Posts Tagged ‘Blueberries’

Bowl And Spoon

Blueberry Crunch Cake

Blueberry Crunch Cake

It often occurs to me that if I weren’t in the kitchen cooking or baking I would likely be fixing (okay, breaking) something mechanical. I’ve always been like that. Always fiddling with something, pushing its buttons, seeing how it works. I’m a “Popular Science” man in a “Bon Appétit” world. Truth is though, having watched chefs at close range I realize that the best of them are just gearheads in white coats. While they have huge respect for craft and technique, they also love trying out a new toy. Crème brulee blow torch anyone? (Don’t forget your safety goggles.)

It is only natural to become a bit reliant on these toys. When was the last time you didn’t plug in a toaster to make toast? Not the same thing, you say. Really?

I’m not being judgmental but merely pointing out that it is human nature to constantly seek out the right tool for any job. The Williams-Sonoma catalogue plays right to that strain of DNA. Sure, you could hammer that nail with the heel of your shoe, but why would you when there’s a great invention called a hammer? Granted, hammering with your shoe has its advantages, not the least of which is storage. When you’re done hammering you simply put the tool away by putting it back on your foot.

Hey. I think we’ve got a great idea for a new “as seen on TV” item here. The Shammer? The Shoemmer? We’ll work on it. Surely we can do better than “Pajama Jeans.”

I am the first to admit that I may have an over reliance on my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. If I could drive it like a car I probably would. I make no apologies for this; it is built like a Sherman tank and I have no doubt that even New York City cabbies would veer out of my way if they saw me driving around the city in it.

This, of course, begs the question: if my Kitchen Aid were somehow incapacitated could I still bake something decent? An even better question is: in a city full of folks just starting out, who have varying amounts of limited time, kitchen space, and equipment, can some decent scratch baking get done?

If you don’t live in Manhattan you may not realize some of the great oddities of everyday life here (I’m talking about the stuff that doesn’t get aired on Eyewitness News.) We live without things that people elsewhere take for granted. I know plenty of folks here who don’t have a real kitchen. Instead they have a couple of burners, and a below the counter fridge. They may have supplemented this with a toaster oven and perhaps a microwave. Almost none of us have a washer and dryer in our apartment, even in the fanciest of buildings. (This is the reason I hate doing laundry.)

Carrie Bradshaw may have been as hooked on her couture as I am on my All-Clad, but you never saw her lugging her dirty La Perlas and a jug of Tide down to the Laundromat. A glaring omission.

Cooking-wise, this reminds me of one of my great “pet –peeves.” My admiration for Ina Garten or Martha Stewart aside, the thing you never, ever see on TV cooking shows is the clean up. You think when the director yells, “Cut!” at the end of a taping that Martha rolls up her sleeves and starts washing the dishes? Uh-uh. That’s what the interns are for.

(Now THAT’S an idea for a TV show: “Battle of the Network Dishwashers.” Sorry folks. I’m keeping that one for myself.)

(That’s not to say that Martha can’t wash dishes. Something tells me that she can do it better, faster, and more efficiently than you and me put together. No I’m not scared of her. Much.)

I may be overly reliant on my Kitchen Aid, but I wasn’t born with it in my hands. Give me a big bowl and a wooden spoon. I’ll still get the job done. My mission? A small vocabulary of recipes that can be made in any kitchen with only the most basic ingredients and equipment. The payoff? Wholesome baking, from scratch, that you would be proud to share with friends, office-mates, family, or someone special (cue saxophone.)

Please don’t be turned off by the word “wholesome.” I don’t mean Donny Osmond (yeah, yeah, I know, “What’s wrong with Donny Osmond?” Nothing.) I mean good food, with healthy, recognizable ingredients. Wholesome. The other payoff is that limiting the equipment makes clean up easier and faster. I can’t guarantee that I’ll never use a mixer in this set of recipes, but if I do, you can use the hand-held kind. (A cheap, easily stored investment.)

