Hello from Tufts! It’s been nearly a month since I left Palo Alto and flew to Boston. Though it’s only been three and a half weeks, it feels like I’ve been gone for much longer; from the five-day backpacking trip to the whirlwind of move-in and orientation that flowed straight into the start of classes, clubs, and events. Just like everyone has been telling me since I decided on Tufts, the campus is full of people with all kinds of interests that don’t mind making friends with a Californian, even though I don’t say “wicked,” say “melk” instead of “milk,” and can’t understand why everyone says “rotary” instead of “roundabout.” Vernacular differences aside, however, I feel like I fit right in with this student body that talks about politics, science, and food with the same enthusiasm as the geeks of Silicon Valley.
This cake was the very last thing that I made in my kitchen at home; a recipe born partly out of the necessity to finish off a container of mascarpone that I knew would languish in the fridge unless I did something about it, but I also wanted to seize any last moments I had in the kitchen that I have used for so many years. There’s been a lot of cooking at Tufts—a pan of toffee made on a Whisperlite at a shelter on the Vermont Long Trail, a batch of brownies in a spare basement kitchen, four trays of dehydrated fruit in my friend’s dorm room, and a spectacularly constructed ice-box cake made from stolen dining hall cookies and whipped cream—but I’ve not yet begun to trust ovens and stoves in the same way that I did at home, where a batch of perfect chocolate chip cookies took exactly six minutes and 30 seconds and a loaf of bread went from dough to a deep brown boule in 45 minutes.
Although this cake was something more or less improvised, it deserves to be made again and again. The mascarpone creates a tender and buttery crumb that supports the berries that sink into the cake while it bakes, creating pockets of jammy flavor in every bite. A layer of sugar on top of the batter and the cast-iron skillet together make for a golden-brown crust on all edges of the cake that gives way to the delicate cake. It may look like a summer recipe for the final weeks of berry season, which it is, but with some frozen berries it can be made all year round. It’s a cake simple enough to make for a potluck but impressive enough for a dinner party. Who knows, maybe sometime I’ll see if my dorm kitchen can handle this recipe.
Berry Mascarpone Cake
Makes 1, 10-inch cake
Adapted from the recipe for Raspberry Buckle
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup sugar
6 oz. mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup milk
12 oz. mix of raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, either fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon sugar
1. Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with butter and preheat the oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, allspice, baking powder, and salt, then set aside.
2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the melted butter and sugar, then beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the mascarpone and beat until well combined, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is smooth and homogenous. With the mixture running on low, add the milk and mix until evenly incorporated.
3. Scrape down the sides of the mixer, then add the dry ingredients. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter with a rubber spatula until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Spread the berries in a single layer on top of the batter, then sprinkle with the tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out mostly clean, with only a few crumbs attached. Let cool for at least 30 minutes, then serve with powdered sugar and whipped cream, if desired.