Good Morning, Blueberry Corn Muffins

A basket of warm blueberry muffins on the breakfast table is a romantic notion, but in fact it's quite easy to execute. You can mix them up as quickly as pancakes and they bake for just twenty minutes--long enough to brew coffee and set the table (or wash your face and put some pants on).

I grew up a quarter mile from a u-pick blueberry farm, just across the river. When I was little, my whole family would walk down the road with pails and fill them up with berries, plopping and plinking the fruit into our mouths and buckets. Muffins, pies and jams followed. When I was old enough to walk to the blueberry farm by myself, I'd bring along my pet goats and tie them up to a fencepost while I picked. What a silly sight we must have been!

The freezer is still full of blueberries whenever I visit my folks. Making blueberry muffins always takes me home. 


Blueberry Corn Muffins

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup fine cornmeal

1 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup melted butter

1 1/4 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

1/4 cup flour

1 tablespoon demerara (raw) sugar 

scant 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

 

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. 

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and soda, salt, and sugar.

3. In a smaller bowl, beat the egg; mix in the milk, and then the butter. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing as little as possible. Lumps are ok! Toss the blueberries with 1/4 cup flour, then fold them in too.

4. Divide the batter evenly into the 12 muffin cups. Mix the demerara sugar and cinammon in a small bowl, then sprinkle the mixture over the tops of the muffins.

5. Put the muffins in the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, rotate the pan, then bake the muffin for 10 more minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and the tops are browned a little.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature. These will keep for a day or two wrapped in a clean dish towel.

 

Hannah's Hint: The key to tender muffins is not to mix too much! 

 

Soothing Sorbet

Cool melon and mint, slushy and a little sweet: this may be the most refreshing thing I’ve ever eaten! Sorbet is quite easy to make if you have an ice cream maker. If you don't, the same mixture makes fantastic ice pops. I suggest you try some of both!

 

Cantaloupe & Mint Sorbet

  • ½ cantaloupe (about 1 ½ pounds)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • ¾ cup mint simple syrup (recipe follows)
  • small mint sprigs for garnish 

1. Cut the cantaloupe into cubes–you should have about 4 cups–and put it in a blender. Add the lime juice and syrup. Blend until smooth.

2. Churn in an ice cream maker until it holds together. Serve immediately, garnished with mint sprigs. Whatever you can’t eat right away you can thaw and re-churn, or freeze as ice pops.

 

Mint Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • one bunch mint, stems removed

1. Stir together the boiling water and sugar to dissolve; this is your simple syrup. Put it in the refrigerator until it’s cool to the touch.

 2. Add the mint to the cooled simple syrup. Steep for at least an hour, but ideally overnight. Strain, and discard the leaves. This syrup will keep well for a few weeks, and is wonderful for sorbets and summer cocktails like mint juleps.

 

Marinated Strawberries with Chantilly Cream and Basil

Sometimes you don't need the shortcake to serve fruit and cream. If it's too hot to turn on the oven, or you are short on time, just serve them up without it. Layer berries and whipped cream in glasses if you want it to look fancy, or present generous bowls for guests to serve themselves from.
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Fluffy White Frosting

After the third time I lost the recipe for Fluffy White Frosting, I was too embarrassed to ask my friend Cora’s mom to write it down for me again. I was about 10 years old then–Cora and I were baking buddies–and I’ve been thinking about that frosting ever since. Today I wanted to ice cake without leaving my house to buy confectioners sugar, and I remembered that roux-based frosting, so I googled it (google wasn’t a verb yet when I was 10). I found a recipe right away, and it was as easy to make as to find. It’s as wonderful as I recall–less sugary than butter icing, with a texture like silky whipped cream, and stable enough to hold up on a hot day.

Fluffy White Frosting belongs on a magnificent Southern cake, at least three layers high, slathered on in swirls, and perhaps dusted with coconut. But today I put it on cupcakes, and finally discovered the solution to an age old problem: the amount of icing that looks right on a cupcake is far more than what tastes good. Fluffy White Frosting is less toothachingly sweet than buttercream, so the balance of looks and taste is perfect. Why didn’t I just pick up the phone years ago? That was the age before not just google as a verb but cell phones in every pocket, so I still know my friend's home phone number by heart.

Fluffy White Frosting

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla

1. Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a small saucepan. Whisk in the milk. Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly. Let it just come to a simmer, then turn it down to keep it just below simmering. When it yellows a little, loses some of its opacity, and no longer tastes like raw flour, remove it from the heat. Whisk the mixture with an electric mixer until it cools completely.

2. Cut the butter into little pieces, and add them one at a time with the mixer running until all the butter is incorporated. Continue to mix for 3-5 more minutes, on medium-high speed, until perfectly smooth and very fluffy. Mix in the vanilla.

