BLUEBERRY CRUMB CAKE

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Blueberry Crumb Cake with wild, fresh blueberries

 

It was on my first visit to Block Island, RI, where my husband’s family has a home, that I fell in love with foraging…food, that is. I’ve always love furniture and art scavenging, in fact, on my first date with my husband, we dumpster-dived (dove??) for cool junk in Soho–back when Soho was still pretty industrial.  There are those fanatical folks who dumpster-dive for food  (much like extreme couponers–do you really need 100 bottles of hair conditioner? Is a case of E-coli really worth that half-rotten case of Iceberg?)  but that’s where I draw the line. Food foraging in nature is another thing altogether.  On Block Island alone, I’ve foraged blackberries, blueberries, apples, rose hips, beach plums, wild Concord grapes, mussels, clams, striped bass (i suppose that’s called fishing…)  and watercress. In Brooklyn, I’ve found figs, epazote, ginkgo and Juneberry and in upstate New York, ramps, and loads of mushrooms (those, i’m a little wary of)

A few hours a day during our family’s late-summer vacation on Block Island was always spent picking blackberries and rose hips and making pint after pint of jam. My goal was to only buy sugar and new canning lids–everything else was free or else recycled. We’d pick fresh, peppery watercress (too spicy to eat raw) and sauté it with garlic and sausage. In recent years, our vacations have fallen at the beginning of summer, some weeks before blackberries and rose hips are ripe, so my foraging is limited to what I find at the grocery store–and believe me, sorting through mediocre produce sometimes feels like foraging.

On our way home from Block Island last week, we stopped off at my husband’s grandfather’s lake cottage in central Connecticut for an impromptu family reunion. It’s a sweet little house on a lovely lake that my grandfather-in-law bought in the 1940’s. He and his wife planted 2 blueberry bushes near the water’s edge. This week, they were full of blueberries–perfect timing as we usually visit long after they’re gone. In about an hour’s time, I picked more than a quart. The elders were impressed–I think they’d stopped picking them a long time ago. After doling out a few small handfuls, I promised to make a coffee cake for breakfast the following morning with Maggie’s blueberries. 

 

Wild blueberries from Maggie & Charlie Marcoux's  Cedar Lake cottage

Wild blueberries from Maggie & Charlie Marcoux’s Cedar Lake cottage

 

 

BLUEBERRY CRUMB CAKE 

hands-on time: 20 min

total time: 80 min

Serves 12 to 16

 

Crumb Topping

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

 

Cake

2  2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups blueberries

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350° and butter and flour a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan.  Make the crumb topping: in a medium bowl, combine the flour with the sugar, baking powder, salt and butter and pinch together with your fingers until evenly moistened. Press into clumps.

2. Make the cake: In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, salt and sugar. In a medium pitcher, whisk the eggs with the butter, milk and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Fold in 3/4 of the blueberries and scrape the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly. Scatter the remaining berries on top. Sprinkle the crumb topping all over and bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes.  Let cool slightly before serving.

MIXED BERRY GALETTE–VALENTINE’S DAY DO-OVER

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Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries baked in an all-butter super flaky crust

 

 

All week long I’ve been anxiously awaiting my family’s arrival this Thursday night, perfect timing for Valentine’s Day. Not to mention I miss them terribly and haven’t seen them for 2 weeks. I’d planned a super nice menu and had a whole host of activities scheduled (and booked). Snow storms in New York AND Birmingham (2 @ 10-inches and 1 @ 2-inches, respectively), plus the threat of freezing rain down here has had me on pins and needles for days. The big storm  this Thursday up north threw air travel into a tizzy and my guys have been rescheduled three times now due to cancellations and over-booking. Thanks, Delta! So glad I’m a frequent flyer with you! It’s Sunday and I’ve just heard they won’t make it in now until later this evening.  So much for planning. My poor guys will be sitting in the airport for hours after getting there at the crack of dawn to be on time! That’s all the more reason to have a special treat for them when they get here.  

The threat of ice and snow this week brought the Birmingham school system to a grinding halt, so for 3 days my test kitchen and photo sets were operating at a diminished capacity and consequently there was a good deal of un-used, just-this-side-of-rotting produce. I found myself with a ton of strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. My husband and kids love fruit pies, especially with ice cream or whipped cream and I had all the raw materials to make something yummy. In fact, for a book-cover photo shoot that I actually got to style (yay!) I’d made an extra batch of pie pastry that I didn’t need (3 pies a charm!) and found it in the fridge. 

I’m including the pastry recipe here to make it more convenient for you to find. And in case of a dessert emergency (don’t we all have them occasionally? I know I do), the recipe below makes enough pastry for 2 galettes–1 for now and 1 for the freezer. It’s all so super easy and something you can throw together pretty quickly–especially since it’s kind of amazing warm. I’d show you a cut piece, but my family still isn’t here yet… In fact, if you make yours now, you’ll probably be eating it before us.  

MIXED BERRY GALETTE

Makes One 10-inch Galette

4 cups sliced strawberries

1 cup blueberries

1 cup blackberries 

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling 

1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

Pinch of salt

1 disc Flaky All-Butter Crust (1/2 recipe) (chilled but pliable)

 

1. Preheat the oven to 375° and arrange a rack in the center of the oven. In a large bowl, gently toss the berries with the lemon juice, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 cup flour and the salt and let sit for 10 minutes, until the juices just begin to run.

