold noodle salad. This cake recipe reminded me to try more desserts with unusual spices. 

5. Nuts make a good snack.
This cake also reminded me that  peanuts—often cast aside for almonds or walnuts—still exist. Nuts, which are vilified in brownies and cookies and elementary school cafeterias, make this streusel so much more than just butter and sugar. Peanuts, in particular, are buttery, adorably shaped, and make for a good snack, particularly on airplanes—or when you're making the same cake for the fourth time. 

Blueberry Cake with Peanut Streusel

Adapted from Home by Bryan Voltaggio 

Makes one 8- or 9-inch cake

For the peanut streusel:

3/4 cup (113 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (113 grams) granulated sugar
7 ounces (125 grams) roasted unsalted peanuts
1/2 cup (70 grams) graham cracker crumbs

1 1/2 teaspoons (3 grams) ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (1 1/2 grams) fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

For the cake:

2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (9 grams) baking powder
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) fine sea salt
3 large eggs
13 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (200 grams) sour cream
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon (4 grams) vanilla extract, or the seeds from 1 vanilla bean
2 cups (350 grams) fresh or frozen blueberries
Zest from 2 limes

For the glaze:

1/2 cup (120 grams) sour cream
3 tablespoons (45 grams) buttermilk
2 tablespoons (35 grams) smooth peanut butter
2 teaspoons (10 grams) honey
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup (65 grams) confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) fine sea salt

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

First and last photo by Mark Weinberg; second by Bobbi Lin

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sarah Marx
    Sarah Marx
  • Smoothiesrule
  • AntoniaJames
  • Erin Jeanne McDowell
    Erin Jeanne McDowell
  • Mei Chin
    Mei Chin
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Sarah M. August 18, 2015
Your perseverance always wins out! Now please choose me to cake-test next time
Smoothiesrule July 6, 2015
am confused. cake seemed fine using measure rather than weigh. was that wrong? just huge. was thinking a 9x13 pan for 45 mins. might have worked?
AntoniaJames June 23, 2015
Sarah, did you weigh the ingredients? I find the flour amount to be quite puzzling. How can 2 1/2 cups of flour weight 375 grams? The King Arthur flour bag and every other one that I've seen says that 1 cup of flour weighs 120 grams = 3 1/8 cups. (You mention that you scooped the flour, so my guess is that you did not weigh it.) The ratios by weight seem fairly close to the basic pound cake formula used by professionals, as described by Ruhlman in his book, "Ratio." I keep thinking that whoever edited that recipe understated the volume measure, thus resulting in excessive wetness in the batter.
I don't have "Home," but I do have "Volt," which has a nearly identical cake, but it doesn't have any blueberries in it (which add a lot of moisture, of course, making the batter issues even worse). More importantly, perhaps, that cake is baked in a long loaf pan, which also would help avoid the wet center / long cook time problem. ;o)

AntoniaJames June 24, 2015
Sorry that wasn't clear: the 375 grams of flour should be stated as 3 1/8 cups, not 2 1/2 cups, in the recipe. ;o)
Sarah J. June 25, 2015
Good catch—you're totally right! I transcribed the recipe straight from the book (and my first unsuccessful, 50-minute bake was with 375 grams of flour), but the correct weight—the one that we used to bake the cake successfully and completely—is 315 grams. Thanks for catching that! And I'm eager to try this is a bundt pan! Let me know if you do.
AntoniaJames June 25, 2015
I think the ratios are still off on this. The liquid + eggs should = the sugar. You have 347 grams of liquid + eggs, not counting the liquid released by the blueberries, compared to 300 grams of sugar. Also, the eggs should = the fat. You have 147 grams of eggs and 198 grams of fat. I'd be interested in talking to the person who actually wrote the recipes and tested them for this book, to get better visibility into the process. It's become pretty clear in recent years that just because someone has a popular restaurant does not necessarily mean that their cookbook will be reliable and error-free. ;o)
AntoniaJames June 23, 2015
On Try Number 2 I would have baked it in a bundt pan. Cakes that just won't cook through to the middle before over-baking the outside often bake up like champs when the heat from the oven can bake them from the center as well as the sides. This is why the most really good pound cakes (beyond small loaf size) are generally cooked in bundt or similar pans.

Just a suggestion from someone who's been through a lot, with all kinds of cakes, over the past 45 years . . . . . ;o)
P.S. If you have a round cake that sinks badly in the middle, and the problem is not with chemical leavening agents, a bundt pan often works to correct that as well.
Sarah J. June 23, 2015
I love that tip!! I should've asked for your advice earlier in the process.
Erin J. June 20, 2015
Underbake me once, shame on the recipe - work it out the fourth time around, a most excellent baker makes. I love this article.
Mei C. June 18, 2015
Sarah, that bake time is INSANE. So glad you worked it out!
Sarah J. June 19, 2015
Me too! And yep, it's pretty crazy, but definitely worth it.
Kristen M. June 18, 2015
Cake Boss Jampel, making lemonade out of cake goo. My hero!