Are Buckles the Most Underrated Dessert of the Summer?

August 15, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

By this point in the summer, you’ve probably made a pie, cobbler, crisp, or crumble. Maybe even a pandowdy. But have you made a buckle?

Sometime before September 23, you should.

One could argue that a buckle is a coffee cake (ideal for breakfast or brunch) or a snack cake (able to be eaten by hand, usually square). Either way, it is single-layer, streusel-topped, and, stuffed to the gills with fruit. Supposedly, that’s where the name buckle comes from: As the cake rises in the oven, it buckles around all the fruit.

Which would make you think that fruit type is the most important aspect of a buckle. And some may argue as much—but not me, because so long as it’s ripe, sweet, and juicy, the fruit you pick doesn’t matter. It could be blueberries or blackberries, halved strawberries or cherries, chopped nectarines or apricots. Better yet, it could be a mix of two or three.

To make a buckle really stand out, focus on the other components instead. Here are six rules I swear by:

1. Don’t use all all-purpose flour. A buckle is as much about the cake as it is about the fruit. So why would you show off peak-season berries in front of a ho-hum backdrop? Incorporating another flour into the mix adds flavor and dimension. Think cornmeal, whole-wheat, rye, and spelt.

2. Add some crunch. Cake is soft and baked fruit is softer, which means we need some contrast. A sprinkle of itty-bitty poppy seeds does wonders (plus, they look so pretty, like polka dots). If poppy seeds aren’t your thing, you can turn to sesame seeds or toasted, finely chopped nuts instead.

3. Don’t skimp on salt. True with any dessert and especially so here, considering that buckles are as often breakfast as they are dessert. To keep the sweetness in check, generously salt both the cake batter and streusel. Don’t worry—it won’t taste salty, just balanced.

4. Dial up the flavor with citrus zest. Whether it’s lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit, citrus zest is a powerhouse ingredient. Its concentrated brightness and subtle acidity makes the fruit taste even fruitier.

5. Stir in something tangy-creamy. Fermented dairy products, like Greek yogurt, sour cream, or crème fraîche, are no stranger to cake recipes. These ingredients increase moistness and tenderness—and a buckle should always be moist and tender.

6. While you’re at it, dollop some of that on top, too. So, you stirred some Greek yogurt, sour cream, or crème fraîche into the cake batter. Good! Now, take whatever is left over, and dollop it on a slice.

Here’s a recipe to put your newfound knowledge to good use. It has cornmeal and poppy seeds, lemon zest and Greek yogurt. And while it calls for cherries and blueberries—tossed in flour to reduce sinkage, and folded into the batter and streusel for even distribution—you could, of course, substitute any summer fruit. That’s the fun part.

Have you ever made a buckle before? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.