All apologies for the limited photo evidence of this cherry and blueberry buckle. Considering it was deemed sufficiently cooled at the precise start of overtime play of the World Cup semifinal between Argentina and the Netherlands, it is an achievement that one was taken at all. Lesson learned yesterday — during stressful plays, cake is appreciated. 

This is an easy cake to appreciate.

Cherry + Blueberry Buckle | Tara O'Brady on seven spoons

Since we're friends, I feel I can be honest. I wasn't sure about this buckle. All cards on the table, I had doubts. The batter seemed meagre. And then it felt dense; too solid to accept the fruit I attempted to press into its buttery thickness. It had to be scraped into the pan, and then its resistant clumps pushed into place. 

That said, the topping was really nice. It felt like wet sand between my fingers, the kind perfect for castle building. 

Baking, the cake smelled really nice, as well. I'd swapped out nutmeg for ginger and cardamom to go with the cinnamon, and the combination was intoxicatingly fragrant, weighty but without the nose-tickling warmth of wintry sweets. 

I usually know I'm on to something good when one of the boys stops what he is doing to ask what's in the oven. In this case, both did. 

I kept a suspicious eye on the cake's progress, and felt a nervous relief when it looked to rise exceptionally well. The top was browned and rubbled, shot through by valleys filled with deep purple juice. 

When the cake was cut, it lived up to its name and folded under the knife as the blade slid through. Inside, those rivulets of juice led to puddled, cooked fruit, mottling the cake's crumb. It was damp and soft, and I worried if it is was overly much so, that the heat had done little to dispel the stickiness.

Since we're friends, I feel I can also admit when I was wrong. Because, was I ever. 

The cake is damp. It is soft. It is held together by its crust, and once it's broken, all bets are off. It is not one to cut neatly. Yet, it is staggeringly sublime as is, eaten out of hand in unstable chunks, or with a spoon and a mound of crème fraîche or a lick of cream or custard. It is a buttery muffin-meets-cobbler-meets-coffeecake kind of thing. It is custardy where cake meets fruit, and crunchy where there is streusel, which is to say, a buckle for cheering. And I can't wait to try it with raspberries. Or nectarines. Or both.

Happy Friday's eve.

 

CHERRY + BLUEBERRY BUCKLE

From Salt Water Farm via Bon Appétit, with changes. Rewritten in my words and with weight measures.  

FOR THE TOPPING

  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (32 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted butter, cold and diced

FOR THE CAKE

  • 1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups (191 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or seeds scraped from a vanilla bean
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
  • 10 ounces (283 g) pitted cherries, I used a mix of tart and sweet
  • 6 ounces (170 g)  blueberries, fresh or defrosted

METHOD
Start with the topping. Whisk sugar, flour, and spices in a medium bowl. Tumble in the butter cubes and rub between your fingers until the mixture is evenly damp and coming together in clumps. Set aside.

For the cake, preheat an oven to 350°F / 175°C. Grease an 8-inch springform or removable bottom pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, then grease the parchment. Dust the pan with flour, and tap out the excess.

Whisk the 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. 

In another medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, around 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat to combine, 2 minutes. Turn the speed down to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, stirring until mostly incorporated. Pour in the cream and stir until smooth. With a spatula, fold in the cherries and blueberries.The batter will be quite thick, and may not fold easily; as long as the fruit is somewhat stuck into the batter, all will be fine. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Place tin on a rimmed baking sheet, then sprinkle the topping over the batter in an even layer. 

Bake in the hot oven until the buckle is golden brown and a cake tester poked into the centre comes out clean, 75-90 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let the cool completely. Unmold and serve, as is, or dusted with icing sugar, and maybe a spoon or two of custard. 

Note: I think this buckle would be ideal baked in individual portions, thus dispensing of any fuss of slicing. I've not tried that route, but wanted to have the notion on record.

 

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the lemon curd was essential

When I made these blueberry beignets the other day, Benjamin told me that "they were like pillows you eat or balloons that don't pop."

Well, there it was.

Scooped by my own four-year-old son.

Because friend, he was wholly, completely, absolutely right. They were like balloons - dough that is stretched and thin at its exterior and full of moist, air-pocketed crumb at their middle. Light for their size, pillows made of flour and sugar rather than feathers, but just as downy.

If you dust them with sugar while they're still a warm, that sugar will melt and turn to a thin glaze, shattering delicately on the tongue and dissolving almost immediately. Ethereally sweet.

And then if you dust them again with sugar, once that first glaze is set, then there's a dusty, pure-white flurry of powder to decorate your lips as you bite into the crust. As they cool, the centres firm up and the texture is developed, the structure of the open crumb giving a slight, gratifying resistance to the tooth. Then of course there are those pockets of blueberry that burst and run rivulets of inky juice throughout. A bit Jackson Pollack meets Julia Child.

