Sourdough Blackberry Lemon Muffins

I have a bit of a reputation. Some people call me a seed stealer.  I prefer the term  “forager”.

It all began in my tender years of five or six when I trailed alongside my Mom and brother walking along Muskoka roads lined with raspberry bushes. We held cardboard pint boxes in our little hands and were encouraged to pluck the red, ripe ones that slipped off the white core easily. There were thorns to avoid and lots of scratches to our bare legs and arms. The sun was beating down and sweat covered our brows. But boy oh boy, did those berries taste sweet. I ate nine out of every ten berries I picked, filling my box at a snail’s pace, but without a care. This was a hunt and I was hooked.  

My mom had to tear me away from the berry thicket and throw all my berry stained clothes into the wash. We never picked enough for the pies or jams we talked and dreamed of. In fact, my berries barely covered the bottom of my box but were  just enough for tomorrow’s breakfast bowl of Rice Krispies and cream. 

Decades later, I found myself walking down a road in Grass Valley, California with my sister-in-law, Nora until I stopped dead in my tracks. I was receiving heavy signals from my personal berry radar.  

“Are those blackberries?!” 

Nora couldn’t feign an ounce of interest. It was devilishly hot in the dry August sun and she was parched, needing a cool glass of water back home– which was not in the direction I was pointing. 

“You can’t do that!” she screamed as I hopped down into the ditch, climbing towards a flimsy fence separating me from my bounty.  It was easy to climb under and I did, rewarded by a thick cluster of fat, juicy berries.

“Stop Mado, it’s private property,” she yelled as I dove into her neighbour’s field. I pulled my black shirt out like a hamper and dropped the berries in by the handful. They were three times the size of an Ontario blackberry and as sweet as can be. The proliferation stunned me.  I’d never seen so many ripe, blackberries in my fruit-loving life.  

To keep the family peace, I crawled back under the fence obeying my sister-in-law’s admonishments while offering her a handful of the stolen goods. 

“Huh, what are these?” She held one berry in her fingers, brought it before her nose, inhaled,    opened her mouth, popped the berry in and started to moan, loudly. 

I’d found an accomplice. 

The following day we returned to the field armed with empty yogurt containers, filling two each in no time. That evening we dined on my first and most memorable pie. Pure blackberry pie.  I’d never made pie pastry before and somehow fashioned a semblance  with flour and shortening found in the back corners of her cupboards. I filled it with our black bounty, fresh from the pick but already leaking juice, crushing the bottom berries with its weight.  

I had set the oven at 425 F and in 10 minutes it had not only preheated but was rumbling like a coal fire.  I opened the oven door and felt a blast of heat so outrageously hot, I trembled in fear, offering my sweet berry pie to this monster. I waited five minutes and wisely turned off the oven, realizing the oven thermometer was broken, fearing my pie would explode in a ball of lava if I didn’t stop the oven’s frenzy. 

Remarkably, those free California blackberries and a broken oven thermometer was all I needed to make the most flaky, golden, berry-filled perfect pie of my life. Many have followed but none, thankfully,  with as much drama. 

I’m still a forager and a seed stealer dividing my time between downtown Toronto and rural BC. I am apt to walk down Logan Ave with a small set of scissors and surreptitiously snip off some morning glory seeds I have been watching dry throughout the fall.  Recently I filled my pockets with sweet pea pods at a Duncan community garden, knowing the owner would consider me a seed-saver, not a thief.  I expect the folks in the cars lined up at our Starbucks drive-through think the same when they see me roll down my window and pull a handful of brown and dry Cosmos flowers into the car as I wait for my latte order. 

It’s all Ling’s fault.  She asked me what those purple and white Cosmos flowers were growing in Riverdale gardens in the 1990s.  I didn’t know their name, then.  I asked her why she cared and she slipped a hand into her jeans’ pocket and revealed a mess of crumbled brown seed heads. Next, she scribbled “Purple Flowers” in Chinese on a piece of paper, put the seed heads in the middle and folded an instant, origami paper envelope. 

