blueberry butter cake

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We’ve been in Calgary here in Canada for 4 days, and I’ve been looking forward to berries of any kind: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. So I dressed up my mother-in-law’s butter cake with 2 cups of fresh blueberries. It came out lightly sweet, just right for a summer cake, and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which was sweeter.

Blueberry Butter Cake

Have at room temperature:
1 pound butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups fresh blueberries
Powdered sugar for dusting, optional

Pre-heat the oven 325˚F/180˚C. Grease and flour one 9×13 inch baking dish or a 10-cup bundt cake pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and vanilla. Add the sugar all at once and cream until fluffy and light. Add the eggs one at a time until just combined.

In another large bowl whisk together the flour and baking powder. Add the flour in 3 batches to the butter mixture. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and tap the pan lightly on the counter to dislodge any air bubbles. Then bake 35-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cake springs back when pressed lightly towards the middle.

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack 15 minutes. It’s not necessary to remove the cake from the baking dish to serve it. Invert the bundt pan and remove the cake. Thoroughly cool the cake then dust lightly with powdered sugar, if desired.

apple cake with crumb topping and mixed berry compote

apple cake with mixed berry compote

This recipe is a mash-up of  three recipes: Marie-Hélène’s apple cake, Martha Stewart’s crumb topping, and Can’t Stay Out of the Kitchen’s Mixed Berry Compote. It is truly a Sunday morning treat, a mouthful of not-too-sweet hot apple with the crunch of cinnamon-sugar, the smooth caress of butter,  and the whole thing made cool with tart berries in sauce, a ruby-red eye-candy.

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake with crumb topping
I thought this cake had a nice light apple flavor. However, it looked pale and wan and underdone after 60 minutes in the oven. I think my caramel apple cake recipe has a better texture. The advantage of this recipe is that it doesn’t require a mixer, just 3 mixing bowls, a whisk, and a silicone spatula. 

Prep time: 40 minutes
Baking time: 50 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

Apple Cake (adapted from Marie-Helene on Epicurious)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup superfine sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum (or 1/2 teaspoon rum extract plus 2 1/2 tablespoons water)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Martha Stewart’s Crumb Topping (adapted from Martha Stewart)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)

Crumb Topping
Mix all ingredients the except butter in a small bowl. Cut the butter into the sugar mixture with two knives until the butter is roughly the size of peas. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cake
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch spring form pan and set it aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl. Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks. Put apples in a large bowl of cold water so that they don’t discolor.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Here the advantage of using superfine sugar becomes apparent; it’s easier to incorporate because the crystals are finer than granulated sugar. Whisk in the rum and vanilla.

Cake Baker’s Note: I used 1 teaspoon vanilla because I didn’t have rum, then added 2 1/2 tablespoons water to the batter to keep the liquid measurements the same.

Whisk in half the flour until it is just incorporated, then add half the melted butter,mixing until it is just incorporate. Repeat with the remaining flour and butter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula so that it’s even, making sure the batter goes all the way to the sides.

Sprinkle the crumb topping on top. You might have left over crumb topping. Just refrigerate leftovers for future use on another apple cake, coffee cake, quick bread or muffins,

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let the cake rest for 5 minutes.

Cake Baker’s Note: Test the cake after 50 minutes. If the tester comes out moist, let it bake another 10 minutes. It took 60 minutes with the topping.

Carefully run a thin blade around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. Check to be sure no apples are stuck to the sides. Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature, about 1 hour. To remove the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan bottom, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

Serving the cake
The cake can be served warm or at room temperature, with a little softly whipped, barely sweetened heavy cream or a spoonful of ice cream. I recommend a mixed berry compote in the recipe below.

Storing the cake
The cake will keep for about 2 days at room temperature. Leave the cake on a plate and just press a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper against the cut surfaces. After two days, it must be refrigerated.

