Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins1 (2)

I don’t obsess about too many things, but I can be quietly dogged over a long period of time in search of something that I want. And I want the perfect blueberry muffin. So far I haven’t found it, but these are coming a LOT closer. I started with the blueberry muffin recipe from that venerable Boston department store, Jordan Marsh, that was published on the New York Times website by Marion Burros. And then I moved on from there. My muffins have the tang of lemon zest (a natural with blueberries, in my opinion) and the addition of pure almond extract as well as some sliced almonds on top, mixed with the sugar of the original recipe. (You can leave out the almond extract and they will still be delicious. You definitely don’t want to overwhelm the pure blueberry flavor with almond here, but the amount I used was pretty gentle in its over all effect.) I also increased the amount of blueberries I used by half a cup based on reader comments. I reduced the amount of salt since I generally find that these recipes have too much salt for my taste. And while I used some beautiful organic blueberries, I knew from past experience that the blueberry flavor needed an extra boost to really achieve the result I wanted. The original recipe had you mash 1/2 cup of the fresh blueberries, but I decided to add some wild blueberry all-natural preserves from France to 1/4 cup of mashed blueberries instead. I’m sure that there are some equally wonderful American brands – this was simply what I had on hand. (Just don’t use jelly, which is too thin and try to buy the brand that has the fewest ingredients, with blueberries listed first.) These muffins are best eaten the day they are made but can be frozen, defrosted and warmed in a 325 degree F oven when you are ready to eat them. If you make them the night before, just don’t cover them or they will be too moist the next day. I did actually store additional leftovers in a glass container and briefly microwaved them to serve. While not perfect, they were still remarkably delicious. These are THE most blueberry-y muffins I have personally ever tasted.

Blueberry Muffins  

Blueberry Muffins2

Yield: About 1 dozen regular-sized muffins (I actually got 15 muffins but could have mounded them a bit higher.)

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) of room temperature unsalted butter

1.25 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Generous 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract (Depends on how much almond flavor you want. I used only 1/4 teaspoon and probably could have used a bit more. You can also leave this out if you don’t want any almond flavor.)

Zest of one small lemon

1/4 teaspoon Kosher or fine sea salt

2 large eggs

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup milk (the recipe called for whole milk but I used skim plus some heavy cream which I happened to have)

2.5 cups of fresh blueberries, washed, well drained and picked over; mash 1/4 cup of berries and set aside

2 Tablespoons wild blueberry preserves (I used St. Dalfour brand)

3 teaspoons of granulated or raw sugar (I used raw for this to give a little extra texture)

Sliced raw almonds for sprinkling over the tops

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a standard-sized muffin tin with paper liners. (You really need to do this if you don’t want the muffins to stick since they are so moist.)
  2. Cream the butter, 1.25 cups of sugar and the lemon zest. This should be done by hand. Over-working muffin batter will make them tough. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla, blueberry preserve and mashed blueberries and almond extract. Gently mix through.
  3. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside a couple of tablespoons to toss with the berries.
  4. Add the flour mixture and milk to the creamed butter and egg mixture. Alternate the flour and milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Just mix enough until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over-mix.
  5. Gently toss the whole blueberries with the flour mixture you had set aside. Be careful not to break them up. Coating them with the flour prevents them sinking to the bottom of the muffins. Fold the mixture through the batter very gently trying not to break up more berries than absolutely necessary.
  6. Generously line the muffin cups. You can even mound them slightly over the tops. I did not, which is why I ended up with 15 muffins instead of 12. They will be delicious either way.
  7. Sprinkle sugar and sliced raw almonds over the tops of the muffins and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Ovens vary so go by looks and smell as much as by timing.
  8. Remove the tin from the oven and carefully remove the muffins from the tin onto a cooling rack. I used a very thin metal spatula to help me lift the muffins out. Do not dump them or they will squish since they are so moist and laden with berries. If you leave them in the tin, the bottoms will steam. Just be careful. It takes a bit of practice but is really not difficult. If you can discipline yourself, try to wait about 30 minutes before eating. It won’t be easy!  Blueberry Muffins4

 

 

Cherry Clafouti (Clafouti aux Cerises)

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My husband has never met a custard that he didn’t like, so when he asked me what a clafouti was that was in the case of a local bakery, I decided to surprise him by making one. I confess that I actually enjoy the occasional mindless, slightly tedious task that can be involved with food preparation. It’s a great time to catch up on my own thoughts or to have a cozy moment with a child, spouse or friend. So when this recipe called for 1 pound of stoned cherries, I didn’t flinch. If you don’t enjoy snapping the ends off of crisp green beans or peeling vegetables, then you can use a different fruit or a well-drained canned, pitted cherry. I, however, had some lovely, ripe cherries, a sharp paring knife and 20 minutes to spare for the task.

