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Blueberry thrills

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I'm chatting with a cheese vendor at the Wednesday farmers' market when my cell phone trills, alerting me to an urgent text message from my daughter: Don't forget the blueberries!

We're lucky around here. We'll have some variety of the blue darlings through mid-August. For vitamins, fiber and, of course, pure sweetness, buy a pint. Tossed with those luscious homegrown melons now in the markets, or onto granola for breakfast, or into a ramekin with cream, blueberries can only bring pleasure.

For thrills in a snap, Blueberry Kuchen never fails to please or come out beautifully. Deborah, an artist and artistic home cook, gave me this recipe a lifetime ago, scribbled on the back of an envelope I still have, splashed with purple fruit stains, and I think it may have been handed to her that way.

Kuchen is a German word meaning "cake" and is used to describe all manner of desserts and sweets: tarts, coffee cakes, cobbler-type puddings. The flour-and-butter base to this version is pleasantly cake-like, which is surprising, since there is almost no sugar in the crust and very little in the entire dessert. I've decided it's the vinegar mixed into butter and flour that works some texture magic. Even better, you get this result with no dough-rolling: Just press it in your springform pan without any to-do.

The other charm of our Blueberry Kuchen is pie-style filling that cooks itself in the crust, combined with a topping of fresh blueberries at serving time. Sprinkle the finished kuchen with confectioners' sugar and serve with whipped cream or sorbet to people who don't mind seeing one another's teeth turn purple.

Steamy local summer days with seemingly enough solar power to fuel the Southeast is hardly the ideal setting for closeting ourselves in a kitchen to bake. Not to worry: This kuchen can be prepared and in the oven in less than half an hour on your own, and in 15 minutes with a partner to share the task. It can be made in the morning when the kitchen is cool and kept at room temperature.

Brilliant, midnight-blue berries currently in the farmers' markets are perfect for this dish, but if you pick your own, it's also tasty to throw in a few slightly underripe berries for tanginess and the magenta juice that seeps out.

Blueberries are easy to freeze and make into jam, and when you pick your own, they're a bargain. To locate a pick-your-own farm near you in the Triangle, check out www.pickyourown.org/NCpiedmont.htm.

Blueberry Kuchen

Crust
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (I use finely ground sea salt)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Filling
3 cups fresh blueberries, picked over for any that are too soft
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Topping
1 cup fresh blueberries
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Whipped cream or sorbet for garnish

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor until combined in a texture for pastry. Add vinegar and pulse until mixed through and crust ingredients are just wet. Don't overprocess: Patting the dough into an 8- or 9-inch springform pan continues to blend it. After dough is pressed into pan, mix sugar, flour and cinnamon. Toss with 3 cups blueberries and bake the kuchen for one hour at 400 degrees. The top should look deep purple and raisin-y. Cool 30 minutes and then top with 1 cup fresh blueberries; these will "sink" into the filling as it cools further. Serve in wedges as you would a pie, topped with either the cream or sorbet. All toppings can be omitted and the kuchen simply dusted with confectioners' sugar. Serves 6 to 8.

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