2. On a floured board, roll the pastry to a neat (-ish) 13-inch round and ease it into a 9-inch pie dish or oven proof skillet (I used a non-stick skillet, so be sure to use a plastic knife and pie server to cut). Scrape the fruit and any accumulated juices into the pastry and spread into an even layer. Fold the sides up over the filling and brush with water. Sprinkle with sugar. If so desired, and you don’t mind using some of the 2nd pastry disc, roll out a small bit and stamp out a shape to place on top. (Just be sure with the next galette you use a smaller baking dish and 1 cup less filling). Brush it with water, sprinkle with sugar and place it over the fruit. Bake the galette until golden and bubbling for about 50 minutes. Let cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve with vanilla ice cream, creme fraiche or sweetened whipped cream. 

FLAKY ALL-BUTTER CRUST

Makes 2 (9 to 10-inch) Single OR 1 Double crust  

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, chilled

1/2 cup ice water

 

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour and salt. Add the cubed butter and pulse in 1 second bursts 5 times. The butter should be the size of small peas. Lift the lid, pour in the water and pulse 5 or 6 times, just until the dough is moistened, but doesn’t form a ball. Turn the crumbs onto a work surface,  and gather into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 parts.  Flatten each into a disc, wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

 

A PEACH OF A CRISP (THAT STAYS CRISP)

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The more my mother’s cooking becomes a distant memory, the more I long for a familiar taste—one that shuttles me at light speed back to her warm kitchen and a pot of something-or-other bubbling away in the oven. Nothing does that for me in the summer quite like her fruit crisps.  She would use peaches, nectarines or even plums, throw in a handful of blueberries or raspberries and then top it with an oat-y crumble.

Using perfectly ripe summer peaches was a bit tricky for her. The fruit—super juicy—was often a little loose making the crisp topping a little soggy. But I loved it nonetheless.  Vanilla ice cream melted under heat of the juices, blending into a creamy, fruity soup. And the topping was like a soft-baked oatmeal cookie. No complaints, honestly.

Yet, secretly, I wanted a crisper crisp. That chef’s trick of cooking the filling and topping separately always seemed a bit fussy and chef-y –something I shied away from when creating recipes for my readers at Food & Wine. That is, until I actually tried it and discovered how easy it was. And how much quicker it was to put together. And what a superior crisp it yielded.

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The filling bakes in the dish while you prepare the topping.

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Then the topping bakes separately on a tray for a few minutes while the fruit is still in the oven.

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Finally, topping and filling assembled, everything bakes together until bubbling to blend the flavors and textures: Jammy fruit, crispy topping. Win-win!

I believe my mom would’ve approved and probably even started making her crisps this way. She may’ve been an old dog but she was no stranger to new tricks, especially when the reward is so sweet.

PEACH-BLUEBERRY CRISP

8 servings

8 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into wedges

1 cup blueberries

½ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons St. Germain liqueur (optional)

1 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)

1/2 light brown sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Salt

Crème fraiche, whipped cream or ice cream for serving

  1. Combine the peaches and blueberries with the granulated sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest and the St Germain if using.  Transfer to a medium baking dish. In another bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, butter and a  pinch of salt until sandy. Press into small clumps and spread on a baking sheet.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the fruit until juicy and soft, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, bake the streusel, stirring once, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the streusel over the fruit and bake 10 minutes longer. Let cool slightly, then serve with crème fraiche, whipped cream or ice cream.

AM I BLUE?

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Summertime is in full swing (or blues…) and short of Tea for Two or Makin’ Whoopee, the only thing to mitigate these St. Louis Blues is a big bowl of something very very cold. Vanilla ice cream is a lovely start, but why stop there?

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Out of the blue, I had a hankering for blueberry sauce—which was very convenient since all I had in my fridge were blueberries and limes. (Yay for G&T’s!)  A trip to my herb garden yielded a hefty sprig of rosemary for aromatics and a trip to my pantry a few cups of sugar. Done!

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First I simmered the blueberries and rosemary in a bit of water to get saucy, then strained out the skins and herbs.

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Next, I made a lovely amber caramel. The lighter the caramel the more pronounced the blueberry flavor. I like it on the dark side because it reminds me of creme brûlée. I just discovered this unrefined sugar from Zulka which is a little darker than white sugar and has a slightly caramel-y flavor to start with. It made the caramel even more luscious and rich. I mixed both the caramel and the blueberry liquid together for a quick simmer and left it to cool. When working with caramel, you have to work quickly (the caramel continues to darken even off the heat until you add the liquid) and carefully. Caramel burns are EXCRUCIATING!

Of course it’s amazing on ice cream, but is awesome mixed in yogurt, drizzled on pancakes, waffles or french toast or mixed with mustard and brushed on grilled ribs (use a rosemary branch on the ribs!)  Happy Days are Here Again!

BLUEBERRY ROSEMARY CARAMEL SAUCE

Makes 2 cups

Total time: about 20 minutes plus cooling

1 ½ cups blueberries

1 small rosemary sprig

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 cups sugar

In a small saucepan, simmer the berries and rosemary with 3/4 cup of water, crushing until softened and saucy. Strain the liquid, pressing on the solids to remove the skins and herbs and extract as much of the juices as possible. Stir in the lime juice.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cook without stirring over high heat until a deep amber caramel forms, about 5 minutes. Gently swirl the pan to evenly combine the caramel. Off the heat, carefully add the blueberry liquid. When the bubbling subsides, return to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the hardened caramel is dissolved, about 1 minute. Transfer the caramel to a bowl and cool. Serve hot or at room temperature and enjoy! Refrigerate any leftovers, practically indefinitely.