“I brought seeds from Shanghai,” she said proudly. I knew then that any refugee fleeing their homeland who cares enough to pack seeds for the escape was exactly the kind of garden guru I wanted to learn from.  Ling taught me not only seed saving, but how to root cuttings and separate clusters of African violets. 

So are we thieves or stewards of the earth?  I like to think the latter.

That’s why I came up with this muffin recipe.  It combines the best of The BC Forageables – blackberries —  and uses up sourdough that is normally discarded. A double save!  

Sourdough Blackberry Lemon Muffins

 

1 1/4 cup            all purpose, organic

½ cup                            whole spelt

1 tsp                    baking powder

1 tsp                    baking soda

1 tsp                    salt

 

 

1 stick                           unsalted butter, room temp

2/3 cup               refined sugar

2                          eggs

Zest                     of one lemon

100 gm/3.5 oz              sourdough discard

 

2 cups                           frozen blackberries

3/4 cup                sour cream/yogurt

 

 

 

Preheat oven to  400F. 

 

In a medium bowl combine or sift all purpose, spelt, baking powder, baking soda and  salt. 

 

In a mixer, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Combine lemon zest and gently fold in sourdough discard.

 

In medium bowl, toss frozen berries with 1 tbsp of flour mixture

 

Fold in half of the flour mixture and half of sour cream, then repeat.  Gently add blackberries in flour. 

 

Divide mixture using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup dry measure into 12 muffin cups.  

 

Bake 20-25 min or until golden and  tester comes out clean.

Red Fife Ginger Molasses Cookies

My ode to Red Fife comes in the form of a cookie.

This recipe starts like so many of its cookie counterparts with sugar and butter. (Sorry vegans.)  Butter not only makes cookies exceptionally rich in flavour but it creates a luxurious mouthfeel, too.

Recipes ask bakers to cream these two foundational pillars of Cookiedom.  That won’t happen if your butter is cold. Pull out an unsalted stick or two at least two hours before you plan to bake.

A KitchenAid mixer is a must if you bake as regularly as I do.  Drop butter and sugar into the mixing bowl, attach the whisk, press “Go” and watch these two ingredients intermingle and transform into a light, magical creamy mass.

IMG_5049Next, crack an egg into the mix and lightly oil a measuring cup to ensure easy lift-off for the half cup of molasses needed.

That’s a little trick I share with my daughter Krystal as we bake up a batch.  She has never baked with molasses before and feels less than patient as it endlessly pours in a feathery  stream out of our almost empty Crosby’s Fancy Molasses container. Likewise, she’s wholly unimpressed with this sweetener’s slightly metallic, smoky taste.

But she complies with my teaching suggestions today, knowing I insist on constant tasting, sniffing and touching to learn baking’s alchemy.

She also knows there are white chocolate chips in the mix.

Ah, white chocolate chips. These are forefront on Krystal’s mind as we search the kitchen cupboards and drawers for this cookie’s ingredients. Unlike cloves, which we grind, sniff and sift fresh, or candied ginger, instantly proclaimed “yuck” when sampled, Krystal needs little encouragement to gobble a handful of chips after she measures a very generous half-cup.

It’s the Red Fife that excites this baker. Canada’s heirloom wheat varietal adds incredible flavour to these cookies, especially if it’s locally sourced and freshly milled.

Luckily, that’s what 1847 Stone Milled Flour is all about. They’re very busy filling orders in the midst of this pandemic, but if ever there was an essential ingredient needed for baking security, it’s flour. Check it out.IMG_5056

 

Red Fife Ginger Molasses Cookies

Red Fife Ginger Molasses Cookies

These are thin, saucer shaped cookies with gingery buttery goodness. Makes 30

3 cups             Red Fife

1 ½ tsp            baking soda

3/4 tsp             baking powder

½ tsp                salt

1 tbsp              ground ginger

¼ tsp                cloves (freshly ground if possible)

¾ cup              room temp butter (1½ sticks)

½ cup               brown sugar

¼  cup              organic white sugar

½ cup              molasses

1                      large egg

1 cup           white chocolate chips

Rolling Mixture

1/3 cup            granulated sugar

¼ cup               finely chopped candied ginger

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves.

