I woke up yesterday morning and something felt funny. It felt different. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, and then I suddenly realized that it was sunny. Sun! Glorious sun! We pretty much hadn’t seen the sun for two weeks, and I had really almost forgotten what it felt like to wake up to light coming trickling through the windows.
The world felt airy, fresh, benevolent.
And then I found myself in an amazing fleet of bicycles on my way into work. I love bike traffic jams! Even if I get stuck cycling behind someone who’s slower than me, it fills me with glee to see that people are making the choice to get out and ride to get to work instead of automatically choosing their cars.
Plus, bicycle traffic jams make for spectacular people watching. A lot of oddballs bike commute (I include myself here). There are the serious all-season commuters with lights and mirrors and all sorts of gear. There are hard core cyclists with lightweight bikes and clipless pedals. There are lots of hipsters with big glasses and fixed gear bikes. And of course there are the office folks who are biking in pencil skirts or suit pants, banded around the ankles. It’s great.
Anyway, the sun, the bikes, all of it made me feel so incredibly blessed. So, I decided I would whip up a celebratory cake.
But then sometime during the process of measuring out flour, I decided that I wanted to make a bread instead. Maybe. Maybe I would still make a cake…
What I wound up with was a loaf with a mildly confused identity. ‘Am I a cake, or a bread?’ it puzzled, scratching it’s burnished golden, lightly crackled crust. ‘I don’t care!’ I cried, as soon as I tasted it. ‘Won’t you please join me for tea? And a light dessert later? Oh, and I really think you should come for breakfast tomorrow as well! What do you say?”
This tea cake (I’ve decided I’m going to call it that because it seems to suit its personality best) is loosely based on the ingredients and proportions you would find in a soda bread. Unlike a regular quick bread it has very little oil or butter in it, but instead gets a perfectly moist crumbly crumb from buttermilk. It also has very little sugar, but is still bursting with sweetness from the pieces of strawberry dotted throughout the batter. (If you prefer a sweeter bread, you can up the amount of sugar.)
And did I mention the lavender? Amongst the herbs happily shooting up from the clay pots all over our porch is a lavender (which we had to search high and low through all the corners of the garden center to find, but it was worth it). Its blossoms aren’t quite ready yet, but I added a handful of the, equally sweetly scented, chopped leaves to the bread. (You could also use dried lavender flowers, or lemon zest would be equally nice.)
The taste was that of the first delicate hints of summer. The texture and flavor immediately transported me to a strawberry picking picnic in Provence, just down the hill from an ancient stone abbey with fields of lavender. Mmm, don’t I wish that were a place I had actually ever been! Maybe someday. And until then, I will make this tea cake over and over again.
Oh, and one last thought. If say, you happen to be sharing this cake with a friend and she mentions she has some leftover lemon curd from making an actual cake (you know, one of those complicated layer thinga-majigs that you can’t just whip up in 5 minutes…but that do taste amazing, I’ll addmit), do not scruple to make her get it out immediately for spreading onto pieces of this loaf.
And then, don’t just spread. Slather. Just sayin’.
Strawberry buttermilk bread (makes one 9-inch loaf)
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup spelt or barley flour (or just more all purpose flour)
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tsp. lavender leaves or flowers (dried or fresh) or the zest of 1 lemon
- 2 cups sliced strawberries (tops removed and berries cut into quarters) (this works best with berries that aren’t particularly ripe or juicy and doesn’t work well at all with defrosted berries, they make the batter too soggy)
- 1/4 cup canola oil (or another neutral flavored oil)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup of buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, you can add a tsp. of vinegar – not balsamic though, use a light colored vinegar – to a cup of milk and let it stand for 10 minutes. Then use this soured milk in place of buttermilk)
- Preheat your oven to 375F, and grease a 9-inch loaf pan.
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder and soda, salt, sugar, and lavender.
- In a smaller bowl, whisk together the oil and eggs until well blended. Then, whisk in the vanilla and buttermilk.
- Add this wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir gently together with a spatula until it is about 3/4s mixed but there are still patches of unmoistened dry ingredients. Then, dump the strawberries on top, and continue to stir just until everything is blended together. Don’t overmix.
- Scrape the batter into your greased loaf pan and bake in the oven for about 40-50 minutes, or until it is deep golden on top and a toothpick (or other tester) inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then gently run a knife around the edges to loosen it and turn it out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool for a while longer on the cooling rack, then slice and serve warm or at room temperature. Accompany with a dollop of creme fraiche or yogurt or lemon curd (if you’re lucky enough to have some).