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A fresh slice of blueberry buckle, one of my favorite family recipes.

This is the recipe that earned me the nickname “g-ma.” The recipe came from my own g-ma, who made dessert every night when my mom and her sisters were growing up. According to my grandfather, a meal was not a meal without dessert, and blueberry buckle was one of those desserts.

After feeding my mom’s family for years, blueberry buckle finally made its first appearance in Los Angeles at my last job, where I made it for my co-workers. Apparently it was very grandmotherly of me to bake for work, so the nickname stuck.

A buckle is just a basic coffee cake, but with a cuter name. There’s the cake base, cinnamon sugar topping, and the fruit. You can use any kind of fruit (well, almost kind—watermelon would be a bit weird), but blueberries are the standard in my family. The blueberry version is also what I made for the last Eat My Blog bake sale, where I’m happy to report it sold out within the hour. In fact, the buckle was gone before my chocolate whoopie pies, which surprised the heck out of me. Who knew Angelinos would be so mad about coffee cake?

The below recipe, made in a 13-by-9 pan with 3 cups of blueberries, will result in about a 2-inch thick, blueberry-heavy slice, almost like a cake bar. My grandmother’s original recipe called for 2 cups of blueberries and a 9-inch square pan, which made a more traditional, cake-y hunk of coffee cake. When blueberries are cheap and in season, I prefer the thinner blueberry-y version, but if a pint of blueberries cost as much as a nice steak at the grocery store, my grandmother’s version is just as tasty.

Blueberry Buckle

Cake:

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons salt
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup shortening
1 egg
½ cup milk
3 cups blueberries

Topping:

½ cup sugar
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 13-by-9 baking dish.

Combine all topping ingredients in a small bowl, pressing with fork or pastry blender to combine.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar and shortening with electric mixer—the result will be a bit clumpy. Add egg, mix to combine. Alternately mix in flour mixture and milk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

With a spoon, gently fold in blueberries. The batter will be very dense, so go easy on the berries!

Spread into greased dish. Crumble topping over surface of cake and bake 45-50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Once cool, cut into squares and serve! I usually get 10 big slices for dessert, or you could cut it into 12 or 15 for smaller, afternoon coffee size snacks.

The first and probably only professional photos of my whoopie pies, taken at Eat My Blog 2010 on Saturday. Photos by Steven Lam Photography.

Thanks to a great group of bakers and volunteers, Eat My Blog raised over $5,400 for the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank yesterday! A special shout-out to my fellow committee members Cathy, Anjali and Diana. You gals are amazing!

Look out for Eat My Blog 2011 after we’ve all recovered from our sugar-induced comas. In the meantime, check out the fantastic photos of the bake sale by Steven Lam Photography.

It’s baaack! Angelenos with a penchant for gourmet sweets and savories are invited to attend the second annual Eat My Blog bake sale on Saturday, June 19th, organized by Cathy, Diana, Anjali and yours truly. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tender Greens in West Hollywood (8759 Santa Monica Blvd) will host this event on their outdoor patio where Eat My Blog will feature literally thousands of baked goods from 70+ home and professional bakers, including carrot cake cookie sandwiches, bacon chocolate chip cookies, homemade salted caramels and strawberry balsamic cake. All items will be priced between $1 to $4.

Check out eatmyblogla.wordpress.com for the menu and more details. I’m making my chocolate whoopie pies and my grandmother’s famous blueberry buckle. You know you want some. Come early! Last year, we sold out by 1 p.m.

See you there!

Jake's hand-whipped cream cake with oranges and pineapple

On a recent trip to visit my aunt’s family in Florida, I was amazed to learn that my cousin Jake whips cream by hand.

