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Breadmen's Restaurant's recipe for blueberry crumb cake

It's time for berry crumb cake, diner-style 

The blues are running

Today I stepped outside to a seldom-visited corner of my backyard where, years ago, the previous owners planted blueberry bushes. They really should not keep growing year after year, but they do, in spite of the odd, too-shady spot they're in and the neighborhood deer feasting on the lower branches. Sure enough, the upper limbs are loaded with not-yet-ripe fruit. So I hurried down to Hillsborough's Eno River Farmers' Market in search of ready blues, thankful that the weekday markets are back in business.

There is something uplifting about blueberries: for breakfast on cereal, tossed in a salad, served on cheesecake, made into a sauce and poured over ice cream. But my favorite way goes back to grad school, when, after seeing a movie at the now-defunct Varsity Theater, we'd drink coffee and eat blueberry crumb cake at Breadmen's Restaurant. Back when it first opened in 1974, the Chapel Hill diner was one of the only local options for late-night food.

Co-owner Bill Piscitello says Breadmen's bakers adapted this recipe from The New York Times in the 1970s. They tweaked it to accommodate large quantities baked in a roasting pan, making a batch of streusel to ensure the top was covered, instead of relying on the traditional crumb topping used in the main recipe below (see "Breadmen's-Style Streusel" recipe for the Breadmen's version).

I make the blueberry crumb cake in that diner spirit, and it's a treat for either late-night munchies or weekend breakfast. As with most quick breads, if I plan to serve it in the morning, I mix and store separately the wet and dry ingredients the night before. The next day, I give them a quick spin in the food processer while the oven preheats and the coffee brews. In many cake recipes, blueberries sink near the bottom of the pan, creating a delicious fruit-crusted coffee cake. If you want them distributed muffin-style throughout, dust them with a tablespoon or so of flour before adding to the batter, which magically suspends them. I like to mix in a few reddish, underripe berries for a little tang.

Blueberry Crumb Cake

2 cups light brown sugar
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup pecans, chopped (optional)
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups blueberries, dusted with the 1 tablespoon flour
Canola spray for pan and top

In a food-processor work bowl fitted with the steel blade, blend the sugar, 2 cups of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and butter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Scoop out one cup and add chopped pecans to it. Set aside. Whisk together sour cream, eggs and vanilla in a small bowl. Add this mixture to the food processor and pulse to combine, just until all dry ingredients disappear into the wet, and the thick batter is lump free. Do not overmix. With a rubber spatula, spread batter into a 9-by-13 baking dish sprayed with canola oil. Distribute berries evenly on top, pushing slightly into batter, and sprinkle reserved crumb-pecan mixture over all. Spray canola oil lightly over topping to set it. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Watch that cake doesn't get too brown around the edges. Serves eight, if cutting Breadmen's-size pieces. It is worth the effort to eat this warm! It keeps moist for three days and freezes well.

Breadmen's-Style Streusel

For that extra dessert touch, mix up a batch of this topping. The finished cake will be sweeter and more dense, less breakfast-like, but just as comforting.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter

In the food processor, pulse all ingredients together. Add to top of cake after the layer of crumb-pecan topping. Bake according to recipe directions.

  • Breadmen's Restaurant's recipe for blueberry crumb cake

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