An elderberry cake speckled with beautiful wild berries, filled with elderberry & plum curd, wrapped in an ombre italian buttercream
The rain has come, the sun is sleeping in, and I’ve made the first fire of the season. Summer is officially over. But what is not to love about fall – the gradual lowering of temperature, the plants sending all their energy into their roots, the crispness of the air. This is actually my favorite time of year to cook and eat. As the seasons are slowly swapping out, you still have some of the best things from summer, but all the newness of fall crops. I know it’s officially autumn when I’ve got baskets full of elderberries.
Sometimes, I don’t know if I love the flowers or the berries more, but elder is a wonderful plant. The flowers are intoxicating and lovely in many desserts. The berries are tiny, purple, and a little tart. Both have major medicinal qualities. I always save some for making medicine or tea later, but first, it’s time for cake. This year, I wanted to do something totally different. I had some plums sitting around waiting to be turned into something lovely as well, and I couldn’t help but want to marry the two together. They both had such beautiful dark purple color to them. And it seemed like a great way to celebrate the end of summer and beginning of fall. Plums represent the summer, elderberries the mascot of the cold days to come.
What better way to put these two together than to make a curd? Sweet, tart, rich, and smooth. I’m a big fan of curds. They’re great for layering in cakes, piping into tarts, or spreading between cookies. I’ve made several different curd flavors in my life, but never before had I made one this beautiful and delicious. This has got to be my favorite one now. It was definitely a labor of love, but it was worth it. I ended up with a luxurious purple filling, perfect for smearing in between layers of elderberry cake. I wanted to make this cake fun, so I threw the berries in for a funfetti-like effect. They have a delightful little crunch that adds some texture. Of course, I couldn’t resist mixing some of that curd into my buttercream, making a plum and elderberry flavored frosting with the bonus of coloring it a purplish-pink.
If you’re lucky enough to have elderberries near you, get ready to put some work in. It’s easy to collect enough for a good project, but the berries are small and can be quite tedious. The little stems are slightly toxic, so you need to remove them as much as possible. Settle in and be prepared to spend some time plucking each berry from the stems. You’ll end up with purple fingers and a very rewarding bowl of versatile berries. They do come in season just in time for colds and flus to start coming around. Nature is our friend, because that’s just what these berries are good for. I encourage you to make a healing syrup, but I sure hope you save some for elderberry cake as well!
Elderberry Cake with Elder-Plum Curd & Italian Buttcream
- 2 cups flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups elderberries, fresh or frozen
- 3/4 cup sunflower oil
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2/3 cup half & half
elderberry & plum curd
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 cups Damson plums
- 1/4 cup elderberry juice (see below)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 ounces cold butter diced
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 egg whites
- 8 ounces unsalted butter soft
for the elderberry cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9 x 5" loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment.
Sift together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, vanilla, and cream. Gently toss elderberries into dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients into flour mix and gently whisk together. Finish mixing gently with a rubber spatula just until barely combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until golden and set, about 40-50 minutes. Allow to cool and remove from pan.
for the curd:
First make the plum puree and elderberry juice. Place plums in a stainless steel pot with a little bit of water to prevent scorching. Cook until the fruit breaks down, about 15 minutes. Remove from pan, puree in a food processor, and strain through a sieve to remove skins. You need 1 cup of puree for this recipe. For the berries, put about one pound (3 hefty cups) into a pot with a little water and cook until broken down, about 10 minutes. Pour berries into a jelly bag and allow to sit for an hour or so, until all juice has been removed. You need 1/4 cup of juice for this recipe.
In a stainless steel bowl, whisk together egg yolks, plum puree, elder juice, sugar, and lemon juice. Fill a pot with about an inch of water and bring it to simmering. Place bowl of curd mix on top. Cook, whisking frequently, until the curd thickens, about 20 minutes. It should hold its shape on a spoon. Remove from stove, whisk in butter, and then strain. Chill immediately and allow to completely cool.
for the buttercream:
Place sugar in a sauce pan. Add enough water to just barely cover and stir gently to combine. Place over medium heat on the stove. Meanwhile, start whipping your egg whites in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed. You want your whites to reach medium peaks about the same time your sugar is ready. If they reach this stage before the sugar is ready, turn to low but keep mixing. The sugar is ready when it reaches about 240 F. It should be at the "thread" stage. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few seconds until the bubbling subsides. With egg whites mixing on medium, pour your sugar syrup in very slowly. Once all the syrup is in, allow the meringue to continue mixing for a while until it slightly cools. Add butter, about one tablespoon at a time. Your mixture may look like it's separating for a while, but it will all come together in the end. Once all the butter is in and the mixture is smooth and creamy, add the vanilla.
to assemble cake:
First slice off any dry pieces near the edges and slice the top to make it flat. Slice cake horizontally in half. Spread liberally with the curd. Place second half on top and crumb coat with the buttercream. Chill for at least 20 minutes. Finish frosting with remaining buttercream. For an ombre effect, set aside two small bowls of frosting and color to varying hues with the plum curd. Alternatively, you could color the whole batch with desired amount of curd. Best served at room temperature.