Old-fashioned blueberry cake

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

When I made the decision to start eating healthy again, I never imagined what would be the first cake recipe to fall in my lap. It is almost as if fate meant for me to make a diet change right at that very instant, meant for me to sort through our bins of whole grain flours, meant for me to skip right over the white sugar—and even the brown sugar, and land on a jar of unsulfured molasses. It meant for me to be browsing 101 Cookbooks at that very minute and open I recipe I had never thought to open before, despite the many times I have scoured the site for wholesome baked goods and sorted though dinner recipes, even knowing that I would never cook them because, let’s face it, I don’t cook. But at that very moment, I opened up this recipe for Old-Fashioned Blueberry Cake and I knew the palate had changed.

If you do not love molasses, I suggest you stop here. This cake is not for you. It is entirely sweetened with molasses, which lends it a deep, dark color, so dark in fact you would swear it’s chocolate on looking at it. But that first bite, through the crunch of the walnut topping, reveals that that darkness is not chocolate at all. And you are not disappointed at the discovery. Because just when you thought someone so healthy could not be so deeply satisfying, you take another bite of cake and the flavors that were so unexpected in the first bite become wonderfully addicting in the second. It’s rustic, it’s hearty, it’s not for the faint-hearted (in the flavor sense of the idea, not in the butter content) and it’s, dare I say it, pretty quaint. And it’s one of those cakes that you have to cut off three tablespoons of butter from the stick, instead of just throwing the entire stick (or two) in the bowl. Have you ever noticed that most recipes call for either ½ cup or 1 cup of butter, conveniently the size of a stick of butter or two? I wonder who came up with that. Was it the recipe writers or the butter packagers?

But back on subject, you should make this cake. With more blueberries than I used, because blueberries have a habit of disappearing (read: I have a habit of eating them by the handful) when I am baking with them. And with the chopped walnuts on top, though I think many other nuts would do, sprinkled with (okay, I admit it) maybe a teaspoon of brown sugar. And bake it in one of your prettiest pans, because this cake deserves it.

This cake accompanied me to my old high school’s English office, alongside my travel journal, which I have been jamming full of sights, restaurants and many, many bakeries, to visit during the coming year. I have a Paris section (of course) and a Provence section (of course). And then there is Venice and Wales and Barcelona. And so many others that I am afraid I am trying to go everywhere, but I just can’t pick up a travel magazine and not want to go everywhere it writes about. I wonder if the French like molasses. I packed a jar of peanut butter and another of maple syrup, but now I am on the plane wondering if I needed to bring molasses too. I hope not.

Old-Fashioned Blueberry Cake
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
5 tablespoons milk (divided)
1/2 cup unsulphered molasses
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, barely melted

1 1/2 cups blueberries, frozen (I freeze fresh berries)
1 teaspoon flour

For the topping:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or a small rectangular pan.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a small bowl combine the cider vinegar with 3 tablespoons of the milk. In another bowl combine the molasses with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk. Add the cider vinegar mixture into the molasses mixture, then whisk in the eggs.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just barely combined. Stir in the butter. Fold the blueberries, tossed with the small amount of flour, into the batter. Top the batter with the chopped walnuts and sprinkle with the brown sugar.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about thirty minutes or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.

San Francisco Summer Days: Farmers’ market

May 30, 2010 § 1 Comment

This morning I sat down with this list of 250 things to do in San Francisco before you die and realized it is epically hard to not eat in this city. I mean, have pumpkin ravioli at L’Osteria, buy a heap of cheap avocados at Casa Lucas, and grab a Vietnamese sandwich from Saigon Sandwiches?

These are just three of the many, many items of the list that have to do with eating. So instead of checking out all these bakeries and restaurants and groceries that 7×7 has decided are necessities for San Franciscans, I decided to revisit some of the places that I remember from my childhood.

When I was younger, the Ferry Plaza farmers’ market didn’t exist. Rather a smaller, more intimate market existed in a parking lot in the Embarcadero. We used to go every Saturday morning fairly early. My mom would shop for produce and I’d buy a couple small items, always the same.

Honey straws, in a multitude of flavors though my favorites were watermelon and root beer, and cinnamon twists from the Noe Valley Bakery stand. Now the farmers’ market has moved to the Ferry Building and with this move, it has become a must-see for many tourists. Navigating the crowds can be annoying, but it is hard to find this much food in one spot in the city.

Even as farmers’ markets spring up in every neighborhood of San Francisco, I’m still clinging to the original. Which, I guess, isn’t really the original anymore.

