Sunday 7 October 2007

mulberry & cinnamon cake

This week my theme ingredient for Weekend Herb Blogging is the mulberry.

Jonas, coming from Sweden (a land of plentiful berries) had never seen mulberries before so he brought home two punnets from his recent shopping expedition.

As a child mulberries meant three things to me: silkworms, berry fights and a free afternoon snack.

The second I caught a whiff of their tart scent I was immediately flooded with the faint mustiness of those shoe boxes filled with silkworms. I don’t know about other cities and suburbs, but certainly when I was a kid in Sydney everyone I knew would collect cicadas and silkworms.

One of the most interesting and unique aspects of mulberries is that without them we wouldn’t have silk, since their leaves are the only things silkworms eat. During silkworm season we’d fill shoe boxes with big green mulberry leaves and watch the tiny white silkworms munch their way through, growing fatter and fatter until they’d weave yellowish silk cocoons and turn into rather unremarkable looking moths.

In factories, these cocoons are painstakingly unfurled by hand to become prized silk. Having tried to do it myself as a kid, I always understood why silk was more expensive than other fabrics.

So with two full punnets of mulberries I had to find something to do with them. Since I now launder my own clothes there was no way I was going to have a mulberry fight: they stain your clothes terribly and I’m surprised my parents didn’t murder me every time I sheepishly came home from school splattered with purple juices.

The first recipe that came to mind was from another blog and so this is a Recipe Road Test of a cake posted by Haalo from Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once – one of my all time favourite blogs and the host of WHB this week.

While I made adjustments to this recipe, Haalo actually created this recipe by modifying a cake from British-Italian cook Ursula Ferrigno. So the recipe is certainly doing the rounds and retransforming itself.

Making a cake today was timely because it’s Jonas' birthday. I baked the cake this afternoon and we both just sat down with a slice to celebrate.

This is his favourite kind of cake: cinnamon flavour; slightly crusty edges; moist, crumbly, bread-like interior; and chunks of berries. He promptly declared it was the best cake I’ve ever made.

I really enjoyed it too. It's the perfect 'coffee cake'.

Mulberry & Cinnamon Cake

Recipe by Haalo from Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once. Serves 10.

225 grams mulberries (or your favourite berry)
140 grams softened unsalted butter, diced
140 grams caster sugar
140 grams ground almonds
140 grams self-raising flour
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
icing sugar, to dust

Prepare the mulberries:

1. Rinse well under cold water then remove the stems. Dry on paper towels before placing in a small bowl.
2. Sprinkle over with a spoonful of caster sugar, toss gently and set aside while you make the cake.
Make the cake:
1. Butter and flour and line the base of a square 1x8in/20cm loose bottomed tin (you can also use a 23cm/9inch spring-form tin).
2. Place the butter, sugar, almonds, flour, egg, cinnamon and vanilla into the bowl of a start mixer. Beat until smooth and well combined - about 3 to 5 minutes. Remember to stop and brush down the bowl midway to get a thorough mix.
3. Spread half the mixture into the base of the prepared tin - flatten it with the spatula.
4. Sprinkle over with the prepared mulberries, pushing them slightly into the batter.
Dot the cake with spoonfuls of the remaining batter - smooth over with a flat spatula - you want it to cover the berries.
5. Put the tin on a baking tray and cook in a preheated 180°C/350°F oven for about 1 hour until golden and springy and cooked through when tested with a skewer. Check along the way to ensure it's not browning too quickly - if it is, cover with foil.
6. Let it cool in the tin - this is a crumbly cake especially when warm so it's important that it's left in the tin under cold enough to handle.
7. Sprinkle over with a light dusting of icing sugar before unmoulding.
8. Serve with a dollop of whipped pure cream and a good cup of coffee.
Anna's variations:
*Added an extra tablespoon of sugar to the mulberries to sweetened them.
* Used cassia (Baker's cinnamon) instead of regular cinnamon since cassia has a stronger flavour.
* Gradually added a couple of teaspoons of milk when I beat the cake mixture as it was a tad too dry and I couldn't get it to combine.
* Used a fan forced oven so cooked cake for a maximum of 35-40 minutes.
* Would recommend lining cake tin with baking paper to prevent sticking.

There are three main types of mulberries:
Black – native to western Asia, it was brought to Europe prior to Roman times.
Red – native to the eastern USA (Massachusetts to Kansas to the Gulf coast)
White – native to China and the original dinner for the silkworm. They were crossed with red varieties to provide more food sources for silkworms.

Interestingly, mulberries are also distantly related to breadfruit, jackfruit and figs.

Mulberry trees have a growth sprint in their youth but slow down and rarely grow taller than 10-15 metres. The berries start off white or pink then the red and black varieties darken deeply when ripe. The flavours of red and black berry varieties are more flavoursome than the white berry trees.

I remember when I’d pick the leaves for the silkworms I always managed to get bags and bags of the berries for myself and I’ve read that trees yield a large amount of fruit for their size when compared with other kinds of fruit trees.

Black mulberries, which have the strongest flavour contain about 9% sugar and also have malic and citric acid. You can eat them fresh (although I think they need a little sugar) or you can make pies, jam and sauces. Mulberry wine is also very popular and I even have a bottle of mulberry port stashed in the cupboard.

Immature fruits contain sap which is said to be mildly hallucinogenic while the ripe mulberries contain high amounts of resveratrol, a phytoalexin or antibacterial / anti-fungal chemical. Phytoalexins tend to have properties which are considers very beneficial and anti-cancer, antiviral, anti-aging, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory. In the old days they used mulberries to treat ringworm.

It’s kind of strange that the berries are very fragile and get mouldy quickly when they contain so much anti-fungal chemical.

Tune into Haalo’s WHB round-up from Turin to see what other recipes have been on rotation this week.




  1. Oh, your post brought back memories! We had a mulberry bush in our backyard and it was always full of silkworm coccons. We never tried to feed silkworms in shoes though ;)

  2. We have a huge mulberry tree in our front garden. It shades most of the house and is so dense the ground underneath never gets rain in summer. The leaves are the size of dinner plates. It gets quite a few berries but I've never tasted one. The birds get the ones in the tree and the ones they miss don't look very good. Maybe next year I'll make more of an effort.

  3. I've never had mulberries. I'm not sure you can even grow them too here, maybe it's too cold? But the cake looks just wonderful. Happy birthday to Jonas too!

  4. This looks seriously awesome. I'm actually not sure I've ever seen a mulberry - is it like a blackberry? They look somewhat similar. Perhaps I'll have to expand my horizons and hunt some down.

  5. Beautiful cake and so mouthwatering.

    Never had mulberries before and I wonder if it taste anything like blackberries. :)

  6. Thanks for adding info on mulberries. My neighbor has a tree and we're always welcome to them...before the birds get'em!

  7. they do look a lot like blackberries, but i think blackberries are a little sweeter and richer in flavour.
    mulberries are a little tart and have a slight vegetable edge to their flavour.
    well, that's just my opinion.

  8. I just backed it!
    Easy and very nice!!!
    Thank you very much for the recipe.

  9. "I just backed it!
    Easy and very nice!!!
    Thank you very much for the recipe.

    Suppose I baked it... any way back this recipe!!!

  10. This cake looks delicious, I imagine the taste of blackberries, mmm, so good.

  11. This cake looks delicious, I imagine the taste of blackberries, mmm, so good.

  12. This cake look awesome, and the flavor must be out of this world, thanks for the recipe

  13. I wish I could reach through the screen and sample this cake!


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