Are buckles the most underrated dessert of the summer?

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

By Emma Laperruque

Published August 17, 2019 6:59PM (EDT)

 (Rocky Luten/Food52)
(Rocky Luten/Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

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.

Blueberry Buckle Recipe
Cook time: 1 hour
Makes: 1 (9x9-inch) cake

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup finely ground cornmeal
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cubed, cold
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/4 cup blueberries
1/4 cup pitted, halved cherries

1/2 cup granulated sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for the pan
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 lemon, zested
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup finely ground cornmeal
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 1/4 cups blueberries
1 1/4 cups pitted, halved cherries

1. Heat the oven to 350°F.

2. Make the streusel topping. Combine the sugar, cornmeal, butter, salt, and poppy seeds in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low until it resembles a cookie dough. Gingerly stir in the fruit by hand. Transfer to a small bowl and stick in the fridge or freezer while you make the cake. (No need to clean the standing mixer bowl or paddle—we’re about to use both again.)

3. Grease and flour a 9x9-inch baking pan.

4. Combine the butter, sugars, and lemon zest in the standing mixer. Mix on medium speed, scraping with a rubber spatula as needed, until fluffy. Add the eggs and continue mixing on medium speed, scraping as needed, until fluffy. Add the yogurt and mix until incorporated. Add the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix. Add the cornmeal and poppy seeds. Mix. Add all but 1/4 cup flour and mix on low until almost incorporated. Combine the fruits in a separate bowl and add the remaining 1/4 cup flour. Stir gently to completely coat the fruit. Add this floury fruit to the cake batter and use a rubber spatula to fold in by hand. Don’t overmix.

5. Add the cake batter to the prepared pan and use an offset spatula to spread evenly. Top with the fruity streusel.

6. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for about 30 minutes in the pan, or until you can touch the pan without burning yourself. Turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

7. This is best the day it’s made.

Emma Laperruque

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