What the heck are black currants anyway? I’ve been watching old episodes of Louie so I feel entitled to phrase all my questions really aggressively.
I was at Whole Foods the other day. I had a short list of things I needed and a long list of things I needed to do. I had a strict schedule to follow. And then I got carried away by the currants.
Right next to the regular old oranges was a display of fresh black currants. I’m immediately drawn to new, fresh produce, my mind awash with visions of pies and cakes. They looked so pretty, dark purple clusters spilling out of their teal, cardboard containers. Despite the price tag, I took home a little (tiny) container.
Black currant treats aren’t so big in these parts. Dried currants make their way into breads and puddings now and again, but Americans don’t seem to be talking about the fresh variety that much. My experience is limited to my romance with the black currant flavor of British Rowntree Fruit Pastilles. Boy, I love those candies. Jujubes from heaven.
I popped a currant in my mouth, expecting that good old Rowntree’s experience but better. But it was tart. And kind of astringent. And not all that delicious. And then it hit me. I realized that I had never, ever, in my entire life, held a fresh black currant in my hand, much less snacked on one. I had no idea what the heck to do with them.
But don’t worry. I persevered for you. Sugar seemed like a good solution. And I was right. A quick black currant jam. Swirled into a rich butter cake. Simple and delicious, kind of knobby and dimply. Not all that attractive in a conventional sort of way.
But let me tell you. Something magical happened in there. When that swirly jam hit the heat of the oven and cooked over a bit, it basically turned into fruit pastille. I made a butter cake topped with a homemade version of my favorite candy.
Black Currant Butter Cake
If you can’t find fresh black currants, this cake would be probably be nice with blueberries or raspberries.
1 1/2 cup fresh black currants, stemmed
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plain lowfat yogurt, at room temperature
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1. Make the jam: In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup currants, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon water. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the fruit has broken down and the texture is thick and jammy, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
2. Make the cake: preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 4 1/2-by-8 1/2-inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Toss 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture with the remaining 1/2 cup currants.
3. In a large bowl, beat butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. Alternate adding flour mixture and yogurt, starting with the flour mixture, until just combined. Fold in lemon zest and the flour-coated currants.
4. Transfer half of the batter to prepared pan and smooth the top. Dollop with 2 tablespoons of the cooled currant jam and use a butter knife to swirl it around a bit. (If the jam has gotten too thick, you can mix it with a couple teaspoons of water to loosen it, but it should still be thick and jammy.) Top with the remaining batter and dollop with the remaining 1/4 cup currant jam and swirl. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs, 55 to 65 minutes. Let the cake cool for about 20 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Pop it out of the pan and let it cool completely.