Rhubarb: Three Memories and a Recipe

Our rhubarb plant, with it’s dark green umbrella-like leaves shooting out from brilliant ruby stalks, grew lushly in the back corner of the garden, across from the compost pile and the raspberry patch. Even the chickens wouldn’t eat the toxic greenery, but my mom had taught me to break off the stems and dip them in sugar for a sweet-tart treat (and the leaves made a nice parasol for a little girls). My mouth still puckers just thinking about it.
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Homemade Grenadine (it's really easy)

Did you love Shirley Temples too? I thought they were the height of sophistication (those and shrimp cocktails). Neon red cherries in syrupy soda might not seem so appealing now, but homemade grenadine could pave the way to a grown-up version (or something you won't feel bad about serving your kids). It's a key ingredient in a lot of classic cocktails too.

Homemade Grenadine
This grenadine is easy to make and WAAYYYYY better than store-bought.

  • 16 oz bottle POM Wonderful
  • about 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons vodka (optional)

1. Pour off half the juice so the remainder reaches the waist of the bottle (drink what you’ve poured off or save it for something else).  Fill the bottle to the top of the next bulge, just below the neck, with superfine sugar. Screw the cap back on.

2. Shake fiercely until the sugar dissolves. It’s important to use superfine sugar, or this step will take all day. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the pomegranate molasses and vodka, if using. Shake to combine. Keeps refrigerated for months.

Note: sometimes I add a few drops of rose water too.

Goat Milk Custard with Pomegranate Molasses

Goat Milk Custard with Pomegranate Molasses

You know when you travel somewhere foreign, but there's something about the place that makes you feel like you've come home? That's how pomegranate molasses tastes to me. Its sweet floral tang is mysteriously familiar. I find myself mixing it with seltzer, substituting it for balsamic vinegar and adding it to desserts–even sneaking a spoonful from the fridge now and then.

Pomegranate molasses might sound exotic to American cooks, but it’s cheap and pretty easy to find. Middle Eastern markets stock it right next to the rose water and orange blossom water (at 1/3 the price they sell for at Whole Foods, you might want to pick those up too).

Here's a sweet recipe to get you started–Goat Milk Custard with Pomegranate Molasses. Serve this effortless and sophisticated dessert to impress dinner guests. While the ingredients may seem exotic, the preparation is simple. You don’t even have to turn the oven on.

Goat Milk Custard with Pomegranate Molasses

  • 4 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1-2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup goat milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla, or seeds scraped from on vanilla bean
  • fresh pomegranate seeds for garnish

1. Pour one tablespoon of pomegranate molasses into each of four small ramekins. Set aside.

2. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the yolks, egg and sugar until well mixed and a little frothy. Slowly whisk in the milk. Stir in the salt.

3. Gently warm the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly. When it begins to thicken watch closely, it will cook fast. Turn off the heat when it’s about not quite as thick as runny yogurt. Whisk in the vanilla.

4. Carefully spoon or pour the custard into the ramekins, dividing it equally between them. Place them in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, until set. They’re best consumed within a day, but will keep for a few days.

5. Sprinkle some fresh pomegranate seeds on top before serving.

 

Easy as…?

 

There are two contradictory myths about pie. On the one hand many people are intimidated to make it because they’ve heard it’s so hard. On the other hand there’s the saying “easy as pie.” The truth lies somewhere in the middle. With a few clever tricks and a basic understanding of crust chemistry, anyone can make a good pie. The crust is the trickiest part, the rest is easy as… pie.

My recipe makes a great crust, and is simple enough to memorize after making it a few times. You’re likely to make pie more often with a really great recipe that is easy to use than with a perfect recipe that is a pain in the ass.

Knowing how to handle your dough becomes easier when you understand what’s going on inside of it. The essential components of pie crust are flour, butter, and water. Proteins in wheat flour link together and line up into chains that hold dough together: this is what makes bread chewy. Two things activate this process, water and mixing or kneading. In a crust, you want barely enough connections to hold it together; otherwise, it will become tough.

Little pieces of butter between layers of the dough create steam during baking that makes air pockets. That’s what makes a crust flaky. If the butter is too soft or you work it too much, it will coat all the flour, preventing protein connections.  Then you end up with crust that’s crumbly instead of flaky. The key to success is keeping your ingredients cold.



Hannah’s Recipe for Pie Crust

(makes one double crust or two open pies)


2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
2 cups flour, dipped and swept*
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
ice water
more flour for rolling out the dough


*usually, baking recipes assume that you have spooned the flour into a dry measuring cup and leveled it off, to avoid packing it and getting too much. In this case I want you to dip your cup right into the flour and then sweep off the excess, so you’re actually getting a little extra flour.

1. Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl or freezer bag. Put this in the freezer for about 20 minutes. You could even do this the day before.