This recipe comes from an old French pastry book that I purchased in 1977. It is the Gaston Lenôtre’s Desserts and Pastries. So what is clafouti? It’s a baked French dessert of fruit, traditionally black cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. This recipe uses a short pastry crust underneath. I know that my husband will be very happy tonight when dessert-time rolls around.

Cherry Clafouti (Clafouti aux Cerises)

Yield: Two 8-inch flans (about 6-8 servings)

Ingredients

Short pastry dough for 2 8-inch pie plates or flan pans

1 cup of whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

6.5 Tablespoons heavy cream

4 large eggs

Generous 3/4 cup, granulated sugar

4 drops orange blossom water (about 1/4 teaspoon)

1 pound of fresh, ripe cherries, halved with the pits removed (You will end up with about 3 cups of fruit)

Directions

  1. Roll out the dough and line 2 lightly buttered 8-inch pie plates or flan pans
  2. Refrigerate the pans for at least 1 hour before baking. This can be done one day ahead.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  4. Line the 2 pie shells with waxed paper or foil and using dried beans or pie weights, bake the pie shells for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the paper or foil and weights and set the shells aside.
  5. Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy saucepan and allow it to gently boil for one minute. (If you are using a vanilla bean, you will add it in with the milk.) Don’t do what I did which was to carry on a texting conversation with my husband while the milk was on the stove. Of course, the milk boiled over. What a mess! After 1 minute, turn off the heat and add the cream and vanilla bean paste, if using. In all honesty, I’m not certain that this step is necessary. I have made plenty of flan and other custards over the years and I never cook the milk first…
  6. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together with a wire whisk, until smooth and light yellow in color. Beating constantly, add the milk mixture a little at a time to temper the eggs. Stir in the orange blossom water. Place the bowl in a larger bowl of cold water and continue beating until the mixture is smooth and cold. You should end up with 3 cups of liquid.
  7. Fill the half-cooked pie shells with the cherries. Pour the creamy filling over the fruit. The pie pan should be no more than 3/4 full. Bake for about 20 minutes. Serve the clafouti warm or cold. IMG_3342

NOTE: If you use a fluted flan pan instead of a pie plate, you will have more ingredients than the pan can easily hold. I used one flan pan and one pie plate (both 8-inches) and ended up with a little of the custard left over because the flan pan isn’t as deep as the pie plate. The flan pan baked in exactly 20 minutes. The pie plate which was deeper took somewhat longer.

Ricotta Blintzes with Berries

Blintzes are a brunch favorite that we almost never make because they are somewhat tedious, but the few times we do we are always left wondering – why don’t we make this more often?

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Some time ago Matt bought me Breakfast Comforts, a cookbook from Williams-Sonoma, as a Valentine’s Day gift. One might consider it a self-serving gift, but it’s turned out to provide joy for me to cook and for him to eat!

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We made a few modifications to the recipe as noted below, and the original recipe is from Sarabeth’s, one of the more popular brunch chains in New York. After making this recipe at home, however, it’s hard to justify going out and spending almost $21 per entrée!  The following makes about 10 blintzes.

Filling

16 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
1.5 tbsp granulated sugar
zest of a lemon (optional – I forgot it and it turned out fine)

Crepes

1.5 cups whole milk (I used goat milk, a new discovery in the store and delicious)
6 large eggs
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1.5 tsp granulated sugar
pinch of salt

Topping

Blackberries, Blueberries, or Raspberries or some combination
2 tbsp honey

Directions

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk and the six eggs.

2. In another bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and the salt. Gradually whisk the flour mixture into the egg mixture, just until the batter is smooth.

3. With a rubber spatula, rub the butter through a wire sieve into another bowl to remove any lumps.

4. Brush a 7-8″ nonstick frying pan with the butter and place over medium high heat until hot. Pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan and tilt the pan to coat the bottom evenly.

5. Cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 1 minute. Flip and cook the other side until golden, about another minute. Transfer to a plate.

6. Repeat with all the remaining batter, adding butter as needed. Stack the blintzes separated by parchment paper until all done. You should have about 10 blintzes.

7. In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta, the sugar and the lemon zest if you are using.

8. Place one blintz, spotted side up on a work surface. Place about 2 tbsp of the filling just below the center of the blintz.

9. Fold in the sides, and then roll up from the bottom, enclosing the filling. Repeat with the remaining blintzes and filling.

10. Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat with butter. Add the blintzes to the pan and cook, seam-side down until the bottoms are golden, about two minutes.  Adjust heat as needed so that the blintzes cook evenly.

11. Flip blintzes and cook on the other side for about 2 minutes more, or until they are also golden.

12. In a separate small pan, (I just used the one I had for the blintzes) add the berries and honey and cook over low-medium heat so that the berries release their juices and it becomes like a compote.

13. To serve, put the blintzes on a plate and drizzle with the berry compote.  (Optional: add a dusting of powdered sugar.) Serve immediately!

Filling recipe from: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/ricotta-blintzes-with-berry-compote.html

Crepe and Assembly recipe from: Breakfast Comforts, by Rick Rodgers

Mixed Berry Scones

Berry Scones2

When I was growing up, fruit and vegetables had distinct seasons and everything we cooked or baked was dependent on that. Frozen foods were still in their infancy and while my mother was a wonderful cook and baker, if you can believe it, having a Swanson’s TV dinner was considered a BIG deal. With global markets food seasons are something of the past. Unless I am shopping farmers’ markets, I can get beautiful berries and flavorful tomatoes all year-long. However, even with changing weather patterns, winter is still winter, summer is still summer and spring, while totally unpredictable is still spring. Chicago’s spring has been chilly and damp on some days and summer-warm on others, but it is still spring and the trees have that new green and the first flowers are blooming. All of this makes me want to start using berries in everything. However, I have learned over the years, that if the berries are going to be mixed through a batter or dough that it is actually preferable to bake with frozen fruit, which also tends to be somewhat more consistent than fresh. The fruit will squish less, keeping the integrity of the berry. (I still buy and eat fresh berries every day and enjoy those fragile and delicious farmers’ market strawberries when I am lucky enough to find them.)

I wanted to make something that ticked all of my boxes and decided on these mixed berry scones.  The recipe comes from two recipes: Cook’s Country and the Pioneer Woman with a some tweaks from me. They will work for breakfast, brunch or afternoon “tea.” And while they may look heavy, they are actually remarkably light, not overly sweet and bursting with berries.

Mixed Berry Scones adapted from Cook’s Country and The Pioneer Woman

Yield: About 8 large scones

Ingredients

Scones

1 ¾ cups (8 3/4 ounces) frozen mixed berries

3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, chilled

1/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces) granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream

1.5 Tablespoons berry jam

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 large egg

Glaze

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon honey

Directions

  1. FOR THE SCONES: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. If your berry mix contains strawberries, cut them in half or quarters. Toss berries with confectioners’ sugar in bowl; freeze until needed.
  2. Combine flour, 6 tablespoons butter, granulated sugar, baking powder, orange zest and salt in food processor and process until butter is fully incorporated, about 15 seconds. Add remaining 6 tablespoons butter and pulse until butter is reduced to pea-size pieces, 15 to 20 pulses. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Stir in berries.
  3. Beat milk, preserves and egg together in separate bowl. Make well in center of flour mixture and pour in milk mixture. Using rubber spatula, gently stir mixture, scraping from edges of bowl and folding inward until very shaggy dough forms and some bits of flour remain. Do not over mix.
  4. Turn out dough onto well-floured counter and, if necessary, knead briefly until dough just comes together, about 3 turns. Using your floured hands and bench scraper, shape dough into 12 by 4-inch rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches tall. Using knife or bench scraper, cut dough crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally into 2 triangles (you should have 8 large scones total). Transfer scones to prepared sheet.