Consider these the elevated incarnation of those powdered doughnuts from the carnival.

dusted

Which reminds me, the last time we were at the carnival, we forgot to get doughnuts. We had popcorn that tasted exactly like carnival popcorn - vaguely stale even though fresh from the popper, shellacked in a "butter" coating that's oddly granular and awfully salty. And we ate it, all of it, in greedy handfuls that turned our fingers shiny, because that's what one does on a Ferris Wheel, right?

But we missed the doughnuts. We must remember to squeeze that in before summer retires - get doughnuts at the fair.

It's only habit that has me writing those words in my calendar in red ink with double underline, as these beignets satisfy any deep-fried-sweet-dough-craving that one might harbour. And for the fact that you eat them at your leisure, in your home, fresh from the fryer and with a tummy that's been spared the twirling aftereffects of the Tilt-a-Whirl, they might be even better.

Just ask Ben.

TONY DE LUCA'S BLUEBERRY BEIGNETS

From the book, Simply in Season, by local chef Tony de Luca. He suggests these fluffy beignets be paired with a cool, softy-tart Sour Cream Panna Cotta. But lacking those, if you happen to have some lemon curd kicking about then by all means follow our lead and serve it alongside. Permission to print recipe courtesy Whitecap Books.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 mL) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) evaporated milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) shortening
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) table salt
  • 3 1/2 cups (875 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Non-stick baking spray
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • Icing sugar for dusting

METHOD

In a small bowl, dissolve 2 teaspoons (10 mL) of the granulated sugar in 3/4 cup (185 mL) warm water. Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand for 10 minutes or until the yeast is bubbly. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the remaining sugar, the evaporated milk, egg, shortening, and salt. Add the yeast and beat until smooth. Beat in the flour, 1/2 cup (125 mL) at a time, until a soft, sticky dough forms. Stir in the blueberries until just combined.

Spray a clean bowl with the baking spray and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover wih plastic warp and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough to form a rectangle about 20 x 16 inches (50 x 40 cm) and 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Using a sharp chef's knife, cut the dough into squares about 2 1/2 inches (6 cm).

Heat the oil in a deep pot until a candy thermometer registers 360°F (182°C), or use a deep fat fryer and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Fry the beignets, a few at a time to avoid overcrowding, for about 2 minutes, turning frequently, until golden brown.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beignets to a rack lined with papers towels and set over a baking sheet to cool. Dust the beignets generously with icing sugar and serve.

Notes:

  • I added an approximate 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest to the dry ingredients, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the evaporated milk before stirring into the flour mixture.
  • It may have been the weather, or my batch of flour, but I found I used just under 3 cups of flour for my dough to come together to the state described (soft, sticky). I would advise keeping an eye on your dough as too much flour will make a stiff, dry beignet.
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A few days ago, early last Saturday morning to be precise, Sean and I had a complete breakdown in communication.

We were at the Farmer's Market, me with one perched on my hip and another clasping my hand, and Sean across the way. It was a busy morning, so while our boys snacked on their standard sample from the nearby bakery, Sean waded into the current of people to gather our purchases.

Usually, our over-and-through-the-crowd brand of semaphore works a treat. This time, not so much. With all the hustle and bustle, our signals got crossed and the quantities of our request was lost in translation. Long story short, we ended up with a surfeit of corn. Double the intended amount, to be exact.

Not a terrible mistake, by any means, as the corn in question was fresh, local stuff, with neat rows of bicoloured kernels nestled snugly under tender green husks. Not terrible in the least.

A first impulse would be to tear back that blanket of green and roast the Dickens out of those ears atop a charcoal grill. Blistered black and concentrated sweet, I would gleefully dig in to the barbecued beauties. Or steamed tender-crisp, with a smear of sweet butter and scattering of crunchy flakes of salt - there were days of possibilities for our plenty.

The trouble was, more than a few of those possibilities included the application of heat. And did I mention to you that Summer huffed and puffed our way last week? With sweaty palms and hot breath, the season (finally) truly settled in on the 15th of August. And, no doubt about it, Summer is making up for lost time.

As I write this, it is 40°C with the humidex (104°F). While I am not all that bothered by the temperatures, by far preferring hot over cold, my boys are wilting more than a little bit. The heat has kept their mops eternally mussed, their ruddy cheeks shine with a thin sheen of perspiration and their kisses have turned salty.

You can understand then, that I am not in the least inclined to crank up the oven and overheat our happy home or add any fire to our already-sultry backyard.

As luck would have it, a little while prior to our misunderstanding at the market*, I had enjoyed this salad from Anna Olson. Served at her shop, it was subtle and sweet, but my version alters hers ever so slightly; here, there is oomph to be had.

Stripped from the cob, plump gold and ivory nuggets glisten with a slick of olive oil in a pan for nothing but the shortest of sojourns, then it's a tumble with an edible confetti of shallots, chili, green onion and herbs. The blueberries are next, an addition that brings musky depth and even more mouth-quenching moisture. Squeeze on some lime, crumble over brackish nuggets of fresh cheese, and off it all goes to chill.