In mixing bowl cream butter, brown sugar and  ¼ cup granulated organic sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses and egg.

In thirds, add in flour mixture and continue mixing until just combined. Sprinkle over with white chocolate chips. It’s a heavy dough that’s not easy to mix.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop tablespoons of dough arranging 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Put sugar in small bowl. Form each cookie into a ball and lightly roll in sugar to coat. IMG_5046Place a chopped piece of candied ginger on each sugared ball.  Using the bottom of a glass, flatten into 3 inch rounds.

Bake until golden brown 12-14 min

Cool on a wire rack 

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Cardamom Biscotti

Sometimes it just has to go cardamom in my kitchen.  I start dreaming about flavour swaps and find my hands magically clutching a baggie of army-green pods from that crazy mishmash called my spice drawer. I hold the bag and … sigh.

No, I start cussing, wondering aloud if I have the cooking mojo in me to ferret out their cache.  Will my cold, stiff fingers find the fortitude to single out each and every one of these tiny seeds that bear an uncanny resemblance to mouse turds?

Cardamom pods aren’t like those happy, smiling pistachio nuts, each cracked and cooperative. These babies are sealed shut like an exotic, perfumed temptress.

Thus, they bring out the pounder in me.

I’ve tried crushing them under my chef’s knife like garlic cloves –  but lo, they slide and slither.  I’ve grabbed a sheet of wax paper and hammered a rolling pin over them a few times, to absolutely no avail, except for a heap of shredded wax paper.

Luckily, an adorable silver mortar and pestle comes to my rescue.

I throw a handful of pods in the bowl and happily clunk the silver pestle down until I hear crunch after satisfying crunch, splitting and cracking, dispersing their wealth.

The very first pod reaps a clump of tar-black seeds.  I can hear my East Indian cooking teacher intoning “Only the black ones are good” as I crack open pod after pod that she’d obviously throw out.  A sliver fuzzy membrane is scattered among my largely brown, verging on beige collection. I drop it all into my spice grinder and grimace, again, because fifteen minutes of finicky fine motor work hasn’t even covered my spice grinder’s blade!

Despite this ominous beginning, the seeds whirl into a satisfying silvery and soft powder that trails up into my waiting nostrils with an explosion of menthol and sweet, peppery perfume that is unmistakably cardamom.

Why don’t I just throw up a white flag and buy it ground?

Because I want flavour. Whole spices that are crushed or ground right before use, release essential oils full of oomph.  And oomph is what I have planned for this special little biscotti  packed with toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds, filled with organic flours, eggs, sugar and vanilla then made perfect thanks to cardamom in the batter. I finish each and every log of biscotti dough with a sparkle of cardamom sugar.

Just a pinch will do it.

 

Cardamom Biscotti

I really can’t live in a house without biscotti. They are my go-to cookie and a welcome gift to friends and family . Thanks to the double bake, they store for weeks, even months in a closed glass container and travel well on airplanes and road trips.

Biscotti Batter:

1 cup whole, raw almonds

½ cup pumpkin seeds

1 ¼ cup organic all purpose flour

1 ¼ cup organic soft whole wheat flour

1 1/4 cups organic granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp salt

4 large eggs

3 tsp vanilla

The Finishing Touches:

1-3 tbsp flour (for rolling out logs)

½ tsp ground cardamom

1 tbsp organic granulated

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

To toast almonds, arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Add pumpkin seeds to the sheet and bake another 5 minutes. Allow nuts and seeds to cool completely.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.

Whisk eggs and vanilla in bowl of an electric mixer until frothy. Use the paddle attachment to mix in flour and sugar mixture.  As soon as the dough clumps around the paddle, add toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds and mix until just combined.