For me, the downside of limiting ingredients is that there may be times when you lose a bit of complexity in the flavors. If that’s the case, I’ll mention a few options that you can add if you are feeling ambitious. There are a few expectations: you must have a big bowl, measuring spoons, measuring cups, and baking pans that fit your oven. That’s the price of admission. Oh, and that bowl? I prefer glass, but stainless steel is fine too, and get one bigger than you ever think you’ll use. You can also serve salad from it, or store other bowls in it. Mine is (I think) 6 to 8 quarts.  (Here’s a good example.) Why the fuss over the size of the bowl? Because to me there is nothing more aggravating than trying to stir something in a bowl and having it overflow. A big bowl means you can stir with abandon.

Every few weeks or so I’ll add to this list of recipes. This week’s recipe has an added bonus: it is actually three recipes, all from the same ingredients, with slight variations in the preparation.

With local blueberries so abundant during this time of year, I decided to start with a Basic Blueberry Crunch Cake. If you choose, you can use the same recipe to make muffins, but I prefer the cake, and you should feel free to serve it straight from the pan. The crunch topping is a very basic streusel, but with less butter, so the topping is looser. The cake is yummy, but I would have preferred the spiciness of some cinnamon, and maybe the springiness of a scraping or two of lemon zest. Twice the prescribed amount of vanilla extract wouldn’t be a bad change either. If you’re feeling ambitious, add about a teaspoon of cinnamon to the crunch topping, and a teaspoon of lemon zest to the cake batter when you’re mixing the sugar into the egg.

Besides the cake and muffins, you can use the same recipe to make blueberry pancakes.

By the way: I’ve already cheated. I used a rubber scraper to transfer the batter from the bowl to the cake pan. I could have used my hand, I guess, but c’mon.

Next mission: to see if I can get my Kitchen Aid to do my laundry.

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Click here for the recipe for Blueberry Crunch Cake.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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American (as Apple Pie)

Berry Cobblers

Cobbler...slump...or grunt?

Politicians love to speculate what our nation’s forefathers would have thought of whatever policy they are advocating.

This thinking is usually lost on me. I’d rather know what they would choose from the dessert menu. I’d rather speculate whether or not Thomas Jefferson would have liked Jell-o.

I can’t help but wonder what Messrs. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were eating during the hot, muggy Philadelphia days that led up to July 4th. I can say with some confidence that during the long hours it took for him to write the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t eating Domino’s.

John Adams was a Harvard grad and a lawyer, but he was also a farmer. Abigail (Mrs. Adams to you) likely served what was fresh and in season, straight from their own fields. There was no choice: the only place she would have found an Israeli tomato was in Jerusalem. While championing the use of locally grown farm ingredients may have made Alice Waters seem like a revolutionary in the 1980s, what she really was doing was recapturing a time before fruits and vegetables were flown in from elsewhere. Folks lived off the land and bought what was grown locally; this also shaped their menu. It is only in our time that the new-fangled jet airplane has made food from around the world available in your neighborhood supermarket.

Some popular desserts in revolutionary times were cobblers, pan dowdies, and stewed fruit desserts called grunts or slumps. Supposedly the latter were called grunts because of the noise they made while cooking. Hmmm. Doesn’t sound promising, but these desserts were likely borne from a combination of the available technology (the kitchen stove = the hearth) and the available ingredients.

Just what you wanted: a history of the Revolutionary War as told through the dessert menu. My high school history teacher would be so proud. I finally got something right.

I know that the thought of a hot dessert on a hot summer night seems out of place. I won’t apologize. Fresh berries are bouncing off the shelves right now, and yes, they’re wonderful in a bowl with a little sugar and a dollop of cream. But there’s a problem with cold desserts: there’s no aroma to make your home smell like, well, home.

