Take the cake and get the guy. That’s the idea behind a recipe created by teenager Renny Powell for the Pillsbury Bake-Off of 1954. Create a cake that will win a prize and captivate your beau. The name cracks me up and it’s much more appealing than the slumps, grunts and buckles that appeared on New England menus in my college days. Powell won $2000 for second place in the junior division of the contest, a lot of money for those days and even now.
There are several classics in my repertoire that draw from the Pillsbury’s 1950s grocery store pamphlets. One of them –Southern Pecan Bars – came from the same volume! I used to amuse myself over school vacations pouring through these relics at the homes of my relatives. Despite having been aware of the ’54 version, the boy-bait cake would have gone unnoticed simply because of the blueberries. They didn’t grow where/when I grew up and my mother thought they were poisonous so it would have been baffling for her to introduce them to our household.
The 1950s are vilified today for the post-war fascination with fast food, packaged food, and convenience food that are seemingly at the root of the poor eating habits of today. In the past decades, portions have gotten bigger and ingredients more laden with fat and sugar. This cake is a case in point.
I found the popular version I made here on the Internet in several places, including Smitten Kitchen, where I got this recipe, and Lottie + Doof, both of which track back to Cook’s Country Magazine, which claims to have adapted the original. This is not that close to Powell’s recipe for Blueberry Boy-Bait. It’s simply a buttery blueberry cake that appropriates the name. Blueberry boy-bait has become a genre not a single recipe. This recipe uses 1 cup of butter versus Powell’s 2/3 cup, and amps up the sugar by combining brown sugar with white. It also uses a completely different method. Don’t get me wrong. This is a delicious cake. I’m just saying.
Closer to the original recipe, which is more like coffeecake with streusel topping, is the version that Christopher Kimball (of Cook’s Magazine and America’s Test Kitchen fame) printed in TheYellow Farmhouse Cookbook. He tinkered with the recipe to reduce the sugar. Interestingly, Kimball, a consummate researcher of the best of American foodways, also includes in that volume the recipe for Southern Pecan Bars. Good choice.
Blueberry Boy-Bait of the 21st Century, adapted from Smitten Kitchen
For the cake:
2 c plus 1 tsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened
¾ packed brown sugar
½ c granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 c milk
½ c blueberries
For the topping:
½ c blueberries
1/4 c sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13×9-inch baking pan.
Whisk together 2 cups of flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Beat butter and the two sugars with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated, and scraping down the bowl.
With a large spoon, mix in one-third of the flour mixture, then half the milk, and repeat, ending with flour.
Sprinkle the reserved teaspoon of flour over ½ cup of blueberries and fold them in. Turn the batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing the top.
Scatter the other ½ cup of blueberries on top of the batter. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle them on top.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. Cool in pan for 20 minutes and then turn out on a platter.
The cake serves at least 12 and keeps in a covered container for several days.