Dust countertop with flour. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Spoon out one quarter of the sticky dough, dust lightly with flour and working quickly, roll into a 8-10 inch log. Transfer log to baking sheet. Repeat 3 times.

In a small bowl, mix sugar and cardamom.  Sprinkle over logs with pinched fingers.

Bake for 30 minutes or until biscotti logs are golden and firm. Completely cool logs on a rack for at least 30 min.  Using a serrated knife, cut crosswise into 3/4 inch wide slices.  Arrange cut side down on baking sheets and return to 350 oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden-brown and crisp.

An ode to damson plums

Many, many, moons ago, my friend Nora suggested damson plum jam.  I’d never heard of damson and didn’t know where I’d find them.  I was a novice canner, having put up my first batch of Seville marmalade sometime after all those Millennials were born.

There was a crew of us cooking ladies, back then, crowded in my steamy kitchen with my blue enamel canning pot frothing on the back burner. As dozens of Bernardin jars jiggled and clanked through sterilization, we peeled off Seville skins, arguing over the presence of white pith or not, before piling the peels on top of each other, slicing them into teensy strips no wider than a toothpick. Someone measured cup after cup of granulated white sugar, while the bossiest among us stirred circles of hot, sputtering, bubbling orange fruitiness.

We were kitchen warriors and we all agreed on everything except something:  The Gelling Point. The conversation grew even more heated when damson came into play.

But first, I had to find the little gems and naturally, I called Tony at The Harvest Wagon on Yonge Street, deep in the heart of fine food shopping La La Land.

IMG_6115Tony and I were on a first name basis ever since I interviewed him for a newspaper column and he revealed that his Rosedale customers didn’t really care about price (!)  All they wanted, he claimed, were tidy piles of the best looking bounty from every corner of the globe.

“Check in weekly,” he said cheerily before we hung up.

It was early September and all the other plums — yellow, green gage, Italian prune — had come and gone.  I was doubtful that this alien called damson would be found.

“Not many people request it,” he’d said earlier in our call. “But I’ve got a supplier in Quebec.”

Tony never let me down. A week later, I walked out of his store with a million dollars’ worth of the sour little gems in their dark purple suits. Nora and I set to work. After two hours of hard labour, we were at that crucial juncture that stops any jam purist from hyperventilating and pulling out a box of commercial pectin.

It’s called the gelling point but should be called pointless, since all the indicators leading to it – heat, natural pectin content, flavour and consistency – meld into one big messy, sugary fruit concoction stirred by a bossy broad who makes the call, erroneously, again and again.

That, my dear readers, is little old me.

I have this thing with jams and jellies. I always want to make them but get burnt out at the eleventh hour and make a totally impatient miscall on the gelling point.

Nora knows not to listen to my pectin theories anymore.  Like any sensible cooking partner, she calmly looks the other way when I hold up a jam-dripping wooden spoon, perilously close to her snout, and screech out “It’s sheeting!”. She just laughs when I open my freezer and yank out a little frozen plate. She snorts when I plonk a test blob of cooking jam on the frozen surface and claim that it’s “rippling just like the cookbook says” before our very eyes.

Nora doesn’t take any of my gel guff anymore. She makes the call. But when she’s not by my side to slap me into gel sanity, things go wonky.

It’s why my sister and I have made a tradition of basting Easter lamb with my secret Seville sauce that annually never quite gels into marmalade.  It’s why David found himself penning Blum Sauce on a recent Herd Road batch in my desperation to distract BC gel-sniffers.

I know few will believe me, but my most recent foray into the damson plum realm rewarded my tenaciousness with two crowning glories: a damson jam that neatly gelled without added pectin and a cake that is simply Plum Easy.

Plus, I didn’t have to call Tony, my uh, supplier.