It’s not by accident that one of the oldest tricks up the sleeve of any Real Estate agent worth her salt is to bake apples and cinnamon in the oven when they’re having an open house. They’re not after a low-fat dessert, they’re after a sale. They can “stage” a house with fancy furniture and knick-knacks, but if the place smells like poopie it’s “No Sale.”

That tasty concept aside, I was also thinking that summer is the season when people take time to entertain friends. Perhaps they have a house near the beach which is the target of many a weekend trek by friends and family. For folks who live the other nine months of the year in their little New York City apartments, this may often be the only time during the year when they get to eat “at home” with their chums at a real dining room table as opposed to having everyone perched on the sofa.

The desserts in the picture above are like a colonial cobbler or a slump. I lightened them up a bit by substituting a very light cake batter for the usual biscuit dough topping. The cake batter makes the dessert lighter for summer, and is easier to prepare. I used my Kitchen Aid, but a bowl and wooden spoon will do you fine. You can bake these for varying lengths of time depending on how “puddingy” you want them. The longer you bake them the cakier the top becomes.

Wouldn’t it be nice to present your visiting chums with four different versions of the same dessert? Sounds ambitious, yes? Is it ambitious? No.

I’m still kicking myself. In my shopping haste I grabbed only blueberries and raspberries. My repeat performance will show me grabbing the blueberries and raspberries, but also the blackberries, strawberries, and maybe a summer stone fruit like a peach or nectarine. Each item will get its own little dessert.

The dishes are little 4 ¾’’porcelain crème brulee dishes; at about four bucks a pop they’ll hardly break the bank, and I can also use them for nuts and other snacks. (Ummmm, and crème brulee too.)

Assembling the dessert is easy: tumble the berries or cut fruit into the dishes, top with the batter. Bake. A touch of ice cream and some serving spoons are all you need. You don’t have to wait for the beach or the backyard barbecue for this: it also makes a great “coffee table” dessert. (Be careful though. Blueberries and rugs don’t mix well.)

While this isn’t strictly a cobbler or a grunt / slump, I’m calling it a slump. It’s a dessert name you don’t hear anymore, and has a free history lesson attached.

If you prefer, stick a feather in your hat and call it macaroni.

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Click here for my recipe for Berry Slump

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Back From the Beach

Jordan Marsh Blueberry Cake

This is one of THOSE years: the Labor Day weekend is late and the Jewish holidays are early; in fact, they commence just a couple of days after the weekend. I’m no sooner rinsing the beach sand from my feet when I have to start thinking about dessert for the family Rosh Hashanah dinner — my yearly assignment. Luckily I have had a little something stored in the back of my mind for a few weeks.

When I wrote about blueberries a few weeks ago I mentioned — almost in passing — the famous blueberry muffins from Boston’s beloved but now dearly departed Jordan Marsh department store. I haven’t been able to get those off my mind. When you have an itch you’re not supposed to scratch it, but I’m only human: I can’t resist.

On paper the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin is an unlikely star: oversized, sugar-crusted, less muffin than cake, and perhaps even a bit on the dry side, although the better for dunking because of it.

(Does anyone still dunk? Never my cup of tea — pardon the pun — dunking was best demonstrated by Clark Gable in the movie “It Happened One Night.” Yeah, they still call them “Dunkin’ Donuts” but I don’t think anyone still does. Please correct me if I am wrong.)

Ask any Bostonian, current or former, about the Jordan Marsh muffin and you will likely get some kind of fond memories recalled about Aunties or Grandmothers bringing them on visits, not to mention quick side trips to “Jawdin’s” bakery counter whilst in the store on other business. While muffins are usually reserved for breakfast or Hollywood gift giving (muffin baskets are big business out there), we were never shy about occasionally eating the Jordan Marsh muffins for dessert.

