Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.


Tessa Huff

Bodacious red wine chocolate blackberry cake

Juicy blackberries from our berry farm, red wine and chocolate give this cake a rich flavour punch.

The blackberries are the last of our berry crops and one of the most beautiful. Their size and juiciness is a marvel enjoyed by us and our bear visitors so picking as soon as they are ripe is important. This very Naramata cake recipe combines our berries with red wine and was a perfect late summer cake for my good pal Janet’s birthday.

Succulent blackberries before picking.
Mis en place for the red wine cake with my new antique cupboard from Arundel, England in the background.

Lips that touch wine will never touch mine. Come on, who wrote that nonsense. I suppose they don’t like cake or chocolate either.

I sent The Handyman off to the Naramata store for a bottle of red with a good price point for it’s cake ingredient fate and he came back with a $10 bottle which I was worried was too good to be true…even for a cake. Surprisingly, Bodacious was pretty darn good in the cake and in the chef’s glass.

This recipe makes one three-layer 6-inch cakes that served our party of 10 perfectly with no left-overs.

Red wine cake

  • 1  1/2 all purpose flour
  • 1/2 plus 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Droste, amazing chocolate…)
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (never skip the room temperature step…if you don’t have time…put the butter in a bowl in a warm water bath in your sink to soften it up)
  • 1  1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup full-bodied red wine

Pre-heat the oven to 350F and grease and flour three 6-inch cake pans and set aside. I did it the hard way and used my one and only 6-inch pan and made the cake in three batches.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium until smooth. Add the sugar and mix on medium-high until the butter is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the red wine, while taking sips from your wine glass in between, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds.

Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans and bake for 23 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

Blackberry ganache ingredients.

Blackberry ganache

  • 3 cups whole fresh blackberries
  • 2 tbs granulated sugar
  • 1 cup chopped good quality bittersweet chocolate
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Place the blackberries and granulated sugar in a saucepan. Heat over medium-high until the berries start to break down and expel their juices, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the juice through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Discard the solids.

Place the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl and set aside. Reheat 6 tablespoons of the blackberry juice in the saucepan until it begins to simmer (reserve the remaining blackberry juice for finishing the cake). The simmering juice smells amazing p.s. Pour the hot juice over the chocolate. Let sit for 30 seconds, then whisk until combined. Set aside until the ganache cools to room temperature but is still spreadable.

Once the ganache has cooled, whisk to loosen it and stir in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth.

A Naramata evening walk while the cake cools. This view of the lake is on our regular walking route. Never gets old.

Some assembly required

Once the cakes have cooled completely, level them and choose which layer will at the bottom. Generously brush the layers with the remaining blackberry juice. Place the bottom layer on a cake plate or serving dish. Spread about 1/3 cup of the blackberry ganache with an offset spatula. Top with the next layer of cake and repeat with the ganache, finishing with the final layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with remaining ganache and top with the whole blackberries.


This is an excellent cake from a few standpoints. It’s relatively easy to make as the filling between the layers and the icing is one recipe. It looks great with the blackberry topping and doesn’t involve mad piping skills. Verdict on the taste was a 10 at the party it was served at…”rich, moist, earthy and chocolatey”. I will make this one again.

This recipe comes from fellow Canadian’s Tessa Huff’s amazing book, Layered. Every cake I’ve made from this book has been stellar. Her easy to follow instructions will make you a better baker. As Tessa says, “layer cakes are the ideal vehicle for both creative expression and deliciousness…And let’s fact it — everyone loves a layer cake…It’s time to toss the cake mix and canned frosting and reach the height of your cake-baking potential!” Cheers to that.

“Love is like a good cake; you never know when it’s coming, but you’d better eat it when it does.” Joybell C

Ta Da. Riesling rhubarb crisp cake

“Here’s the basic difference between Morelli and me. My first thought was always of cake. His first thought was always of sex. Don’t get me wrong. I like sex…a lot. But it’s never going to replace cake.” Janet Evanovich, Eleven on Top.