Mixed Berry Compote (adapted from Can’t Stay Out of the Kitchen)

1 lb. strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 cup blueberries
1 cup blackberries
1 cup powdered sugar (or granulated sugar or honey)
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water

Wash berries. Place in medium-sized saucepan. Add sugar and vanilla. Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes. Add mixture of cornstarch and water to thicken sauce. Remove 1/3 to half of the compote ingredients and puree in blender about 5 seconds. Add back into compote. Heat through. Serve over pancakes, waffles, or ice cream. Makes 5-6 cups compote.

cream cake with strawberries

cream cake with strawberries

This cake is truly light and airy; eating one slice just won’t be enough, I guarantee it! Highly uncomplicated, this recipe has only seven ingredients and qualifies as Quick and Easy to make. The only fat in the cake comes from the cupful of heavy cream. Heavy cream shouldn’t be confused with whipping cream. According to Harold McGee writing in On Food and Cooking (1984), heavy cream contains at least 36%-40% butterfat whereas whipping cream is 30%-36% butterfat.

Cream Cake (adapted from allrecipes.com)

Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:
2 eggs
3/4 cup white superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Preparation:
1. Preheat oven 350˚F. Grease one 9×9 inch square pan or one 9×2 inch round cake pan. Set aside.

Cake Baker’s Note: Spray the pan with cooking spray or melt a tablespoon of butter and brush it on the bottom and sides of the pan.

2. Beat eggs on high speed until very thick, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and the vanilla, beating well.
3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. On low speed, combine the wet and dry ingredients, scraping the bowl after each addition. First, add half the flour mixture to the egg mixture, then add half the cream. Next add half the remaining flour and the remaining cream. End with the last of the flour. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Tap pan lightly on the counter top to release any air bubbles.
4. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool the cake on a wire cooling rack. Don’t unmold the cake if it is baked in a square pan. Simply cool it in the pan and slice it into 16 squares. Instead of frosting this cake, serve it with sliced strawberries tossed in a little powdered sugar.

strawberry buttermilk country cake

strawberry buttermilk country cake

When I first made a Buttermilk Country Cake, it came with a very unique method. The butter was added to the dry ingredients and the  wet ingredients were added to the butter-flour mixture.  I never had much success with this method so I’ve adapted the method to the more traditional one where the butter and sugar are creamed together. This cake turned out so yummy, so moist and tender. In this iteration of the Country Cake,  there is no buttermilk because I used sour milk. I also added strawberries to the batter. Of course, the fruit can be added last on top of a layer of creme fraiche, too.

Strawberry Buttermilk Country Cake (adapted from: The Cake Bible).

Prep time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 40 minutes

Have at room temperature:
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup buttermilk (I used sour milk: 1 tablespoon vinegar in a measuring cup topped with milk to 1 cup line. Pour off 1/3 of the milk. I’ve never found a recipe for 2/3 cup sour milk!)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups sifted cake flour (1 1/2 cups all purpose plus 4 tablespoons cornstarch)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup of strawberries, trimmed and sliced

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and mix in 1 tablespoon flour. Use this butter-flour mixture to grease one 9×2 inch spring form cake pan, bottom lined with waxed paper, then greased again.

Cake Baker’s Note: If your pan has a dark nonstick finish, reduce the heat to 325˚F and test cake  after 25 minutes.

In a medium bowl, lightly combine egg yolks, buttermilk or sour milk, and vanilla.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk flour mixture to combine. To a large mixing bowl, add butter and sugar and cream until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour mixture in three additions alternating with the yolk mixture in two batches. Beat until just incorporated, scraping down the sides after each addition.

Scrape half the batter into the prepared pan. Scatter half the strawberries on top. Scrape the remaining batter on top. Smooth the surface with an offset spatula. The pan will be 1/2 full. Gently tap the pan on the counter to eliminate air bubbles. Lightly press the remaining strawberries into the top of the batter. Bake 30-40 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cake Baker’s Note: Hmm. The strawberries sank to the bottom. I read somewhere that if you lightly dust the strawberries with flour they won’t sink… Must try that sometime.