Like dunking, the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin is no doubt the product of a different age. For a big chunk of the mid-twentieth century, the big department stores always had in-house bakeries. Granted many, including Macy’s (which absorbed the Jordan Marsh chain some years ago), still do. But with rare exceptions the fare is trucked in from a vendor. The stuff they sell is hit or miss. The old time department store bakery was likely a bit more modest in scope, with muffins, cakes, cookies, and brownies (the Jordan Marsh nostalgia silver medalist) being the focus. I have a fond memory of my Mom returning home with a B. Altman’s Chocolate Cake from a trip accompanying my Dad to New York City. That was a few years ago — B. Altman’s is a library now — but I remember that big swirly-frosted cake as if it was last week. The latter will likely produce a phone call from my Mom remarking on my elephantine memory.

But I mention that cake as an illustration of the aesthetic I am trying to highlight. I can’t say for sure that everything those bakeries sold was golden, but it was good dependable stuff that didn’t try too hard.

This brings us back to blueberry muffins and an early Rosh Hashanah. I thought it might be nice to let summer influence the choice of desserts this year. They usually are tinged with the rustier flavors and colors of the fall season, like my pumpkin cake from last year. This year they’ll be bright and summery, and the aforementioned idea of serving blueberry muffins for dessert seems apt.

Two problems, or shall I say, minor roadblocks, require equally minor detours: The first is that “Jawdin’s” is gone and so are their muffins. The second is that I can’t serve muffins at a holiday dinner. Serving muffins as dessert is a cute trick best saved for another time.

Luckily, I can easily swerve around both roadblocks. Jordan Marsh may be gone, but with a bit of internet digging the real, real, recipe (as opposed to the real recipe) is not hard to find. And if I don’t want to serve muffins for dessert I can just pour the batter into a cake pan or two and serve it as a cake.

I did just that, using two five inch cake pans which gave them great height. But feel free to use one standard eight or nine inch pan.

My only real problem was my own nagging desire to bring my own twist to this recipe. Luckily a little experimentation quickly made me retreat from that idea. I thought it might be nice to serve this as a real cake, including frosting. Bad idea. I tried a simple white frosting which had the double whammy of making the whole thing too sweet while completely obliterating the blueberry flavor. Ditto a really nice lemon frosting: triple whammy. Too sweet, no blueberry, all lemon.

So, going back to basics, I decided to let the cake shine as is, in all its basic mid-century home-spun glory, kind of like an edible version of thumbing through an old copy of Life Magazine. For the holiday dinner, if I decide to gild the lily at all it will be by dabbing a bit of barely sweetened whipped cream on the plate, as much for looks as for the blueberries and cream simulation.

Bear in mind that the highlights of these muffins, the crunchy sugar crown, the thick brown crust, and the abundance of blueberries are the things that require just the slightest extra attention while mixing the batter: be sure to carefully fold in the blueberries with a rubber spatula using caution to break the berries as little as possible. And the sugary, crusty crown? Just use a heavy hand with the sugar. As with any muffin, mix this relatively heavy batter as little as possible.

And if you’ve just got to make muffins, I say, “Go for it,” but be sure to fill the muffin tins almost to the top so they develop a big crunchy “crown,” Don’t use paper liners or you won’t get the trademark brown crust.

Everybody out of the water! Fall is here!

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Click here for the recipe for “Jordan Marsh Blueberry Cake.”

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Summer Blues

Blueberries with Mascarpone

Oh my! We are fancy, aren't we?

The other day I was walking down my street when I spied a woman sitting on her stoop, a dog parked patiently and loyally by her side. This was a scene clipped out of a Ralph Lauren magazine ad: the woman, whippet-thin, prototypically WASP-y in bearing, and her dog, a spotted Springer Spaniel-style elegant creature whose own bone structure gave his mistresses’ a run for its money.

Aside from the fact that this slice of Connecticut Hepburn-style Americana seemed so out of place in my heavily Dominican-influenced neighborhood, what drew my eye was that the woman was sitting eating a peach. Yes, a wise choice of refreshment on a stinky-hot New York City Summer afternoon, but my internal dialogue tut-tutted, “Hmph. She would be eating a peach!”

