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of backpacks, birthdays, and berries

Recipe: huckleberry chantilly cake

This past weekend we ventured out into the Colorado high country with Neva for her very first backpacking trip. Even though Jeremy and I have been backpacking together for 21 years, it was a bigger deal for us than it was for her. Do we bring a toy? We should probably pack a towel in case she goes swimming or gets filthy. Be sure to pack the poop bags and poop bottle… Don’t forget the halti collar. We did attempt to strap a dog pack on her at home so she could get used to wearing one and perhaps carry some of her own things. But Kaweah’s old packs – cinched to the tightest setting – practically slid off of Neva who is not only smaller and skinnier, but still a puppy. So it really felt like a hike to Neva since we were the ones carrying the packs and all of her accessories.

jeremy escorts little miss neva up the trail

taking the footbridge across the stream

fireweed turning a brilliant red

our camp just below the continental divide

Once we settled on a place to set up camp, we strung some utility cord between two trees (camp required that we at least be near krumholtz), slapped a carabiner on it, and tethered Neva to the run with her leash. It was the only way we could get anything done before dark. She immediately wrapped herself around one tree, and then the other tree. She wrapped the leash around herself in four different ways. Eventually, Neva just ran back and forth sniffing and playing with sticks. Neva was supercharged with no signs of letting up. At dusk, we could hear elk bugling in the valley to our north. By the time it was dark, we brought the pup into the tent for the night. She marched right to the foot of the tent and curled up into a little ball on our sleeping bags, falling sound asleep.

jeremy reads the map while the milky way adorns the night sky

predawn color on the horizon and twilight reflected on the lake

neva on her tether while we pack up camp

on the way out, we stopped to sample a few of the ripe huckleberries and whortleberries

lots of pretty cascades

Overall, Neva did well on the backpack and seemed to enjoy everything except the halti collar and the lack of sweet sweet freedom. Once home, she slept for a long time. Being an adventure pup is hard work! While she slept, we unpacked and sorted our gear. “So what would you like for dinner on your birthday?” I asked Jeremy. It’s like pulling teeth to get him to tell me what he really likes because he doesn’t want to put me to any trouble. That and I think Jeremy draws a blank when you ask him things like, “What’s your favorite food?” or “What movie should we rent?” Eventually he muttered something like steak or salmon – just something simple. I can do simple. In my culture (or maybe it’s just my family?) it’s bad luck to celebrate birthdays early, so I planned for a special Monday dinner. We started with things I know he loves, brie and fig jam, Kumamoto oysters with bubbles. For dinner, we kept it simple: grilled ribeye steaks topped with chanterelles sautéed in butter and garlic and a side of local corn and zucchini.

oysters and bubbles

And then there was dessert. Over the summer, whenever my parents had us to their place for dinner, I would be tasked with bringing dessert since I do those things. On occasion, I came up short on time and went to the local Whole Foods to pick up one of those mini 4-inch cakes. My favorites were the little boozy adult cakes (adult because of the booze, not because they were “adult” cakes) like the sidecar or the daiquiri. As I walked toward the cake counter, a young woman was scooping cake into little cups for people to sample. I usually ignore the samples, but I heard her say “peach chantilly cake” and I turned on my heel to get a taste. Lovely, light, fruity – it has a mascarpone frosting instead of the usual buttercream. This would be great with huckleberries or any berry.

So I found a copycat recipe online and went from there. Here’s the thing. I hated the cake part. The frosting was great, the fruity part was great, but the cake was heavy, oily, coarse crumbed. Everyone who ate it said it was good, but I felt the texture was wrong and the flavor was mediocre at best. For Jeremy’s birthday cake, I replaced the cake component with my go-to chiffon cake – spongy, soft, light, yet durable – and the result was perfection. The recipe I give at the bottom of the post has my chiffon cake instead of the original cake, but the photos in this post are of the original cake recipe. If you want photos of the chiffon cake process, you can reference this post sans lemon juice.

sugar, flour, vanilla, vinegar, butter, baking powder, baking soda, salt, coconut oil, milk, buttermilk, eggs

whisk the dry ingredients together

add milk, buttermilk, vanilla, and vinegar to the eggs

stir in the melted butter and coconut oil

The full recipe makes a 9-inch round 4-layer cake. I opted to do half a recipe and make a 6-inch round 3-layer cake (there was an extra layer left over). You could certainly go 4-layer on the 6-inch cake, but I felt the 3-layer was structurally more stable and visually more proportional.

