Buckle Up! – Pittsburgh Quarterly

Pie, crisp, cobbler, crumble, betty or buckle, the most beloved summer desserts are the ones that highlight ripe summer fruit, with a little bit of butter, sugar and flour to bring everything together. (And most, if not at all, are made even better with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.)

Versions of these summer treats abound, and choosing a “best” one would be a difficult if not impossible task for a group of desserts with as many passed down recipes and regional varieties as this one. But certainly the most versatile of the bunch is the buckle — a rustic coffee cake studded with fresh fruit and finished with a crumbly streusel topping. It makes as delightful a finale to a summer dinner as it does to a special breakfast or brunch.

While blueberries are most often used in buckles, this recipe uses strawberries and stone-ground cornmeal for a wonderfully earthy cake with great texture. The cake batter is layered with a quick homemade strawberry-lemon jam before baking, which makes for a beautiful bright pink swirl running through the middle of each slice.

This cake keeps incredibly well, getting increasingly moist as it sits, so it’s ideal for making in advance or having on hand for a mid-morning treat. Serve warm with ice cream for dessert, or at room temperature with a big cup of coffee. Or celebrate the bounty of summer and have a scoop of ice cream on your breakfast cake! We won’t tell.

Strawberry Cornmeal Buckle

Serves 8

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 quart strawberries, hulled
  • 1 cup granulated sugar + 1 tablespoon, divided
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup stone-ground or medium-grind cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Zest of one lemon


  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons stone-ground or medium-grind cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8×8-inch cake pan and line with parchment paper.

Dice about three-quarters of the strawberries and place them in a medium skillet, along with 1 tablespoon sugar. Thinly slice the remaining strawberries and set them aside. Cook the strawberries over medium heat, stirring often, until they have collapsed and the liquid in the pan begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the lemon juice, then scrape the strawberries into a bowl and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and remaining 1 cup sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream, vanilla and lemon zest. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Scrape about half the cake batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer. Spoon the cooled strawberry jam on top, spreading it gently with a spatula. Add the remaining cake batter in large spoonfuls and spread it into an even layer (don’t worry if some of the strawberries peek through). Arrange the reserved, sliced strawberries on top.

Make the crumble: In a medium bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar, cornmeal, cinnamon and salt. Mix with a fork until the mixture forms large crumbles. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the cake and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly. Cool in the pan, then cut into slices and serve.

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