Bilberries look like small blueberries, and they are closely related, but their taste is much more intense and sharp. As someone who finds blueberries just a touch too sweet, for me they are a perfect alternative, but you will need to work hard to find them. Extremely difficult to grow and therefore rarely cultivated, bilberries are a real treat for a forager.
My favourite way to eat them is popped in my mouth one by one during a bracing hill walk – the Brecon Beacons have always provided rich pickings for me – but as long as you have a sturdy container to carry them in, as they squash easily, you can gather a couple of handfuls to take home and use in pies, fools, compotes or even make jam.
Here is a recipe for one of my favourite cakes, a bilberry and almond streusel sponge. Rich and buttery, the bilberries add fantastic little bursts of sharpness to cut through the sweetness of the cake. If you are not planning a hill walk you could always, as I have many times, substitute the bilberries for redcurrants or blackcurrants with great effect.
Recipe: Bilberry and Almond Streusel cake
What you need:
200g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
200g caster sugar
200g ground almonds
50g plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
A bowlful of bilberries – about 200g (or use red or blackcurrants)
100g blanched almonds, chopped
40g dark brown sugar
What to do:
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a square cake tin (approx. X cm) and line with baking parchment.
Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, using a food mixture or electric beaters, or alternatively use a wooden spoon and a bit of elbow grease! Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Fold in the ground almonds, flour and baking powder. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level a little with a knife.
Wash the bilberries and pat gently dry then sprinkle in an even layer over the top of the cake. Bake the cake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Whilst the cake is in the oven, make the streusel topping by rubbing together the chopped almonds with the butter and sugar using your thumbs and fingers, just like you are making a crumble. After the 30 minutes is up, remove the cake and sprinkle this mixture evenly over the surface. Slide the cake back into the oven for a further 20-25 minutes or so. It is ready when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean-ish.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin. This cake keeps, well wrapped, for several days.