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  5. Bake until scones are lightly golden on top, 16 to 18 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
  6. FOR THE GLAZE: While scones bake, combine melted butter and honey in small bowl.
  7. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Remove scones from oven and brush tops evenly with glaze mixture. Return scones to oven and continue to bake until golden brown on top, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Transfer scones to wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve as is or with Devonshire cream and more honey or jam. Berry Scones

Gingerbread

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When my son was growing up, I used to take great joy in treating him (and my husband) to home-baked goods. But even as someone who loves to bake, sometimes I just wanted something simple and fast that I could put together no matter how late is was or how tired I was. This gingerbread recipe comes from my trusty James Beard on Bread book. It is simple, delicious, makes the house smell the way houses should smell when you walk into them and did I say it was simple?? I’m sure that you can “tart” it up as everyone seems to feel a need to do today, but trust me when I say that it needs NOTHING except maybe some additional fresh, sweet butter. Serve it with dinner instead of a roll or as an afternoon snack with a glass of milk or with a cup of tea or coffee for breakfast. But serve it! And good news for those with egg allergies – there are no eggs in this recipe.

Gingerbread 

Yield: One 9 x 9-inch pan

Ingredients

1 cup light or dark, unsulphured molasses (I use dark)

1/2 cup boiling water

5 Tablespoons softened, unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups, all-purpose, unbleached flour

Directions

  1. Place the molasses and softened butter in a medium mixing bowl. (A trick for measuring out the molasses is to lightly spray a glass measuring cup with a spray like PAM and then add the molasses. The molasses will pour right out. This works with honey as well.)
  2. Add the boiling water and stir until well mixed and the butter has melted.
  3. Add the baking soda and stir lightly.
  4. Sift in the flour, ginger and salt only enough to moisten and mix the ingredients. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfectly smooth. Do not over mix!
  5. Turn into an ungreased 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan and place in a cold oven. Set the temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes (ovens vary) or until the top springs back when lightly pressed and the bread begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Then inhale. This can be eaten immediately. Leftovers are also good but nothing beats it fresh from the oven. Gingerbread2

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

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I have been making this uber-rich, super simple coffee cake for almost 50 years. Yikes! And it is still one of THE best coffee cakes I have ever had. I recently thought I had lost the recipe and went trolling the internet for it. While I found recipes with the same ingredients, the proportions were entirely different. I wish that I could say that I recall where it originated but in checking, I couldn’t find this exact recipe anywhere. Fortunately, I found the recipe in one of my hand-written cook book collections that I had made years ago. So my apologies in advance to the creator of this wonderful cake.

Because the ingredients are few, it is essential that you use only the best quality unsalted butter and sour cream that isn’t filled with guar gum or other thickeners. And please don’t substitute margarine or light sour cream or even thick yogurt. They might make a decent cake, but it won’t be THIS cake. Yes, it is rich. No, it will not be on the approved heart healthy diet. But it is sooooooooooo good that if you are going to splurge once in a while, do it right. And this cake can easily be frozen. It also lasts a long time on its own when properly wrapped. And because it is so rich, even small slivers are incredibly satisfying. This cake is the real deal.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake  IMG_2996

Yield: 1 bundt cake

Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature – I used Kerry Gold

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup, full-fat sour cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I used walnuts this time but have also used pecans other times)

1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (This can be done by hand, but is much easier if you use a standing mixer on low speed.) Beat in eggs one at a time.
  3. Add sour cream and vanilla and beat on low speed just until mixed.
  4. Slowly add the flour, baking powder and salt, scraping down the bowl as you go.
  5. Combine the 4 teaspoons sugar, cinnamon and chopped nuts in a small bowl and set aside.
  6. Grease and sugar a bundt pan or use one of the sprays like PAM or Baker’s Joy that has flour in it. (I recently discovered these and I am never going back to anything else. Nothing sticks.) Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with a few tablespoons of the nut mixture. Add about 1/3 of the batter and spread it evenly. Sprinkle about half of the nut mixture over the batter. Cover with another third of the batter and cover that with the nut mixture. End with batter. Give the pan a tap on the counter to settle things.
  7. Bake about an hour or until golden brown and a tester comes out clean. My oven needs to be calibrated so it actually took me 1.25 hours this time.
  8. Remove to a cooling rack and wait 10 minutes before turning out of the pan. IMG_3001

Kale and Mushroom Quiche

img_2811When I was a little girl, we actually invited our teachers home. It was always very exciting to have a teacher join us for lunch and my mother would make Quiche Lorraine, which at the time was considered rather exotic. It was also delicious. Over the years quiche went out of fashion, especially after it had become these awful, super-sized things that didn’t resemble a real quiche in any way except by name.

