Covered with a generous mound of real whipped cream, the warm coffee cake was fragrant with the scent of almond extract and cranberries. When I transferred the first forkful to my mouth, I knew right away that I had lucked into a winning recipe for “Courage in the Kitchen.” I had never heard of Nantucket Cake, so I asked Nina for the recipe. She photocopied the handwritten card for me.
If you look for Nantucket cake recipes on the Web, you’ll find a few grouped with recipes describing how to make Nantucket Cranberry Pie. Cranberries grew wild in what was the largest contiguous cranberry bog in the world on Nantucket, the large island south of Cape Cod, so the recipe may well have originated in some housewife’s kitchen there a long time ago.
Cranberries are still harvested on the island from two bogs preserved and managed by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. Almost two million pounds of the red gems are sent to market from Nantucket’s Milestone Cranberry Bog every year, but Massachusetts no longer leads the world in cranberry production. Wisconsin achieved that honor a few years ago, which means we need to do our part by baking a Nantucket Cake once in a while with genuine Wisconsin cranberries.
This recipe includes a cup of rhubarb, another fruit that grows well in Wisconsin. The cranberries, rhubarb and walnuts create a flavor combination that I think works something like the different peppers in a really good chili. Though both fruits are tart, they have distinctive flavors that complement each other. The walnuts add texture and yet another flavor. Finally, the almond extract merges with the fruit and nut flavors to give your tastebuds a real treat.
I asked Nina how the cake came to be called DeKock Nantucket Cake, and she said she didn’t know, other than the fact that she got the recipe many years ago from her mother-in-law who copied it out for her on the recipe card she showed me. Whether Mrs. DeKock created the recipe herself or got it from a friend, it is a quick and easy cake that will wow your guests.
Preheat the oven to 350º and butter a ten-inch round baking pan or pie plate. Clean and chop the rhubarb into half-inch pieces. If you use fresh or frozen cranberries, cut them in half. Coarsely chop the walnuts. Put the fruit and nuts in a medium bowl, add a half cup of sugar and mix well with a wooden spoon. Spread the mixture on the bottom of the pan.
Stir the sugar and flour together in the same medium bowl. Melt the butter and beat the eggs with a fork in a small bowl until they are lemon colored. Beat the almond extract and butter into the eggs and stir the mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir with the wooden spoon until you have a smooth batter.
Spread the batter evenly over the fruit and nut mixture and put the pan on a center shelf in the oven. Check the cake after thirty minutes and turn it to brown evenly. Set the timer for another ten minutes and bake until the top is golden brown, about forty to forty-five minutes.
Serve warm with ice cream as a dessert or with whipped cream as a coffee cake for breakfast or brunch.
NOTES: If you use unsalted butter, add a heaping quarter teaspoon of salt to the batter. When Nina couldn’t find any fresh or frozen cranberries, she used dried cranberries. Both work just fine, but the fresh/frozen cranberries make for a juicier cake.