2. Cut the butter into thin slices, toss them quickly with the chilled flour. Put this back in the freezer for about 5 minutes (go make yourself a cup of tea or watch a YouTube video)

3. Ice about ½ cup water in a measuring cup. You’ll probably only use half of it.


4. Now you’re going to work the butter into the flour. Run some cold water over your hands and dry them thoroughly. Use your thumbs and forefingers to quickly press the butter into thin flour-coated sheets. Keep this up until the whole mixture looks like various sized bread crumbs, leaving some butter flakes as big as coins.
If at any point you feel the butter melting, put the bowl back in the freezer for a few minutes before continuing.

5. Sprinkle the iced water into the flour mixture, a little at a time. Toss it into the flour mixture, handling the dough as little as possible. Once you’ve added about ¼ cup, try pressing the dough into a ball. It should be crumbly and dry, but just moist enough to clump together. Add a little more water if you need to, but don’t make it too wet! Remember, water helps connect proteins and makes the dough chewy.

6. Divide the crumbly-but-moistened dough roughly in half, and dump each onto a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap. Using the sheet, press one lump of dough into a disk, then the other. Wrap them each, and refrigerate. The longer they rest, the easier they will be to handle. Overnight is ideal, two hours is good enough, and one hour is barely doable. The dough keeps well in an airtight bag in the fridge for a few days, and in the freezer for a few months.

7. If you’ve looked at other pie recipes, you may have noticed that mine uses less flour. That’s because I like to use a lot of flour to roll it out. Liberally sprinkle flour on the surface where you’ll roll out your crust. Dust your rolling pin too, and both sides of one disk of dough. Roll it to a little less than ¼ inch, pushing from the middle to the edges as you roll. Sprinkle more flour as needed to prevent sticking.

8. Fold the dough in quarters so it’s easier to transfer to the pie plate. Drop it into the pie plate and unfold it. If you are making an open pie, fold and crimp the edges as you like, but make sure the dough doesn’t drape over the edge of the pan. Put it in the freezer until you are ready to fill and bake it.

9. If you are making a double crust pie, roll out the other disk and lay it on a baking sheet (lined with parchment or dusted with flour. Refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to fill and bake your pie.

10) From here, follow the directions of your recipe based on whatever filling you are using.


A few more tips:

a) For fuit pies, preheat to 500, with a cookie sheet directly on the bottom of your oven. Put the pie on it, then turn the oven down to the recommended baking temperature. This helps prevent a soggy bottom. You may want to move it to the middle of the oven half way through baking.

b) Freeze your crust (or your whole pie if it’s fruit-filled) before baking to keep it crisp.

c) Keep a cookie sheet under the pie while baking to prevent butter from dripping, burning, and setting off your smoke alarm.

d) Cut a circle of foil a little bigger than the rim of your pie plate. Cut a 4-5 inch diameter hole in the middle of the circle. Now you have a 2 inch thick ring. Use it to cover the edges of your pie towards the end of baking to prevent burning.



Questions? Leave a comment!

Saturday Sweets: Halloween Cookies

Sleet was splattering against the windows and slush piling up in the street as we baked Halloween cookies this Saturday. With snow coming down and the smell of warm cider wafting from mugs, we may as well have been making Christmas cookies! This basic recipe can be cut into any shape you like, or made into logs and sliced before baking. Plan ahead: you can make this dough up to two days in advance, and you will need to chill it for at least two hours before baking. The most fun part, for children and adults alike, is decorating each cookie with colored icings and sprinkles!

 

for the cookies

4 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon if using table salt)

(1 tsp cinnamon, optional)*

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature.

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

(zest of one lemon, optional)*

*use either lemon or cinnamon

 

for the icing

confectioner’s sugar

cream or milk

food coloring

 

1. Set out all your ingredients to allow them to reach room temperature. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and (if you’re using it) cinnamon.

2. Cream the butter and gradually add the sugar, beat until soft and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the lemon zest last, if you’re using it.

3. Mix in the flour about a cup at a time, just until thoroughly combined.

4. Form the dough into 2 disks (or more if you don’t have much space to roll out the dough). Wrap them up. Refrigerate for at least two hours, and up to two days.

5. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees farenheit. Line a few baking sheets with baking parchment.

6. Sprinkle a little flour on each side of one of the disks. Place it between two pieces of wax paper or parchment and roll it out until it’s about 1/4 inch thick. Dip your cookie cutters in flour to keep them from sticking, and cut out cookies. Place them about an inch apart on the cookie sheet. Save the scraps to roll out again. Repeat until you’ve used all your dough. If the cookies are really soft, put the tray in the refrigerator until they firm up.

7. Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, rotating once so they cook evenly. They’re done when they turn golden brown around the edges.