I was at the grocery store yesterday and they happened to have these beautiful bunches of organic kale on sale and I simply couldn’t resist. I bought one bunch to saute with garlic as a side vegetable, one bunch was earmarked for my Sunshine Kale Salad and I still had one bunch with nothing particular in mind what I should do with it. After giving it some thought, I decided to make a kale and mushroom quiche. This dish could easily be a lovely vegetarian lunch or supper or you could add some crispy bacon as I have. This version is not my mother’s Quiche Lorraine, but I think she would have been proud to serve it. I will serve it with focaccia and a salad loaded with tomatoes and sweet peppers. You can, of course, purchase pastry, but I like to make my own.

Kale and Mushroom Quiche with Bacon

Yield: One 10-inch savory tart

Ingredients

Pastry for 10-inch tart

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 cup cold solid white shortening (Lard, if you like, or Crisco)

3 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter

3 to 4 Tablespoons ice water

Filling

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter and 1 Tablespoon EVOO (or bacon drippings)

1 medium onion or large shallot, thinly sliced (you should have a good cup)

1 large clove of garlic, minced – about 1 teaspoon

1/2 teaspoon packed brown sugar

1 large bunch of curly kale (green or purple), with the leaves torn off of the stems into smallish pieces

8 ounces of mushrooms, thinly sliced and chopped in half if the pieces are large

7 slices of bacon, cooked until crispy but with some chew

4 large eggs

3/4 cup milk (I am using non-fat)

1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/3 cup grated Parmesan, Gruyere, Asiago or Pecorino (I used Pecorino with truffles, because I had some on hand)

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

NOTE: I think when I make this again, I may increase the amount of custard. I would do this by adding 1 additional egg, for a total of 5 eggs, as well as increasing the milk/cream mixture to a total of 2 cups total. Of course, you could also reduce your filling to 2 cups, but honestly, why would you?! While the photo doesn’t show it, the custard actually coats every piece of kale. The amount you use is purely personal.

Directions

For the pastry

  1. Put the flour and salt into the container of a food processor or a mixing bowl.
  2. Add the white shortening and butter and pulse while gradually adding the ice water.
  3. Add only enough water so that the dough comes clean from the sides of the container and can be handled. Shape into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper and chill for at least one hour. This can be made a day ahead and kept refrigerated.

For the Quiche

  1. When you are ready to bake the quiche, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Roll out the pastry and line a 10-inch quiche pan or pie plate. (The pastry needs to be sufficiently malleable when you roll it out or like me, you will spend a lot of time patching. It’s fine to patch since it won’t show in the end product, but if it makes you anxious, allow the dough to warm up a little before attempting to roll it out.) Line the pastry with foil. Add dried beans, rice or pie weights to keep the bottom from puffing up. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and the weights. You can allow the beans or rice to cool and they can be stored for future use. You just can’t eat them!
  3. Meanwhile, cook the bacon, drain and coarsely chop it. Then heat the butter and EVOO in a large skillet (or use the bacon drippings) and add the onion and mushrooms. Sprinkle with brown sugar, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring until wilted. Add the garlic and stir through. Add the kale, with barely any of the water that sticks to the leaves after washing and cook, tossing gently until the kale begins to wilt. You can cover the pan for a few minutes to speed the process up. You want to uncover towards the end to reduce any liquid from the mushrooms. Since my kale was pretty dry when it went in, the liquid given off from the mushrooms was just enough to cook things so that the end product was moist but not liquidy. img_2799img_2801
  4. Break the eggs into a mixing bowl or large measuring cup and add some salt and pepper to taste. Beat well with a whisk, adding the milk and cream in a stream. (If there was a lot of liquid in the kale mixture, try to only add the solids, discarding the liquid.)
  5. Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.
  6. Distribute the kale mixture over the bottom of the pastry. You want to use about 3 cups of filling. (If you have any extra it can be cooked with scrambled eggs or in a tofu scramble.) Pour the custard mixture evenly over the kale and sprinkle with the cheese. Place the quiche pan on a baking pan and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional 15 minutes. There should be just the slightest of jiggle in the center. Do not over bake. The custard will continue cooking after it comes out of the oven. Allow the quiche to cool to room temperature before serving. img_2807