in honour of brains

October 28, 2009 § 6 Comments


In case you didn’t know, approximately 30,000 neuroscientists descended upon Chicago last week for their biggest scientific conference. Wherever I turned there were people in glasses, milling around with laptops and poster tubes. And really, that’s how any good party starts, right?

In all honesty, a large gathering of neuroscientists is actually pretty amusing to watch. This became obvious when I entered the Metra, where dozens of bewildered scientists were trying and failing to figure out public transit. Academic skills do not necessarily translate into the real world. Luckily a passerby took pity on us, and that became the theme of the visit – wherever we went Chicago natives would smile kindly and ask ‘Brain conference?’. Apparently we do not quite blend in with the normal folk.


The point being, brains are very important and useful. In celebration of this fact, I decided to let science inspire my baking! Yes, it is nerdy. I don’t care. Anyhow, one of the symposiums was about nutrition for brain health – this stuff is often kind of flaky, but there’s actual research on it too. I unfortunately could not attend these talks (i.e. I accidentally slept through them), but some of the main contenders were berries and walnuts – clearly the building blocks of something tasty. They also mentioned salmon, but I chose to omit that.

So, despite the lack of concrete evidence, I decided to make blueberry coffee cake – because, well, why not? The recipe is adapted from Rose Beranbaum’s gorgeous new cookbook. She’s very meticulous, and this is reflected in her recipes, but I was in a bit of a rush and not quite so careful. I did however follow the instruction that amused me the most – to take out your cake when it reads 208°F on an instant-read thermometer. How very precise!


Anyhow, this cake is yummy. I think I still slightly prefer my standard coffeecake recipe, which must wait till spring due to its use of rhubarb, but it’s good to branch out. Given that it’s October, this recipe probably would have been better in its original form, with apples rather than blueberries. Even in this dramatically out-of-season rendition, though, it was moist and sweet and perfect with a cup of coffee. Try to show more self-control than I did, and wait until it’s cooled – it really is better that way. And as an extra plus, you can feel good about eating it cause it makes you smart! (results not guaranteed.)


Blueberry Crumb Coffee Cake – adapted from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes


  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped coarse
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter, melted
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla


  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter
  • 6 ounces blueberries, fresh or frozen (about 1 cup – you can use whatever seems sensible)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment, and grease the parchment.

Begin with the topping: mix together walnuts, brown sugar, white sugar, and cinnamon. Reserve 1/2 cup to use for filling. To the rest, add flour, butter, and vanilla and mix briefly with fork until mixture is coarse and crumbly. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes to firm up butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, 3 tablespoons sour cream and vanilla until combined.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and remaining sour cream. Mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened, then raise speed to medium and mix for about 2 minutes, until batter comes together. Add egg mixture in two additions, beating for 30 seconds after each.

Scrape 2/3 of batter (approx. 18 ounces) into the cake pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle the reserved 1/2 cup topping over the batter. Drop the remaining batter overtop and spread it evenly. Sprinkle with blueberries.

Bake for 35 minutes. Break up crumb topping with fingertips so that the largest crumbs are about 1/4-inch balls. Remove the cake from the oven and sprinkle crumbs over top. Return to oven until cake tester comes out clean and cake springs back to the touch. Or you can check with an instant-read thermometer, which should read about 208°F.


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