I guess I shouldn’t really have been so surprised, since my mom’s side of the family has some serious genetic cooking chops. My mom is my favorite chef in the world, and her pies, biscuits, twice-baked potatoes, éclairs and chocolate chip cookies are rivaled by few, and I don’t know who those few are. Her mother, my gram, is a master of a substantial collection of classic family recipes, including chocolate frosting, one-egg cake and blueberry buckle (which I’m making for the next Eat My Blog bake sale). My Florida aunt makes a killer baked ziti with meatballs, and her chocolate chip cookies are usually gone before they’ve even made it in the oven.

So my cousin Jake invented this cake. When he told me that he frosts it with hand-whipped cream, I didn’t believe him, but then I watched him actually him do it. It looked hard. It made me want to take a nap.

He's faster than a speeding bullet!

The rest of the cake is pretty simple, and doesn’t require much fuss, which I guess makes up for the 15 minutes of serious aerobic whisking. The base is a boxed cake mix, and Jake has added crushed pineapple and mandarin oranges. For ultra authenticity, whip the cream by hand, but if you’re like me, and would rather watch hard work being done than actually do it, you can use a hand mixer.

Jake’s Whipped Cream Cake

1 box yellow cake mix
22 oz can mandarin oranges
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
8 oz can crushed pineapple
6 oz heavy cream
2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla

If whipping by hand, chill a metal bowl in the freezer for at least an hour beforehand.

Preheat oven according to the directions on the cake mix box for two 9-inch metal cake pans.

Drain oranges and mash into a strainer with a fork to remove any excess liquid. Reserve approximately one-third of oranges (no need to be exact) for frosting. Set strainer aside. Blend cake mix, oil, eggs, water and the rest of the oranges in a bowl. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Equally distribute the cake mixture into the two pans. Bake for 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool cakes, still in the pan, on baking racks.

While the cakes are baking, mash pineapple in the same strainer (so you don’t have to wash it twice) to remove any excess liquid. Add remaining oranges back into the strainer and press with a paper towel to really really remove the moisture.

Combine cream, sugar and vanilla in the chilled metal bowl and whisk by hand for 15 minutes, or with a mixer, until stiff peaks form, using a towel to keep the bowl in place. (According to Jake, hand-whisking creates smoother whipped cream.) Gently fold the crushed, drained pineapple and oranges into the whipped cream. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down until it touches the surface of the whipped cream, and keep cold in the refrigerator until the cake has cooled.

Once cake has cooled, invert pans to remove the cakes, and place bottom layer on desired serving plate. Put a dollop of the frosting in the center of the cake and spread outward until it reaches the edge of the cake. Place the second layer of the cake on top. Put another big dollop in the center of the top layer and spread outward. Spread remaining frosting on edges. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Just look at that whipped cream!

Since the frosting is soft and fluffy, icing this cake looked really easy. Which is good, because after hand-whipping the cream, Jake looked like he needed a rest. He presented this beauty to our Easter dinner table, and it was gone in 30 minutes. It was sweet and fluffy with a touch of citrus, but the star really was the frosting. It was so good it almost made me want to try whipping cream by hand back home. Almost.

Rice Krispies treats: easy bake sale treat, or gourmet dessert? The answer: both!

It’s a sad but true fact: until recently, I’d never made Rice Krispies treats. Crazy, right? They’re so easy, and so good. They’re always the first item I head for at bake sales. Why? Because it’s almost impossible to mess them up, so they’re always consistent, and always full of crunchy, chewy goodness. Except if the person holding the bake sale serves you the Rice Krispies treat in a napkin, and therefore you end up eating little bits of flimsy paper that adhere to the marshmallow (this happened to me, sadly)…then they’re not so good. But otherwise, I love them.

Marshmallows melting in motion...mmmm....

When my friend Emily came out to visit in the spring, we decided that her California trip wouldn’t be complete without making something full of sugar and butter. This recipe, which I found on Smitten Kitchen, fit the bill, so we dove into the realm of bake sales feet first. I say feet first because this recipe involves browning butter, which I’m always nervous about. Burned butter is a terrible, terrible thing, and since we only had one box of Rice Krispies, I didn’t want to mess this up. But like I said before, it’s almost impossible to mess these things up, and as expected, they were easier than pie.

