When I wrote about Caelynn’s first morning with her father and Sparky, I wanted to come up with a breakfast comfort food – the sort of thing that people talk about when they say “when I was a kid I loved waking up to find…” I didn’t have a specific idea in mind for berry cakes – I just knew that I wanted it to be more than throwing a handful of berries into a box of pancake mix.
My grandmother was known for her pineapple upside down cakes. Every year a local animal shelter would hold a yearly fundraising fair and my grandmother would run the bake sale table. She started taking orders for her cakes months in advance and had a limit to how many orders she would accept. I knew it was a special occasion if Grandma had pineapple upside down cake.
I went through tons of coffee cake and muffin recipes: tweaking, refining, combining and testing until I came up with this one. The full recipe is below, but first some pictures and some notes about preparation.
For the lemon peel, I used a sharp vegetable peeler to cut the zest off a lemon in large sections, then used a knife to cut it into strips or chop up. The entire peel of one lemon is used in this recipe – half in the topping and half in the cake batter.
I made this recipe in 10oz baking cups. It made 4 individual cakes with each one being a full meal on it’s own. You can make smaller cakes or one large cake by changing up your cup/pan size. Just be sure to watch carefully while it bakes.
The first time I made this recipe, I put the crumble topping in the cups before the lemon peel. My family had no idea the lemon peel strands were in there. If you put the strands on the bottom, though, be prepared for them to get a little tough while baking. It’s still yummy, but some folks may not like the texture. The peel does add a nice lemon flavor to the topping, so if you don’t want to deal with the chewy strands, chop up the strands into smaller pieces and mix it in with the brown sugar crumble topping.
Because of my fond memories of my grandmother’s cakes, I wanted the topping to be a bit more gooey than crumbly. If you prefer a drier topping, just up the flour in the topping mixture to 3 Tablespoons instead of 2.
Once the topping is in the prepared cups, it’s time to make the batter. This was where I discovered I’d made a mistake in my recipe creation. One of the consistent ingredients in all the recipes I’d gone through in my research was milk. I fully intended to include it in my recipe. I didn’t realize I’d forgotten to include it in the recipe until after the first batch was baking. We were worried that the first batch would be dry and tough, but instead the cakes were nice and light and moist thanks to the ricotta!
As I stirred in the dry ingredients, I thought “Hmmm….this is more like a cookie dough… I haven’t added the ricotta yet – that should help.” While it did make the batter a bit softer, it was still very much not-batter-like. I was nervous folding in the berries – worried that I wouldn’t be able to mix them into the dough without crushing them. The ricotta did lighten it, though, and the berries mixed in nicely.
The stiffness of the batter next made itself known when I was spooning it into the baking cups. It sat like defiant lumps on top of the brown sugar crumble instead of spreading out all nice and smoothly. I ended up using a spatula to smooth down the batterlumps – mainly so I could be sure I’d divided evenly between the baking cups.
Once the cups were filled, I popped them in a 350° F oven for 30 minutes. I recommend you start checking at about 25 minutes and add time as needed. As with most bakery items, it’s ready when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let the cakes cool in the cups for 5 minutes before turning them out onto plates. At this point my family was gathering around the table with forks ready, waiting for me to finish taking pictures.
Breakfast Berry Cakes
- 2 Tablespoons butter (cold)
- 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 1 Tablespoon fresh peel of half a lemon – cut into long, thin strands or chopped
- 4 Tablespoons butter (softened)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Fresh lemon peel – from the other half of the lemon.
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup berries – use whatever kind of berries you want – for these pics I used chopped fresh strawberries
- Preheat oven to 350. Grease individual baking cups or ramekins, line bottom with parchment, and grease parchment.
- Combine brown sugar and flour in a small mixing bowl. Cut in cold butter. Arrange lemon peel strands in the bottom of the cups. Sprinkle topping mixture over lemon peel.
- In medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla, stir until well blended. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest. Stir in ricotta and then gently fold in berries. The results will seem more like a very soft cookie dough rather than a batter. Spoon into baking cups.
- Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. Check often after 25 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before turning out onto serving plates. Remove parchment from tops of cakes and garnish as desired.