8. Let the cookies cool before you ice them. To make icing, gradually stir cream or milk into a small bowl of confectioner’s sugar until it’s a smooth, spreadable texture, but not too runny. Add more cream or sugar as needed, and color however you like. Have fun applying icing and sprinkles!

 

hint #1: If you don’t have a rolling pin, use a wine bottle.

hint #2: Make a disposable pastry bag out of a Ziplock bag. Cut a tiny hole in one coner and fill the bag with icing. Twist the open end and squeeze to apply icing. To “flood” a cookie, outline the area you want iced, and then fill it in.

 

Saturday Sweets: Pumpkin Bread

 

I remember my dad's pumpkin muffins as a special childhood treat. He made them in a dinosaur mold! I crave them when the first fall chill blows in. For all I know he only made them a few times, but memory has made them a tradition. This recipe is for pumpkin bread, but could just as easily be made as [dinosaur shaped] muffins. With my baking class, I used tiny loaf pans (they're meant to be disposable, but I wash and reuse them). Adjust your baking time according to the pans you use: less time the smaller they are.

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 6 mini loaf pans, or two regular ones.

2) Whisk together in a large bowl:

3 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 ½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

½ tsp ground allspice

2 tsp salt

1 cup sugar

3) In a separate bowl, whisk these together one at a time, until smooth:

4 large eggs

1 cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 can pumkin (15 oz)

1 2/3 cups buttermilk

4) Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, just enough to moisten everything. Don’t stir too much! Lumps are ok.

5) Divide the batter amongst the pans.

6) Bake for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs.

 

Bakers Without Borders

Cupcakes are more American than pie; yet they tap into nostalgia and delight that is virtually universal. Marie-Cecile fell in love red velvet while staying in Manhattan last year, and hasn’t had one since. Making cupcakes in France is more challenging than you might think, but not half as hard as finding them.  

Marie-Cecile is my hostess in the Rhone countryside. She’s been serving me meals of tomatoes from her parents’ garden, crackly baguettes, super-local cheeses and exquisite wine. This is my chance to thank her: I’m going to teach her to make cupcakes!

But modifying an American cupcake recipe for a French kitchen is a multilayered challenge. We translate the ingredients, find substitutions for things that aren’t available, convert the measurements to metric, and cut the recipe in half. She has no idea what “baking soda” is until I look up the chemical name, “ah-ha! bicarbonate!” It’s much less common here than baking powder. We can only find red food dye in tiny bottles packaged with other colors. And buttermilk? As far as I can tell it’s not sold at all, so we sour fresh milk with a little vinegar.

With so many conversions, it would be really easy to change a quantity and not notice–until you bake the cakes and they fail. Marie-Cecile is already on the phone boasting to her family about the treats we’re making, while I secretly wring my hands and wish for success. Miraculously, they turn out beautifully on our first attempt! The recipe follows.

 getting started

 

we didn't have a great mixing bowl, so we improvised to prevent splattering

 

light and fluffy

 

...plus one yolk

 

flour, milk, flour, milk, flour

 

 about 2/3 full

 

perfect! it's important to taste before serving

 

icing on the cake

 

Marie-Cecile with her cupcakes!

 

 

French Red Velvet Cupcakes

makes about 12

 

210 g flour

3.5 g sodium bicarbonate

23 g unsweetened cocoa

pinch salt

 

160 mL milk

15 mL cider vinegar

45 mL red food coloring

6 mL vanilla extract

 

90 g butter

200 g sugar

1 egg plus 1 yolk

 

Set your ingredients out to allow them to reach room temperature. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Prepare a muffin tin with cupcake liners, or use freestanding aluminum cups lined up on a cookie sheet.

Gently warm the milk until tepid, not hot. Add the vinegar, then the food coloring and vanilla.

Whisk together the flour, bicarbonate, cocoa and salt, eliminating any lumps.

Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until uniformly light and fluffy. If you are using a hand held mixer, this may take a while (5 to 10 minutes): be patient. The mixture will change texture and color. Then, add the egg and yolk and mix until smooth. 

Stir in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions of the buttermilk mixture. Mix just until smooth.

Fill the cups about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating once. Check with a toothpick or sharp knife to see if they are done: it should come out clean, or with just a few crumbs.

 

 

Cream Cheese Icing


1 package Philadelphia cream cheese, or Neufchatel, or something similar

1 stick butter

powdered confectioner’s sugar, equal volume or to taste

1 tsp vanilla

The butter and cheese need to be at room temperature. Use an electric mixer to whip the cream cheese and butter together. Gradually whip in sugar, until the mixture is stiff enough to spread on cupcakes, and tastes like icing. If it gets too stiff, add a tiny bit of milk or cream.

Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before icing them. If it’s a really hot day, or you will be travelling with these, put the iced cupcakes in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set the icing.