Why so judgmental? Jealousy. I have never been able to eat a peach out of hand. I find them too mealy — and that’s after I remove the fuzzy skin. I love the flavor, hate the journey. Every summer rolls around finding me determined to “find the Zen” of eating a peach out of hand, and every summer rolls away having found me unable to do so. Could it be that I have never actually had a good peach? That hardly seems likely.

I have tried grilling peaches with a bit of brown sugar, albeit with mixed results: they taste good, but they’re still mealy. (Throw enough caramelized sugar on a baseball glove and it’ll taste good too.)

I do love peach ice cream, but the peaches have been chopped into small pieces, and the mealiness is frozen, so that’s cheating. Ditto Peach Crisp: “Yum-o” to borrow a Rachael Ray-ism.

So, like two other summer activities — sun tanning and riding roller coasters — where lack of success has forced me to redirect my ambitions (a/k/a “Quit”), I think I’ll just have to shelve my peachy ambition too. (The last time I rode a roller coaster I wasn’t “right” for days. Pale, queasy — and now peach-less, that’s me.)

So what does one do when life presents you with mealy peaches? One eats blueberries. (At least that’s what I do.)

What I like about blueberries is that they are so easy going; they will happily follow you down any path. When I was a kid we used to eat them straight off the bush — talk about a fresh and easy snack — but truly, there’s not much that is easier, faster, and more satisfying than cold blueberries in a bowl with a bit of milk and a few grains of sugar.

If, however, you are looking for something with a bit more ceremony, blueberries are just the ticket, no matter what the ticket happens to be. Think of them as the culinary equivalent of the fine worsted wool fabric a bespoke tailor uses to build a suit. (Wha??)

When I was a kid, my Mom always used to find tiny Wild Maine Blueberries. Unfortunately, here in New York I can only find those bagged and frozen. She always cooked them a bit, which only magnified their natural sweetness, making them pair beautifully with the aforementioned milk.

Even better, — for me — would be to drizzle the cooked berries and their juices over a small biscuit with a touch of very softly whipped cream for an instant shortbread.

Big fat New Jersey Blueberries are currently the easiest to find in New York, so I played with those over the weekend. You can see my comic “riff” on fine dining in the picture above. Laugh with me not at me: I painted the plate with a swoop of Blueberry Coulis, carefully placed a couple of quenelles of honey-sweetened Mascarpone cheese over a ladyfinger, arranged the berries so they’d look as if they didn’t care, and then finished the whole thing with a sprinkle of pearl sugar. A ridiculous exercise. The only reason to present food like this at home is to get a laugh, even if it is your own. But it does illustrate blueberries’ innate elegance and that they are versatile enough to stand up to anything. Evidently, they’re up for a laugh every now and then too.

You wouldn’t have laughed if you had tasted my silly, deconstructed, decaffeinated Tiramisu. The gently sweetened Mascarpone didn’t mask the blueberries; rather it added a creamy underscoring that plain whipped cream doesn’t have the chops to play. The coulis added sweetness and a bit of liquid to relax the cheese. Even the pearl sugar played a subtle role by adding a light crunch. I’ll be trying this again, although in a slightly more casual form.

I haven’t forgotten Blueberry Pie, but for me that’s just a happy excuse for ice cream.

I know that Blueberries have become the “vitamin-pill food of the moment” due to their high levels of anti-oxidants, but it seems a shame to obliterate them (as many do) by throwing them into a blender to make a breakfast smoothie. Okay, if that’s what works for you, go for it.

Mentioning blueberries and breakfast together makes me think lovingly of the gigantic, sugar-crusted Blueberry Muffins that used to be sold at the in-store bakeries of the old Jordan Marsh department store chain in Massachusetts. More cake than muffin, you could frost those behemoths, stick a plastic bride and groom on top, and be ready for a wedding.

Hmmmm…Blueberry cake with white frosting…that sounds mighty tasty. I think I owe you a recipe.

Why wait for a wedding?

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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