What more appropriate treat could there be for an occasion of the heart like Valentines Day? After all, many herbalists consider hawthorn berries the ultimate heart tonic and every kitchen witch knows that bewitching hawthorn opens the heart to love. Heart-warming.& heart-strengthening, hawthorn heals, protects and uplifts heavy hearts, supporting us physically, emotionally and spiritually. And well, dark chocolate is not only a legendary aphrodisiac, it releases chemicals in the brain similar to those which arise when people fall in love. Plus it’s full of polyphenolic compounds like antioxidants and flavonoids which reduce inflammation and improve cardiovascular health.
Hawthorn berries are loaded with all kinds of nutrients, vitamin C, beta-carotene, B vitamins, phytonutrients (anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins) and significant amounts of polyphenols, an antioxidant compound that fights free radicals. And they may even reduce anxiety, studies revealed a significant reduction in anxiety levels compared with a placebo. All of which makes this cake really good for you – and those you love!
This Hawthorn Berry Brownie Cake was the result of a lucky find – a tree filled with perfect berries still on the branch! But if you don’t live in the warm climes of the PNW you can use dried reconstituted berries as well – and I’ve decided they taste even better.
I used the berry puree in the cake batter with plenty of dark chocolate and drained off the “juice” for the Buttercream frosting. The dried berries will take a really good soaking, much more cooking and the colour won’t be as pink – more umber. You can see the difference in colour between the fresh berries (pictured above) and dried berries (pictured below). Directions to make each kind are in the recipe below.
Hawthorn trees (crataegus) are both native and invasive to the northern hemisphere and grow in temperate climates throughout the world, including North America, Europe and Asia. Many were brought here by early settlers for use as hedging on farmlands – and for making into jellies, wines, preserves, chutneys, pies and “ketchup” like sauces. For more information (and recipes) on identifying hawthorn berries go to this post.
For the cake, I used a 7-inch spring release cake pan to give some height, then cut through the middle to divide it into two. It’s a dense cake, as a brownie should be, and because of the hawthorn berry puree, it’s a little jammy and luscious!
Hawthorn Berry Brownie Cake w/ Hawthorn Berry Buttercream Frosting
- 3/4 cup fresh hawthorn berries
- OR 1 & 1/2 cup dried berries reconstituted in 21/2 cups of water overnight (basically just let them soak for 24 hrs)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 whole eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tsp grated lemon or orange rind
- 1 cup butter (8 ounces), melted
- 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
Hawthorn Berry Buttercream Frosting
- ⅓ cup butter softened
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 4 tablespoons of cooked hawthorn “juice”
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon hawthorn tincture (optional for additional colour & flavour)
Fresh: Place fresh berries in a small saucepan with 1 & ½ cups of water. Cook on medium heat till soft and tender. Use a fine sieve to drain off any extra liquid and set aside. Should be at least 4 tablespoons.
Using a colander or sieve, press the berry flesh through leaving pits behind. You’ll now have approx. 3 tablespoons of berry puree. Strain this puree of any additional “juice” and add to the liquid you’ve set aside.
Dried: Place dried berries (in their soaking water) with 1 cup additional water in a small saucepan. Simmer on low heat until berries are soft and tender and liquid a dark rich colour. 30- 40 minutes. Add more water if necessary. You’ll need at least 4 tablespoons of liquid. Then use as directed above.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease & flour a 7” spring release cake tin. If you don’t have a spring release tin line the bottom with a piece of cut out parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa and salt with a whisk to combine, and set aside.
Next, in a medium bowl, whisk the sugar with the eggs until fluffy; add vanilla extract, hawthorn berry puree and whisk to incorporate; next add the flour/cocoa/salt mixture to the sugar/egg mixture a little at a time, whisking to blend thoroughly until incorporated.
Next, slowly drizzle melted butter into the batter, whisking gently until blended in; finally, add the chopped chocolate and fold together to combine.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin, and bake for 35 minutes; once baked, allow brownie cake to cool for about 20 minutes in the pan before carefully turning out. Allow to cool completely before cutting the cake in half.
Hawthorn Berry Buttercream Frosting
Beat butter and powdered sugar in a medium bowl on medium speed until smooth. Gradually beat in hawthorn “juice”, vanilla & lemon zest until smooth. Spread approx. 1/2 of frosting to the bottom half of cake, top with the second layer of cake then frost with remaining icing.