When Julie Richardson decided to update the classic blueberry buckle—an old-time cakey dessert studded with fruit and a streusel topping—she began by trying to understand the original and why it worked. Turns out, the size and weight of the berries were key.
Richardson—who along with her husband owns Baker & Spice in Portland, Oregon—realized that the treat’s name comes from the way the topping “buckles” during baking. And that happens because the blueberries remain suspended in the batter, weighing it down as it cooks.
This sort of sleuthing is standard for Richardson, who recognizes that we still have plenty to learn from the bakers of the past. She opened her Baker & Spice shop in 2005, but for 50 years before that, another bakery had operated out of the same storefront. When Richardson took over, she inherited its trove of vintage recipes.
Since then, rehabbing time-tested recipes has become Richardson’s specialty. Among her redos: a Watergate cake that swaps the ’70s-style instant pistachio pudding for real pistachios, and a Champagne cake that trades an outdated sherry custard for one that actually uses sparkling wine.
Her search for a fresh take on blueberry buckle led her to cranberries, which have a similar weight and shape as blueberries. Also, crucially, they don’t give off excessive moisture. “Not all fruits can become a buckle,” she says. It soon became Baker & Spice’s best-selling fall dessert.
At Milk Street, we loved how Richardson made her buckle brighter and richer by pairing the tart berries with tangy sour cream. But we discovered a shortcut that made this simple cake even easier.
Richardson’s recipe calls for making the crumb topping separate from the batter. Since the topping and batter have many ingredients in common, we streamlined by using a food processor to make a coarse flour-sugar-butter base that we then divided, pulsing almonds, brown sugar and a little more butter into one portion of it to become the streusel topping.
The rest of the base is gently combined by hand with the wet ingredients. To the batter, we also add candied ginger, which lends peppery- spicy notes to complement the cranberries. The finished buckle is decadent yet surprisingly light—a dessert grounded in the past with a taste for today.