Baking with fresh summer berries can be tricky. When you get your hands on a pile of ripe strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries, you want to make the most of them. Berries at their best — when they’re at peak ripeness and bursting with juice — are heavenly all on their own.
Unfortunately, the problem with using those summer-ripe berries for baking is that it can sometimes mute their bright flavors or leave baked goods soggy.
While developing our latest lineup of fruit-forward Recipe of the Year coffee cakes, Senior Recipe Developer Molly Marzalek-Kelly was determined to solve this problem: She wanted to make sure that berries shined just as brightly in these cakes as they did on their own. To do so, she included several thoughtful, deliberate techniques that maximize flavor and put precious (usually expensive) berries to good use.
The result? Coffee cakes that truly make summer fruit shine, with each one celebrating the season's quintessential berries: raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. So put away your pie pans for now — this summer, the best way to bake with berries is coffee cake.
Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake: Berries three ways
First up is our Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake, which was born from a nostalgic longing for a crumb-topped and glaze-drizzled raspberry Danish similar to the one found in many grocery stores. Molly took what she loved most from that beloved cake and injected it into this coffee cake recipe.
To maximize fresh raspberry flavor, Molly puts the fruit to use in three ways. First, berries are used to make a quick stovetop jam that’s brightened with a touch of lemon juice. It sits atop the layer of sour cream or Greek yogurt-enriched cake batter.
Whole raspberries are also gently folded into a sweetened cream cheese layer that gets dolloped on top of the raspberry jam. The delicate raspberries break down slightly when they’re combined with the cream cheese, speckling the filling with pink: It not only looks gorgeous but also creates pockets of fresh raspberry flavor.
In addition to the fresh fruit, Molly also turned to freeze-dried raspberries for the final finish. She blitzes them with confectioners’ sugar, then dusts the cake with the sweet-tart (pink!) topping.
Strawberry Coffee Cake with Matcha Filling: Macerated berries boost flavor
The next cake, Strawberry Coffee Cake with Matcha Filling, pairs the floral taste of strawberries with the earthy flavor of matcha (green tea) powder. To amp up the berries' natural flavors, they’re diced and tossed with sugar, a process called maceration. The sugar draws out water from the berries, creating a syrupy, flavorful liquid that coats the berries. Though it’s a quick process that only takes 10 minutes, max, macerating the berries instead of immediately throwing them into the batter intensifies the flavor.
When developing this recipe, Molly made another deliberate choice that elevates the flavor of the strawberries: She put the macerated berries on top of the cake batter instead of folding the berries into it. Because they’re only slightly hidden beneath the layer of crumb topping, the berries roast as the coffee cake bakes, concentrating their sweetness and preventing them from creating pockets of sogginess within the cake. The result is a perfectly textured cake studded with jammy, piquant strawberries.
Think we’re done with strawberries? Not yet! Remember that strawberry-flavored liquid that forms during the maceration process? Set aside some of it to use as the liquid in the strawberry glaze that tops the cake, adding a light pink tint and subtle berry flavor. (You can also opt for a matcha glaze, which is a vibrant green but still uses that same strawberry liquid to maximize berry flavor.)
Sweet Corn and Blueberry Coffee Cake: Fresh blueberries that stay put
Once blueberry season hits New England, many bakers start making pies, muffins, and jams. But this year, the best way to make your blueberries shine is Sweet Corn and Blueberry Coffee Cake. It’s like the best blueberry muffin you ever had combined with the flavors of a bowl of cornflakes.
The good news is that blueberries have just the right moisture content so they don’t leave behind soggy, empty pockets in cakes when baked. The problem is that fresh berries often sink right to the bottom of cake batter, creating an uneven distribution and ultimately a layer of gummy fruit on the bottom.
Molly solved that problem with this Sweet Corn and Blueberry Coffee Cake. Because she uses masa harina in the batter — which adds that cornflake-like flavor — and allows it to hydrate and thicken before mixing, the cake batter is stiff enough to keep the blueberries suspended evenly once they’re mixed in. (Pre-hydrating the masa harina has the added benefit of ensuring a moist, tender cake as well.)
This summer, take a piece of advice from Molly and set aside some of your fresh berries to bake these coffee cake recipes. Molly promises that they’re relatively easy and definitely unique. “I really hope bakers are open to trying these new flavors,” she says, “and that everyone is able to find one they can call their favorite.”
Looking for more flavorful renditions of coffee cake? Check out all the variations of our Recipe of the Year coffee cake, then bake them all and let us know which you like best in the comments below.
Cover photo by Rick Holbrook; food styling by Kaitlin Wayne.