By Angela Denstad Stigeler
Strawberry season is my favorite summer bacchanalia, boasting the brightest of berries in seemingly endless abundance at our local pick-your-own establishments. I get a little giddy at strawberry fields where they seem to go on forever. The simple elegance of the white blossoms, the verdant striated leaves, the lush red fruit pulsing with the warmth of the sun. It seems that the berries could go on forever!
Alas, it cannot be. Even that loveliest of harvests must end, and the sun-ripened fruit must either be preserved or risk being spoiled. So once you’ve gorged on all the fresh fruit you can hold, enjoyed the shortcakes and fresh berries and cream, frozen strawberry sundae toppings and whole berries for smoothies, and put up the freezer jam to brighten winter mornings still to come, use the last of your strawberry profusion to make this lovely crumb cake, where a quick fresh berry sauce becomes the crowning glory of a perfect summer dessert.
And since it’s summer, after all, we can relax the rules on desserts a bit. Once baked, this could be a breakfast treat or snack at any time, day or night. Regardless of when it’s served, one thing remains certain: it soon will be nothing but crumbs, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Strawberry Crumb Cake
2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup sugar
1 large egg
2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup cold butter
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack set in the lower middle position. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the strawberries, dissolved cornstarch and sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring frequently until reduced to a jam-like consistency, 6-8 minutes.
For the custard, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium speed until smooth, then thoroughly beat in the egg. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour and sugar, then cut in the cold butter until pea-sized lumps remain. The mixture will be dry and crumbly. Reserve ¾ cup of this crumb mix for the topping. To the remaining mixture add the baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, gently whisk together the egg, sour cream and vanilla. Fold the sour cream mixture into the flour mixture until combined. The batter will remain thick and lumpy.
Spread the cake batter evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the custard layer over the crust, leaving a ½-inch border around the edge of the pan. Spoon the strawberry sauce evenly over the top, then sprinkle with the reserved crumbs.
Place the pan on a large baking sheet and bake until the edges are golden and the cake is puffed, 50-60 minutes. cool completely before loosening the sides of the cake from the pan with a thin sharp knife. Remove the springform sides and place the cake on a serving platter. The cake can be made ahead and served chilled.