combine the wet and dry ingredients

pour the batter into prepared baking pans

cooling the baked cakes

One of the reasons I love the chiffon cake so much is that it doesn’t fall apart when you soak it in soaking syrup. The soaking syrup is a basic simple syrup flavored with whatever fruit you are using. I used huckleberry syrup, but if you’re doing this with raspberries, blueberries, and/or strawberries, then base your syrup on those fruits. I also added a little bit of lemon juice to play against the sweetness of the syrup. And if you want it boozy, add vodka to taste.

sugar, huckleberry syrup, water

pour it all into the saucepan and boil

when the cake has cooled, slice your cake layers

The frosting part of the recipe was spot on. The cream cheese and mascarpone cheese lend some tang and stabilization to the frosting which is lightened by folding in whipped cream. And unlike a sometimes finicky buttercream frosting, this one comes together in a few minutes and is pretty straightforward. It’s best to make the frosting right before you use it, but if you need to make it ahead, you can refrigerate it and let it sit at room temperature for several minutes before frosting with it.

cream, cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, butter, confectioner’s sugar, salt

beat the salt, butter, cream cheese, and mascarpone cheese together

beat in the confectioner’s sugar a bit at a time

whip the cream

fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone cheese frosting

Now you’re ready to assemble the cake. Fresh fruit is what makes this cake so summery and delightful. I used fresh huckleberries in the first cake. The second time around, all of my hucks were sorted, cleaned, and frozen. I merely boiled the berries with some sugar and water until it had the consistency between a jam and a syrup when cooled and it was fantastic with a more intense berry flavor. I think both ways have their advantages.

cake layers, frosting, fresh huckleberries, huckleberry soaking syrup

brush the syrup onto the first layer

spread some of the frosting

sprinkle berries over the frosting

crumb coat the sides before frosting the cake

I was lukewarm on the cake the first time around, because I didn’t like the actual cake. I have to admit the entire ensemble was pretty darn tasty. But if I’m going to spend hours and hours hiking up into the mountains to pick huckleberries in the sun and rain and wind, I want to eat them in the very best recipes. Swapping out the first cake recipe for the chiffon cake recipe changed everything. The cake went from good to amazing. Even though it’s the end of summer, use those summer fruits in this cake. It’s birthday-worthy and Jeremy loved it.

topped with fresh huckleberries

polka dots inside and out

one last slice of summer

Huckleberry Chantilly Cake
[print recipe]
based on this recipe

2 cups fresh huckleberries

chiffon cake
the cake in the photos is from the original recipe, but the chiffon cake recipe below is the one i prefer
14.5 oz. (about 3 cups) cake flour (I use all purpose flour at 8500 ft.)
8.75 oz. (about 2 cups + 2 tbsps) confectioner’s sugar
0.5 oz. (1 tbsp) baking powder (omitted at 8500 ft.)
6.75 oz. whole milk
6 oz. canola oil
3.25 oz. (2 large) eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
13 oz. egg whites (about 13 egg whites)
9.5 oz. (1 cup + 3 tbsps) granulated sugar

huckleberry syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsps huckleberry syrup
1 1/2 tsps lemon juice

4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
16 oz. mascarpone cheese, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/8 tsp salt
2 1/2 – 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup cream

Bake the chiffon cake: Oven 375°F. Prep two 9×3-inch round pans by buttering bottom and sides. Place parchment in pan and butter the parchment. Sift flour, confectioner’s sugar, and (if using) baking powder together into a large bowl. Mix the milk, canola oil, eggs, and vanilla extract into the flour mixture until combined. Whip the egg whites and granulated sugar together to medium peaks. Gently fold the whipped whites into the batter in thirds and make sure the mixture is uniform or you may end up with separation during baking. Do not slam the cake pans on the counter to pop the air bubbles, you WANT the air bubbles in the batter. Bake until set, about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (took me 30 minutes). Remove from oven and remove from pan. Let cool on a cooling rack. Makes two 9×3-inch rounds.

Make the huckleberry syrup: Combine the water, sugar, and huckleberry syrup in a small pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Let cool.

Make the frosting: Cream the butter, mascarpone cheese, cream cheese, and salt together in a bowl until fluffy (use paddle attachment on a stand mixer). Gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar until combined. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to stiff peaks (smooth, but not grainy). Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone frosting until incorporated. Use the frosting right away or refrigerate. If you chill the frosting, let it stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes before using.

Assemble the cake: Set the first cake layer down with the cut-side up. Brush a third of the syrup over the cake. Gently spread a layer of frosting over the cake (or you can pipe frosting onto the layer). Sprinkle a half cup or more of the huckleberries over the frosting. Set the second cake layer on top of the first. Repeat with syrup, frosting, and berries. If making a 3-layer cake, then top with a final cake layer. If making a 4-layer cake, repeat the cake, syrup, frosting, and berries a third time, then top with a final cake layer. Frost the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Serves 10-12.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

blackberry lemon elderflower cake lemon heaven cake pumpkin cake w chocolate ganache & salted caramel cream cheese frosting strawberry chiffon buttercream cake

15 nibbles at “of backpacks, birthdays, and berries”

  1. Heather (Delicious Not Gorgeous) says:

    love all the pictures you took at camp! my nature photos tend to be taken by my crappy phone camera, since i’m pretty sure my dad would pass out at the idea of me lugging along a nice one (he still talks about how i brought rose levy beranbaum’s “the cake bible” on one of our first backpacking trips).