The best stirrer EVER. Thanks, Emily!

I was in charge of worrying about the browned butter, and Emily, for her part, stirred and stirred like crazy. Emily, can I hire you to come cook with me? Please? You are the world’s best stirrer.

These came out like traditional treats, but with a toasty, rich flavor from the browned butter, and a hint of salt to balance the sweetness. The only thing I would do differently next time I make this recipe is sprinkle a bit of sea salt on top of the treats while they’re cooling. I love slightly salty desserts, and I could use a bit more in these, but maybe that’s just me.

Emily dishing out the treats. I need a new camera. Sigh....

Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats
from Smitten Kitchen

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan
1 10-ounce bag marshmallows
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)

Butter an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth.

Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together. Quickly spread into prepared pan. I liked to use a piece of waxed or parchment paper that I’ve sprayed with oil to Press mixture firmly and evenly into the edges and corners with a silicon spatula or a piece of waxed or parchment paper.

Let cool, cut into squares and enjoy! Makes 16 2-inch square bars.

Blueberry-blackberry crumble, fresh from the oven.

This is the easiest dessert I’ve ever made. All that’s in it is fresh fruit, sugar, butter, flour and cinnamon. Hello.

It’s also one of the best I’ve ever made, partly because that, for the lack of effort that went into the dish, the result was awesome. I think it should be my signature dessert, the one that I can “oh, I’ll just throw something together” make.

The recipe comes from A Platter of Figs by David Tanis, a book that’s all about using simple preparations for high quality ingredients to make them actually taste like themselves.

The blueberry-blackberry crumble was no exception. I made this for a get-together of food-loving gals, and we all agreed that it just really tasted like fruit—flavors not hidden, but enhanced. There were only five of us, but we managed to eat the entire dish I made of this stuff, which I consider no small feat. We just couldn’t stop eating it! Which, I think, is the sign of a soon-to-be signature dessert.

Fresh berries mixed with sugar.

I made this in a 13 by 9 baking dish instead of a gratin dish out of necessity (anyone want to buy me a gratin dish?). Not sure I would do that again. The recipe calls for the topping to be “heaped” on top of the fruit, and because I had such a large surface area in my dish, my topping was spread, not heaped. So after pulling it out of the oven, them jumping immediately into 45-minute LA traffic jam to get to my friend’s house, the topping had sunk into the fruit. It was sad. I could barely look at it. Fortunately, about a half hour later, we discovered that while it looked sad, it tasted great. And my fellow diners were nice enough to tell me that they preferred the topping sunk in “because sometimes you think you’re getting a berry but you’re getting a hunk of dough!” which apparently was a good thing.

Anyway. I wouldn’t suggest driving like a nut with a dish of this on the seat of your car unless it’s cooled. That being said, I’m hungry for some. Maybe I’ll just throw one together…

Blueberry-Blackberry Crumble
From A Platter of Figs

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, in small pieces
3 pints blueberries
3 pints blackberries
½ cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To make the topping, combine the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Add the butter and work it in with your fingertips until you have a crumbly mixture.

In another bowl, toss the blueberries and blackberries with the granulated sugar. Pile the sugared fruit into a large gratin dish or two pie plates. Mound the topping over the fruit.

Bake for an hour, or until the topping is nicely browned. Cool for 15 minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature. Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, crème fraîche or just eat it plain like we did.

Enjoy!

Mmmm...can you smell the warm cinnamon? I can!

Buttermilk Pancakes

What could be better than fresh, fluffy pancakes for a weekend breakfast? Bacon? Yeah, maybe, but these are awesome too!

I always seem to have buttermilk in my fridge. Leftover from whoopie pies, I’m sure. But I don’t know, but I swear, I never buy it, and I always have a carton that’s not expired. It must breed in there, like the tiny moths that always get into our panko flakes in the cupboard.