Cool cake in the pan on a rack 10 minutes. Loosen the sides and invert onto a greased wire rack. Remove paper circle and re-invert to cool completely. In my oven, the cake required the full 40 minutes.

To serve, dust with powdered sugar, if you like. If desired, omit strawberries and top with crème fraîche and sliced peaches, strawberries, or bananas. Dip one side of cut fruit in lemon or lime juice to prevent browning. Place un-dipped side down on top of the crème fraîche.

strawberry buttermilk country cake

creamy delicious strawberry ice cream–without an ice cream maker

I don’t have an ice cream maker.

I also don’t have a microwave oven and I don’t have a television. But am I missing anything? Absolutely not! I made this ice cream using fresh cream and strawberries without an ice cream maker. It was quick and easy to make, however, the freezing part took twelve hours. So eating it requires a little patience. If you want it for dessert that evening, then make it in the morning.  Aside from the usual cream, fruit, and condensed milk, this recipe calls for some unexpected ingredients, like white chocolate chips and vodka, which you never taste in the ice cream. It wasn’t as creamy as I had hoped, and I don’t understand the alchemy let alone the chemistry of ice cream making, but it tastes just like fresh strawberry ice cream. The folks at America’s Test Kitchen call it

Magic Strawberry Ice Cream
Makes one quart

INGREDIENTS
8 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled (1 1/2 cups) [Cook’s Note: frozen thawed strawberries can be substituted for fresh]
1/2  cup sweetened condensed milk
1 ounce white chocolate chips
1  tablespoon vodka
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, chilled

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Process strawberries in food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds (puree should measure about 3⁄4 cup). Microwave sweetened condensed milk, white chocolate chips, and vodka in large bowl until chocolate melts, about 1 minute, whisking halfway through cooking. Whisk in strawberry puree, vanilla, and salt.

Cook’s Note: In lieu of a microwave, I melted the chocolate chips into the vodka and condensed milk in a double boiler. I made a double boiler out of a saucepan and a small glass mixing bowl which rested on the rim just above half a pan of water. First bring the water to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Stir the milk, chips, and vodka until the chips melt. The condensed milk mixture will thin. Be careful and use a pot holder to remove the hot bowl from the saucepan.

2. Using a stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip cream on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Whisk one-third of whipped cream into strawberry mixture, then gently fold in remaining whipped cream, 1 scoop at a time, until combined. Freeze in airtight container until firm, 6-12 hours, depending on the freezer. The ice cream will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks–if it lasts that long!  Serve.

Cook’s Note: I should have added I don’t have a fancy (read: Kitchenaid) stand mixer either. I used a Black and Decker hand held mixer (cost me Canadian $15.00 three years ago) with a whisk attachment to whip the cream. You’ll know you have soft peaks when you raise the beaters and the peaks just bend over.

cornmeal crusted chicken nuggets with blueberry-mustard dipping sauce

I adapted this recipe from Eating Well. The original recipe called for blackberries or raspberries, but I only had blueberries. It is quick and easy to make, especially on those days when I’m tempted to eat some fast food. This is much healthier. After all, it is made with chicken breasts, not something pretending to be chicken. Read Fast Food Nation or The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and I guarantee you will never look at your food the same way again!

Cornmeal Crusted Chicken Nuggets with Blueberry Mustard Dipping Sauce 

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

 Ingredients

1 cup fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1 pound chicken breasts, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3-1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon olive oil
Cooking spray

Preparation

  1. Mash the blueberries and sieve the pulp. Discard the skins. Add mustard and honey. Mix well and set aside. Cook’s note: If using blackberries or raspberries, there is no need to discard the skin.
  2. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the chicken cubes. Put cubes into a plastic bag. Add oil and shake. Add the cornmeal and shake the bag until the chicken is evenly coated. Add cornmeal and shake the bag. Add more cornmeal a tablespoon at a time if needed.
  3. Spray cooking spray in a large skillet. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and put the chicken in a single layer in the pan. You may need to do this in two batches. Cook until browned on one side, about 4-5 minutes. Turn and brown the other side, about 4-5 minutes. Thinner nuggets will cook faster than thicker ones. Nuggets are cooked when they are firm to the touch when poked. Serve the chicken nuggets with the berry mustard.

