The end of summer is upon us, and it is with a tinge of sadness that I see the season give way to fall. I say with a tinge of sadness because, quite frankly, I’m the kind of person who needs four very distinct seasons each year, so by the time mid-August rolls by, I feel an indefinable je ne sais quoi in me that tells me I am ready for cooler weather. I am ready for what’s next. In those last few days of August, right before Labor Day and before school starts, I tried to honor the last days of summer because, even though right now I am longing for walks under trees covered in autumn foliage, cinnamon-scented drinks, apple pie, wearing sweaters, and the peaty smell of bonfires in the air, I know that, on account of the long Minnesota winter, I’ll be ready for summer to come back again long before it actually does.
One of the great surprises when I moved to Minnesota was learning that you can actually grow grapes this far north. I actually have a little grapevine climbing right on the chimney bricks. The birds eat the scant blue grapes that grow on it. It’s not a very large plant because honestly it needs to get more direct sunlight and more room to grow, and it is unfortunately tucked next to the driveway and the neighbors’ house, but it does a very good job of feeding the neighborhood birds. I had always associated grape-growing places with arid terrain and warm temperatures like the province of Mendoza in Argentina or Piedmont in Italy or Napa in California. This goes to show you can never underestimate the power of Mother Nature to produce all kinds of goodies from the Earth, no matter how northern the latitude may be. Minnesota is truly wonderful country, as we have seen all summer, producing such bountiful harvests. So why not commemorate the end of summer with this fresh layer cake, which features a variety of fruits, including Minnesota grapes?
The cake is rustic and very easy to make, as well as assemble. It’s a simple vanilla cake that does not rise too much, which makes assembly super easy. The honey-sweetened cream cheese frosting has a delicate taste and isn’t too overly sweet, and pairs very nicely with the vanilla cake; and finally, the fresh fruit on top is showy yet uncomplicated and is the true star of the recipe. You can adorn it with some rosemary if you like to have some sprigs of green. I love rosemary, and it felt like it went along very harmoniously with the rest of the flavors.
So here I go to have one of the last teatime snacks in my summer porch. I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I did!
Fresh Fruit Harvest Cake
Prep time: 40 mins
Cook time: 30-35 mins
Cooling time: 1 hour
Makes: 10-12 servings
For the Cake
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla powder
- 1 tbsp orange zest
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup whole milk
For the Frosting
- 12 oz cream cheese, room temperature
- 3 oz unsalted butter
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 4 ½ tbsp honey
- ½ tsp sea salt
For the Fruit Topping
- 6-8 grapes
- 3 blackberries
- 4 figs
- 1 plum
- 2 sprigs rosemary
Make the Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Grease and flour 3 9-inch baking pans and set aside.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk until simmering and very hot. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the vanilla powder and orange zest to the flour mixture. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment, cream the butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down occasionally.
- Add 1/3 of the flour mixture into the cream and butter mixture, then alternate with 1/3 of the milk. Add the other 1/3 of the flour mixture, alternating with 1/3 of the milk, until all of the flour mixture and all of the milk are incorporated into the cake batter.
- Divide the cake batter evenly among the 3 prepared cake pans. Smooth out the top with a spatula.
- Bake at 350ºF for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cake should be a light golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes before unmolding them onto a cooling rack. While the cakes fully cool, you can make the frosting.
Make the Frosting
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment, or in a medium mixing bowl with a hand mixer or whisk, beat together the butter, cream cheese, and honey. Please note: it’s really important to use full-fat cream cheese and not a substitute to create the proper consistency for the frosting. Neufchâtel, mascarpone, low-fat or fat-free cream cheese will not produce a good result.
- Add the powdered sugar gradually, using a sifter. Beat well so that the frosting has a smooth consistency.
Assemble the Cake
- Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the top of the cake so that you end up with a flat-topped layer. Repeat with remaining two cake layers. Brush crumbs away.
- Place one layer cake on your plate or serving dish and spoon 1/3 of the cream cheese frosting in the center, leaving a 1/8 inch margin from the edge of the cake. Carefully place the second layer cake, spooning another 1/3 of the frosting.
- Lastly, place the last layer cake on top and generously spoon remaining cream cheese frosting. Use a swirling motion for an appealing effect.
- Cut the plums into thin wedges and slice the figs down the middle. Place two whole figs, two sliced figs, a small clump of grapes, and put the slices of plum and blackberries along the edges. If desired, place sprigs of rosemary along the bottom of the cake for an additional touch. You can serve the cake immediately, but it is best to refrigerate for an hour so that the frosting can firm up and hold up when the cake is sliced. Store in the refrigerator and serve within 3-4 days.