In the intervening minutes between mix and serve is when everything happens. The corn turns sweeter, it's flavour amplified by the citrus and complimented by berries that shimmer onyx-bright. Fresh onion contrasts mellowed, cooked tones, the chilies release gentle heat into it all.

May all misunderstandings result in such dividends.

* It might just be the temperature finally getting to me, but doesn't The Misunderstanding at the Market sound like the title to an Agatha Christie mystery? Or at least a Harlequin romance novel?

BLUEBERRY CORN SALAD

Adapted from a recipe by Anna Olson. Queso fresco is a fresh Mexican cheese that has a mild, creamy taste.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling (optional)
  • 3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 2 red chilies, finely minced, seeded if desired
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta or queso fresco
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD

In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil, then the corn. Sauté for about 2 minutes, until the corn begins to brighten in colour. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute more, stirring often. Remove pan from the heat, stir in the green onion and red chilies. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Allow the vegetables to cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the corn mixture with the blueberries and cilantro tossing gently to combine. Pour over the lime juice, along with an extra glug of olive oil if desired. Stir again, then gently fold in the feta or queso fresco. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, checking for seasoning before serving.

Serves 4.


A mammoth muffin; from his cookbook, Marty Curtis' Lemon, Blueberry and Cream Cheese Muffins. Photo courtesy of Deep Media.

Although I consider myself the giving sort, I have a confession to make. While I do believe that to be asked for a recipe is the highest of compliments, whenever I hear that request I do take a millisecond pause. I mean, of course I will share. But then again, if I give away all my tricks, will I have no mystique left?

Marty Curtis boasts a love of food that is legendary in the Muskokas and seems to have no such qualms over divulging his recipes. Owner of Marty's World Famous Café in Bracebridge, Ontario, Mr. Curtis has recently released his first cookbook; a book that shares the favourties that have made his shop a success for the last 12 years. Even the secret of the house specialty, the absolutely enormous butter tarts, is revealed within.

A warm welcome Mr. Curtis as first guest for the new "Seven Questions" feature on the site. In his interview, Mr. Curtis spoke about his inspirations in the kitchen, taste trends and finally, those much-lauded butter tarts.

seven spoons: How do your café and the book reflect your food philosophy?

Marty Curtis: Keep it simple. Easy to find ingredients that people are familiar with, when prepared with passion, make for an enjoyable, memorable meal. How you feel before you begin cooking is in direct relation to the end results.

7S: In the book you reference a similarity to Paula Deen in the way you've come to your success. You also have a bit in common with Ina Garten and Martha Stewart in that you left other careers to follow a passion for food. What advice would you now pass on to someone planning a similar leap?

MC: Believe in yourself, feel positive and enjoy what you are doing. For me, having a greater purpose other than yourself will make your work much more enjoyable and a lot of fun.

7S: Marty's World Famous Café has been in operation since 1996; over the years what changes have you noticed in the tastes of your customers and how has your menu evolved?

MC: Some people are wanting lighter menu items loaded with flavour and others still love hearty comfort food. Our phyllo quiche with locally grown leeks has been a big hit lately, served with a simple spring mix salad with olive oil and rice wine vinegar dressing. Our squash soup will appear again this fall as will our Turkey Pot Pie. All in all keeping up the quality is key.

7S: What trends or ingredients are inspiring you right now?

MC: With fall upon us, I am getting excited about pumpkin and squash right now. Now is when we gear up for Thanksgiving time and we make our fresh pumpkin pies again and squash soup sneaks its way onto our menu once again. I absolutely love this time of year for the cooler weather and the smell of a roaring fireplace. The seasonal changes really bring out some creativity and make for fun culinary experiences too.

7S: Often you will hear chefs and cooks separate what they cook professionally, and what they cook in their own kitchen. Is that the case with you, and what is your go-to recipe at home?

MC: I enjoy all the salads at home that you will find on our menu at the café. A great rib steak every now and again as well as a great rack of slow cooked ribs with grilled vegetables. As for a go to recipe ... the Trivial Marinade as mentioned in the cookbook is a go to recipe for me. It works with just about anything for the grill ... beef, chicken or pork.

7S: What are your five pantry or refrigerator staples?

MC: Eggs, butter, pasta, veggies and fruit.

7S: And finally, the obvious question. Why share the secret of your famous buttertart recipe?

MC: It makes me feel good to know that people now have the secret recipe and are able to recreate something in the comfort of their own home that has brought us success on many different levels. It's educational, fun and comforting. Everyone wins.

Thanks to Marty Curtis for taking the time to speak with us. Look out for my review of Marty's World Famous Cookbook (Whitecap, 2008) coming up on Monday, September 15, 2008. The recipe for the Lemon, Blueberry and Cream Cheese Muffins is available in the book and online here (scroll down).