So to use up this mysteriously duplicating buttermilk, I make pancakes. Maybe, someday, a rustic buttermilk cake. But for now, pancakes are just fine. The buttermilk makes these rich but delicate and fluffy, with little pockets that the maple syrup sinks into. I added a teaspoon of vanilla to the recipe, because I just love a hint of vanilla, but it’s optional. The original recipe is pretty darn good as well.

Last time I made these I was pretty sure I used up the last of the leftover buttermilk, but I just looked, and it’s still in there. I guess the fairies who put my socks in my sous-chef’s drawer so I can never find a matching pair give me half-full cartons of buttermilk in return. That’s fair.

Buttermilk Pancakes
From Gourmet

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Vegetable oil for brushing griddle

The fixins. Check out the cute mini-whisk I got for Christmas! (Thanks, Mom)

Preheat oven to 200°F.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, egg, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth.

Heat a griddle or a large heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot enough to make drops of water scatter over its surface, then brush with oil. Working in batches and using a 1/4-cup measure filled halfway, pour batter onto griddle and cook, turning over once, until golden, about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer to a heatproof plate and keep warm, covered, in oven if you want to eat weekend breakfast as a family, or pick your favorite family member and serve to him/her immediately.

According to Gourmet, the recipe makes 14 3-inch pancakes, but I’ve never been able to force myself to stick to the size limit. I usually get 6 4-inch pancakes.

Yum. Fluffy!

Chocolate Cream Pie

Saveur’s Ridiculous Chocolate Cream Pie: A Three-Day Photo Diary
When I went home to Pennsylvania for Christmas, my mom and I had our hearts set on making a coffee-infused, sour-cream based chocolate layer cake with chocolate icing. The last time I had it was at my college graduation dinner, and I can still taste it. Alas, the cake didn’t come to fruition, so since Christmas, I’ve had this nagging impulse to make something really stupidly rich and chocolatey. When I picked up the latest copy of Saveur, I knew I had found my recipe: chocolate cream pie.

Their photo says it all. My photos don’t say much, and don’t do the pie justice, so check out their professional pic on the Saveur website. Did you look? Yeah. Check that out. Now you know why I had to make it.

The subtitle for this post explains the reason for the various locations/light conditions of my photos. It also shows that this pie is not a quick dessert to make before dinner guests arrive. It’s not time consuming, in the sense that it takes a long time to physically make. It’s actually relatively easy, just food-processering, stirring, and more stirring. But because it’s so heavy with egg yolks, butter and cream, it needs time to sit and chill.

1. Pressing the buttery chocolate crust into the pie dish.

Photo 1, Friday night after work. Made pie crust and filling.
I decided to make this pie for a Saturday dinner party, because there is no way I was going to make this for two people. It has NINE egg yolks. No way. So after work, I made the cookie crumb crust and the filling. The crust recipe calls for chocolate wafers, but all I could find at the store was a box of generic brand chocolate teddy grahams, and it turned out fine. I also did the worst thing a baker can do when I planned the recipe—I didn’t check my cupboard. So when the time came to melt the butter and light brown sugar together, I realized (gasp) that I didn’t have ANY brown sugar. So I used the same amount of white sugar, which I don’t actually think you’re supposed to do, but again, it was fine. This pie is very forgiving.

So I made and baked the crust, and I also made the chocolate filling, so it could chill for four or more hours before being spread in the crust. The crust also went into the fridge overnight.

2. Stirring the filling, ready to assemble.

Photo 2, Saturday morning. Stirred filling.
The chilled, set filling was so dense, I had to have my sous-chef/husband (heh) stir it.

3. The filling is in! I could have eaten it just like this...

Photo 3, Saturday morning. Put filling in crust.
Then I spread it into the pie crust and threw it back in the fridge. My very intelligent sous-chef pointed out that if we put plastic wrap right on the surface of the filling, it wouldn’t get that icky pudding skin. So we did that. He’s so smart. Continue Reading »

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