strawberry, spinach, and hearts of palm salad

My cousin Cathy got a tin of hearts of palm so she wrote our cousins’ group wondering how to serve it. I had this recipe on my Wait List to try and her SOS just prodded me out of procrastination mode. This is Paula Deen’s recipe but I tweaked it. Now I’m not fond of hearts of palm. To me it has a metallic taste, which probably comes from the tin can.  Nevertheless, I found this salad to be quite delicious. The strawberries were tart and the salad dressing had just the right proportion of sweetness to tartness that totally disguised the metallic taste of the hearts of palm. So on St. Valentine’s Day, show you love somebody–but not with chocolate, with strawberries, spinach and hearts of palm!

Ingredients

For the salad dressing
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar (reduced from 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used EVOO and reduced the amount of oil  from 1 cup)
1/2 small red onion, grated
1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika

For the salad
1 1/2 pounds fresh baby spinach (I added some mixed greens to the spinach)
1 can hearts of palm, drained and chopped
2 cups strawberries, stemmed and sliced
1 cup chopped walnuts or almonds (optional)

Directions
Prepare the dressing.  Combine the vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a small non-reactive saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature. When cooled, whisk in the oil, onion, poppy seeds, dry mustard and paprika until thoroughly combined. Set dressing aside.

Assemble the salad ingredients. In a salad bowl, combine the spinach, hearts of palm, strawberries, and nuts, if using. When ready to serve, add some of the dressing, and toss gently. Serve the remaining dressing alongside the salad so diners may add more, if desired.

berry blox

What better way to enjoy the last berries of summer, than to put them in a delicious snack! Instead of using gelatin, which is made from parts of the cow that, trust me, you don’t want to know about, use agar-agar, which is made from seaweed. Thus this snack, a variation on the Knox Blox that I used to carry to my daughter’s soccer games, is a vegan jelly treat. It’s also low in sugar. So it’s (mostly) good for you.

3 cups strawberries
1 cup blackberries (or blueberries)
1/4 cup water
1 cup applesauce
1 cup apple juice (or orange juice)
8 teaspoons agar-agar powder*

First put the berries and the water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir the mixture occasionally. This will take about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. I hate it when America’s Test Kitchen uses the shorthand “off the heat.” It reminds me of the Queen of Hearts screaming at Alice “Off with her head!” So turn off the heat and put the berry mixture in the blender. Puree the berries until the mixture is smooth. You’ll end up with strawberry seeds but unless you want to strain it, the seeds won’t hurt. They’re just a minor inconvenience.

Put the puree back into the pot and add the applesauce. Stir and set aside. In a large bowl, pour the apple juice and sprinkle the agar-agar powder on top. Whisk to dissolve, about 3-5 minutes. Pour the juice mixture into the pot with the berry mixture and heat until bubbly, stirring constantly. Agar-agar needs to come to a boil in order to activate its jelling properties.

Pour the mixture into one 8×8 inch square pan or dish. Unlike gelatin, any mixture with agar-agar in it doesn’t need refrigeration to set. Just leave it on the counter to cool and thicken. Refrigerating the pan will hasten the process, of course. Cut cooled jellies into squares or triangles. If there are any leftovers, refrigerate them. To me, these Berry Blox taste best cold. They are not gelatinous, they don’t wiggle, they are not “gummies.” But they are yummy!

*Agar-agar powder is available in small packets from Asian markets and is usually quite a bit cheaper. I bought mine in Chinatown New York from Bangkok Center Grocery on Mosco and Mulberry. They were just $1.00 a packet.