I simply turned on Google Map and made my way to Sheila’s house in Mill Bay where a box of fresh-picked damson plums sat near her back door. Sheila had recently helped her friend denude a backyard tree of these little wonders and asked me after a Pilates class if I knew what to do with damson.

IMG_6113Did I know?

Memories of Nora’s knowing, raised eyebrows filled this cook’s heart with glee as David and I poured the purple mountain of Sheila’s picked damsons into a bag. We hurried them back to my new fancy kitchen where I started to measure and conjure up culinary fun times.  I had 9 lbs 3 oz of the little orbs to hand pit and was ready to go into a coma after the first dozen when I  developed a brilliant sleight of hand.  I dug my fingernails into each plum’s belly, eviscerated it,  separated pit from parent, netting 8 lbs 6 oz.  of readied product in just under an hour.

I was about to wrap up all those pits in a cheesecloth bag and add them to my jam session until my wiser-self asked Dr. Google a thing or two. I learned those plum pits weren’t going to improve my gelling odds, were devoid of natural pectin and might come in handy as pie weights. I washed, dried and bottled up 2 cups of the almond-like babies.

Then I made My Best Ever Damson Jam spiked with homegrown hot peppers which I present to you now, knowing that you’re unlikely to make it, but might not resist the second very easy recipe offered below.

IMG_6122

My Best Ever Damson Jam Spiked with Chillies

  • Servings: 7-8 250 mL jars
  • Print

Okay, you’ve read my story but ask Nora how good damson jam is. We may not agree on gelling point but we are both bedazzled by damson plums’ puckering, rich flesh and sweet skins that shrivel into dark magical ribbons when served on a toasted slice of home baked levain.

3 1/2 lbs pitted damson

5 cups granulated white sugar

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 tbsp lemon zest

1 1/2 tsp coarsely ground dried red hot peppers

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Bake damson plums in a large baking pan, covered with aluminum foil for 30 min.

Transfer cooked damson into a large, wide-rimmed pot, add sugar, lemon juice, zest and ground chillies bring to a rapid bowl, stirring for 10 minutes until the magical gelling point occurs.

Ladle jam into sterilized jars leaving ¼ inch headspace and process for 10 min. 

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Plum Easy Cake

Sheila alerted me to this famous find, originally published by the New York Times and authored by Marion Burrows as “Original Plum Torte”.  Phooey.  This isn’t a torte, it’s a dead easy cake that you can pile upon its spooned batter a ton of ripe cut fruit, sugar and spice.  Here’s my over-the-top version with Damson.

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs

1/2 cup unbleached white flour

½ cup spelt, kamut or whole wheat

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 cups pitted and halved Damson plums

¼ granulated sugar

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper.

Whisk together sugar and butter in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs.

In a small bowl, combine flours, baking powder and salt.  Fold dry ingredients into wet to create a stiff batter.

In a medium bowl, combine plums, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon.

Spoon batter into pan, level with a spatula and top with fruit.

Bake 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.  Remove from oven, allow to cool for 10 minutes, trace a butter knife around the edges of the pan and de-pan.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Memoir of a muffin

When I tasted my first bran muffin at the corner of College and Bathurst at The Mars, it was a revelation. I was 19, wore a peasant skirt over Kodiak boots and rolled my own cigarettes with Drum tobacco. I thought myself street-wise but was anything but … Just incredibly curious and always, always hungry. Thus, that first ravenous bite into a Mars bran muffin – dark with molasses and dense like black forest cake – is pure gold in my food memory bank.

My boyfriend Bob was also a revelation. Nothing about him resembled where I came from. He hadn’t grown up in North Toronto or gone to Upper Canada College (like my brother, father or grandfather) but he sure knew enough about betting to pique my father’s gambling instincts  and instill a gin rummy playing camaraderie between them.

One summer evening at a family cottage dinner, my stately grandmother innocently asked “And what is it that you do, my dear?” while passing Bob the gravy boat.