To you, with love: Lemon blueberry cheesecake bars

April 30, 2010 § 3 Comments

If there is one thing I’ve learned this semester, it’s that there are people who come and go and there are people who will be there forever. There are people who are worth your time and there are people who are just…not. This semester, I’ve relied quite a bit on my two best friends scattered about the East Coast, the ones who drop everything and invite me up to visit when I call them crying. And there are my friends here, who are willing to sit around on a Thursday night while I, mid social life freakout, bake up a batch of cheesecake squares.

With the end of classes, I have twelve days left at school for the year. Visions of next year are still dancing around in my head; I’m becoming overwhelmed by all the options that are open to me. Being typically indecisive, I’m not sure what direction to go in but I know that a whole year to figure that out can only be good for me. And I know now what I have at this school — some of the best friends in the entire world — which maybe makes it an itsy-bitsy bit harder to leave.

So this one is for you all, because there is no better way to say thank you than with lemon and blueberries and cheesecake. I first stumbled upon this recipe a couple months ago and thought these squares were positively adorable. Somehow, I never made them back then. But somehow, I keep clicking on links that lead back to them — so here they are, finally. The lemon cuts the richness of the cheesecake, making them a perfect lighter dessert for summer. I love blueberries in anything, and here they are perfect little bursts of juice. I used whipped cream cheese, which I was worried about but it worked just fine. The one thing I would change next time is to increase the amount of graham crust as I found it wasn’t sturdy enough to hold up the filling. That said, there’s really no need for sturdiness, as one of my hallmates proved when she took a fork to the entire pan.

The recipe comes from Kesha at Shared Sugar. Her pictures are beautiful, check them out here.

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from Tyler Florence
Makes 9 bars

To make the crust:
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
9 graham crackers
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

To make the filling:
16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 eggs
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Butter the bottom and sides of an 8 by 8 inch baking pan. Cut two pieces of parchment paper in rectangles long enough to extend up the sides of the pan (so later you can use them as tabs to pull out the finished cheesecake bars). Place the parchment paper in the buttered pan cross-wise and press it into the corners.

Crush up the graham crackers in to dime size pieces or smaller crumbs. In a bowl, mix the sugar, cinnamon and graham crackers. Add the melted butter and mix until the butter is incorporated. Pour the mixture into the baking pan and evenly press it into the bottom of the pan and about a 1/4 inch on the sides. Use a glass or another smooth surface to disperse the graham cracker mixture. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes.

In a bowl with an electric mixer, add the cream cheese, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar. Mix until the ingredients are creamy and the cream cheese is fully incorporated. Pour into the pan with the cooled crust. Then evenly distribute the blueberries.

Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the cheesecake comes out mostly clean. Only allow the top to get a hint of brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Then refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the pan using the parchment paper.

When in doubt, change the name: Lemon blueberry flan bites

April 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s funny how two years ago, as a spring semester high school senior, it was all the rage to want to escape home. We were all so eager to leave, bored, restless and anxious for the future. Since then, I’ve had many panicked moments thinking about the future but home is no longer a place to be escaped. I flew home yesterday morning. After all the stress of the past few weeks — and the screaming babies sitting behind me for the entire six-hour flight — all I’ve wanted to do is bake cakes. I’ve spent the past day in and out of bed and the kitchen. But if I was expecting to be comforted by the predictability of baking, it was not meant to be.

I picked the lemon-blueberry yogurt cake from one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. I had recently made her almond blueberry cake — and a pear hazelnut spin-off with dark chocolate chips — for a dinner party and so I went into the recipe with high expectations. I choose to make mini-muffins instead of the full cake, and topped them with a sprinkle of toasted coconut and the suggested lemon glaze. I added a couple extra teaspoons of lemon zest and splash of lemon juice to the batter for extra tartness. They were delicious, but a little unexpected: the texture of the muffins was much more like a flan than a cake. I admit to opening the oven and checking on them every couple minutes because I just couldn’t understand why they weren’t rising in the oven.

I have a couple theories to why they turned out this way. I did not adjust the baking temperature for the first batch of muffins, which could have contributed to them not cooking evenly through. The blueberries were also slightly damp when I folded them into the batter, making for a denser crumb. Nonetheless, these were beautiful sweet-tart bites that were a hit with the team.

Here’s the recipe from Smitten Kitchen (or go visit her site):

Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Loaf
Adapted loosely from Ina Garten

1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (if you’re skipping the fruit, you can also skip the last tablespoon of flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed (miniature wild blueberries are great for this, and pose the least risk of sinking)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and oil. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix the blueberries with the remaining tablespoon of flour, and fold them very gently into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 (+) minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping out onto a cooling rack. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in (a pastry brush works great for this, as does using a toothpick to make tiny holes that draw the syrup in better). Cool.

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