  2. Kristin says:

    Wow…which is prettier? The cake pictures or the backpacking pictures? They’re all beautiful. I need to set a URB challenge for myself because the recipes are stacking. Maybe one/week? Or a month of URB?

  3. Alanna Kellogg says:

    Lovely photos, as always! I especially love the Milky Way shot, gorgeous, your tent all lit up in contrast.

    Question: is your frosting still a “whipped cream” frosting (albeit much stabilized) or is it a cream cheese frosting lightened with mascarpone and whipped cream? I’m making a special-request birthday cake for a ten-year old next weekend and was going to stabilize the whipped cream frosting with vanilla pudding mix (a reader suggested this, says it works great) but much like the sounds of yours too. The cake layers will be chocolate with layers of banana and my own spiced cherries so am not sure about going the “cream cheese” route.

  4. Susanne says:

    You make me want to give baking another try, even though history has proven me cursed in this respect.

    Beautiful pics, as always!

  5. Cheryl says:

    This looks so yummy.. Any suggestions what to do with all the egg yokes?

  6. Jill Hyde says:

    Oh that Milky Way shot is beautiful! Neva is such a good and lucky girl! xo, j

  7. Melanie says:

    Love, love, love (do I start ALL my comments that way?) that you took the girl backpacking and that you take such good care of her. Warms my heart. Bless her tired little heart (curling up at the foot and sleeping). And what beautiful fireweed…..especially love the super dark background. And the stars picture… amazing and peaceful. Your cake looks delicious and presents so beautifully. Happy Birthday Jeremy!!!

  8. Keto says:

    Just wow… those shots are absolutely beautiful (both nature and the food :D). I envy you right now haha! Pinned

  9. jenyu says:

    Heather – thanks! Although I should tell you that half of the photos were on the iphone and half on my dSLR.

    Kristin – :)

    Alanna – thank you! I think it’s more of a mascarpone/cream cheese frosting lightened with whipped cream. If you want a stabilized whipped cream frosting, I found a decent one that I used here: – the flavor of a full whipped cream frosting versus the mascarpone/cream cheese frosting is quite different as the mascarpone/cream cheese is much tangier.

    Susanne – aww, baking is a lot like chemistry lab!

    Cheryl – oh, make ice cream with the yolks! Or try lemon curd or pastry cream. I always have a surplus of egg whites in my fridge!

    Jill – thank you. She is a very lucky girl and we are lucky to have her :)

    Melanie – thank you, sweetie!

    Keto – :)

  10. June @ How to Philosophize with Cake says:

    Wow what gorgeous photos! Looks like you had a wonderful time camping :) And this cake looks incredible, the addition of chantilly sounds perfect :D

  11. Tess says:

    Hi, Jen. Here’s what I enjoy about your blog: everything! I look forward to your articles, recipes and beautiful photographs. How is it that you and Jeremy have been hiking for 21 years??? You look 25! And, yes, it’s bad luck to celebrate birthdays early, to shampoo on the day of one’s own birthday and never cut the longevity noodles.
    Thanks for all that you write about!

  12. Irmi says:

    What a nice story of your little backpack tour. I laughed a lot seeing Neva with my inner eye wrapping up all over. So funny. –
    I like your birthday dinner you have had. It sounds so yummy. Like the cake, too.
    Happy birthday to Jeremy a bit in retard.

  13. Agata says:

    I am a huge fan of your blog. I love your recipes and admire all photos. I cook and bake a lot by myself too, but when it comes to photos….well that is not gonna happen:)
    Photos when Neva sits looks at you when you brushing your teeth made me laugh to tears. I have black labrador too. His name is Dante. They are adorable.

    Best regards,

  14. jenyu says:

    June – thanks!

    Tess – that is VERY kind of you – but I just turned 44, so yes… 21 years :)

    Irmi – Neva is a good source of laughs around here :) Thanks for the bday wish!

    Agata – Labs really are so sweet and silly, they are my favorites! xo

  15. Mary S says:

    Hi, I made this for my husband’s birthday, and it was AMAZING! It was such a hit, that my son requested it and now I am making another. I had never used marscapone cheese in a frosting, but it was killer. Thanks for the great recipe and beautiful photos.

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