Your mission Mr. Phelps:

  1. Celebrate an adventurous (she has done Ultraman…twice) friend’s and English Channel swim team mate’s birthday by baking a worthy layer cake.
  2. Try a bold challenge that requires piping.
  3. Have an excuse to buy a cake turntable for decorating.
  4. Have an excuse to buy yet another cookbook…Layered by fellow British Columbian Tessa Huff. (I came to order the book thanks to the blogosphere. Joy the Baker recommended Layered in her cookbook roundup. I’m a huge Joy fan.)
  5. Find a recipe where you can drink wine while baking.FullSizeRender

I accept the mission Mr. Phelps.

Mis en place for the cake portion of the recipe

Ingredients for the Reisling cake:

  • 3 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup room temperature unsalted butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg whites (I buy mine from Lucy, a neighbour with happy free run chickens)
  • 1 1/2 cup sweet Riesling plus 1 glassful for sipping while you bake

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside

In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar and mix on medium-high until the butter is light and fluffily, 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to medium-low and gradually add the vanilla and egg whites until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the Riesling, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds after the last streaks of flour are combined.

Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Let them cool on wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

The rhubarb is from my garden but the it’s too early for my strawberries so these are Californian.

While the cakes are baking, make the rhubarb strawberry compote.

  • 1 3/4 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 cup fresh rhubarb cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

IMG_8539.JPGCombine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and cook over medium-high head, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the juices start to bubble. Reduce the heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool.

I had to make the cakes in two batches as I only have two 8-inch pans.

Make the oat crumble.


  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1/4 almonds
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted room temperature butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Mix the oats, almonds, brown sugar, flour, butter, honey, cinnamon and salt with a wooden spoon and sprinkle over the lined baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. Let it cool and crumble the mixture into smaller pieces.

“A party without cake is just a meeting.” Julia Child. “With enough butter, anything is good.” Julia Child.

You will need to make two batches of this vanilla swiss meringue buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons egg whites
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups unsalted butter (very important that it be at room temperature or it won’t combine properly) cubed
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer. Whisk them together by hand to combine. Make a double boiler by filling a medium pot filled with water over medium-high heat. Place the mixer bowl on top of the pot. The bottom of the pot should not touch the water.

Whisk intermittently and heat the egg mixture to 160F (candy thermometer) or until it is hot to the touch. Carefully fit the mixer bowl onto the stand mixer and whip with the wire attachment on high speed for 8 to 10 minutes, until it holds medium-stiff peaks. The bowl should be back to room temperature at this point. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle.

With the mixer on low, add the cubed butter, a few tablespoons at a time then the vanilla. Once incorporated, turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is silky smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.

Making the rhubarb buttercream

Two more quick steps and you are ready to assemble the masterpiece.

Make the rhubarb buttercream by mixing two cups of the buttercream with 1/2 cup of the cooled rhubarb compote and mix on medium with the paddle attachment in a stand-mixer until combined. Remove from mixer and set aside in a bowl.

Add a few drops of pink gel food colouring to the remaining butter cream and mix until combined.

IMG_8581.JPGTo assemble, level the cakes by removing any domes with a serrated knife run parallel to your work surface. Choose a sturdy layer for the bottom. Place it on a cake plate or board and spread 1 cup or half of the rhubarb buttercream with an offset spatula. Sprinkle with half of the oat crumble mixture. Top the next layer of the cake and repeat with the rhubarb buttercream and crumble. Finish with the final layer.

Frost the top and sides with the pink buttercream. Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and then add another layer of icing to the top of the cake and using a petal tip, fill a pastry bag with buttercream. Starting at the top of the cake, pipe rows of ruffle swags by keeping the narrow end of the petal tip facing upward.


I added some strawberries and pansies (remove the flowers before serving)
This cake was in the adventurous cake section of Layered. Perfect my adventurous friend.
Voila. Happy Birthday lovely Charlie. We celebrated with four members of our English Channel swim relay team. Carb loading. That water will be cold right?


“But how will I eat cake if my head is over there, and my hands are over here?”  Marie Antoinette

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