There’s an abundance of cod in my freezer. I headed out to Stellwagen Bank last Sunday with friends and we found some keepers. I couldn’t help but be proud when I caught the first one; two years ago it was tough to tell who caught who when I had a fish on the line. The fish would be pulling on one end and I’d be on the other end amazed that a fish the size on an infant could be so strong, not sure which hand to reel it in with, and praying that I didn’t tangle my line, poke someone in the face with my rod or generally muss the whole thing up. Unfortunately, I mussed up plenty, and lost an abundance of fish in the process.
These days, I still wouldn’t claim to know an iota about fishing, not compared to the decades of knowledge that the fellows I fish with bring. But, I’m at the point where I can reel one in and not make a complete fool out of myself.
I make up for this lack of skills in other ways, so that my presence is generally tolerated on the boat. First, I can gut, fillet and skin a fish reasonable well. An extra pair of hands is much appreciated when you’ve got a cooler full of fish, and a boat full of tired souls who want to go home after a long day on the water. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I can bake. It’s a shameless bribe. In exchange for an invitation to go out, I generally show up with some kind of baked goods to stave off the appetites of my fellow fishermen.
If you’ve never spent a day out on the water, it’s hard to explain the kind of ravenousness that invades your soul. I don’t know if it’s the early hours, the salt air or the sun, but I eat on boats as if I’ve never eaten before, and I eat things I’d never look at twice on dry land. Pepperoncini. Cold cuts. Yellow mustard. Food has never tasted so good.
In deciding what to bake, a few things have to be taken into account. It should be something that can be eaten standing up, without a fork. It can’t be too crumbly or messy. It should sturdy enough to withstand the rolling and crashing that comes with heavy weather. It should taste good with a hangover. And it should beckon at all times of day. When I read about this recipe on Smitten Kitchen last summer, I knew I’d hit the big one.
“I’ll bring bait,” I told the captain. “Blueberry boy bait.”
A buttery single-layer cake, this blueberry studded, cinnamon-kissed delicacy is as easy to make as it is to eat. Though the amount of butter here (two sticks!) kind of makes me cringe, I just go with it. Afterall, no one on a fishing boat is watching their waistlines.
I’ve made this a few times now. The boys love it. Girls too. We were just passing Boston Light last weekend when my buddy Mark came up to the bridge, a piece in hand. “This is awesome,” he said, nodding approvingly as he stuffed his mouth. Mission accomplished.
Blueberry boy bait
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen and the America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book)
*Note: if you’re using frozen berries, don’t thaw them first or their color will bleed into the cake.
For the cake:
2 cups flour (I did half whole wheat, half white), plus a Tablespoon more
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
For the topping:
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, about two minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated and scraping down bowl. Reduce speed to medium and beat in one-third of flour mixture until incorporated; then beat in half of milk. Repeat and then add the rest of the flour. Toss blueberries with remaining Tablespoon flour and then use a rubber spatula to gently fold in blueberries. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan.
Scatter remaining 1/2 cup blueberries over top of batter. Stir sugar and cinnamon together in small bowl and sprinkle over the cake. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes (my oven did it in 35 min, so keep an eye on it). Cool in pan 20 minutes, then turn out and place on serving platter (topping side up).
Serves 10 hungry people, warm or at room temperature.