“I’m a bookie,” chirped Bob grinning like a cherub, thrilled to make this reveal. Nonnie promptly cleared her throat and my grandfather mumbled “Holy sailor” but no one else asked another word, quickly sweeping this unpleasant news under the nearest carpet.

IMG_2896But back to the muffin. The Mars muffin. It was big, filling and dotted with plump, fat raisins. They were served hot from the oven, sliced in half with a large pat of cold butter wedged inside and fully melted in seconds. Diners, breakfast eggs, take-out baklava and percolated coffee played large in my coming of culinary age. These gigantic muffins were new to diners in the 70s and customers would line up in front of the cash register hoping to leave with half a dozen of these towering –no, glistening – babies stuffed inside a Mars embossed, white cardboard box.

Near that same cash register, along the long, white Formica diner bar, were stools occupied by inner-city characters of dubious distinction. Bob seemed to know them all. They had nicknames like Baldy, Joe the Dipper or Car Fare. Some came “packing” and others had Mafia affiliations following them like shadows.

Bob, being Bob, liked to break away pieces of my W.A.S.P. veneer by unexpectedly pushing me in front of one of these cigar smoking men at the Mars saying, “Hey Dukey, meet my girlfriend Lynn.  She’s a Haver-girl.” I seethed at these embarrassments…  but they didn’t stop me from moving to New York with Bob a year later and attending an Ivy League college while he worked as a bouncer at Studio 54.

IMG_2898But back to the muffins.  I made some today in my West coast kitchen as the rain pelted across a gray, foggy horizon in a day-long deluge. I searched through my baking boxes and pulled out a bag of wheat bran, which now looks oddly old school next to newer fibrous fads like chia, flax or hemp. I found some spelt which adds such friendly nuttiness to any baking equation.

I mixed the dry and wet ingredients in two separate bowls. Quick breads and muffins all like this preparatory segregation with just minimal combining prior to the bake. Crosby’s molasses is a necessary must if you want real tasting bran muffins. And remember to measure the oil in the measuring cup first as prep for the molasses, which will slide out of the measuring cup effortlessly if you do.

Unlike the Mars bran muffin, these ones are good for you: moist, satisfying and rich. I’m willing to place a double-or-nothing bet on Crisco as the trans-fat source of those yesteryear muffins. Yet still, I savour that muffin’s nostalgia and happily munched on all these memories when creating, baking and eating my latest version.

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Banana Bran Muffins

Healthy, fibre-full muffins with a rich, moist texture and just a hint of banana or apple flavour.

Dry Ingredients:

1 ½ cups          wheat bran

¾ cup               all purpose flour

¾ cup               spelt

¾ cup               raisins or chopped dates

1 tsp                 cinnamon

1 tsp                 baking soda

1 tsp                 baking powder

½ tsp                salt

Wet ingredients

2 eggs              mixed

1 cup               mashed, really ripe bananas (about 2 ½) OR unsweetened apple sauce

¾ cup              plain yogurt

½ cup              milk

1/3 cup            molasses

¼ cup              vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400 F

Mix dry and wet ingredients separately in large bowl.  Combine until just mixed. Use a ¼ cup measure to dollop into large paper muffin cups. Bake 20 minutes.  Makes 12 large muffins.

 

When a danish goes Swedish

I’ve got a really great book club.  Sure, we like to read the odd book but what we’re really about is food.

This month our pick was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  We chose it because it met two of our essential requirements. The story was set in Sweden offering a new cuisine for our food laden meeting and heck, Swedish  meatballs were on our minds

I offered to make dessert but couldn’t come up with a single Swedish idea, let alone recipe name. So I opened up my two-inch thick, 10 pound heavy copy of The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg and found two measly entries: Swedish Lenten Buns (which fellow member Jann had already snagged) and Swedish Apple Tart. Besides, both of these recipes were incredibly complicated (duh, it’s for pros)!

So I made a simple geographical jump, reasoning that those southern neighbours of Sweden had a good thing going on.

In other words, a Danish could go Swedish. Continue reading “When a danish goes Swedish”