berries

the perfect snacking cake + einkorn flour by Annie Jefferson

This is the perfect snacking cake. Not too sweet, not too rich, and on the cakey rather than dense end of the spectrum with cornmeal for crunching and a sturdy brown crust. It picks up, transports, and slices beautifully. It's extremely versatile, flexing to accommodate rhubarb in the spring, cranberries in the winter, and sliced peaches or berries of any kind in the summer. It would welcome on top a drizzling of vanilla glaze, a sprinkling of chopped pistachios, or the zest of an orange. It serves well for breakfast, brunch, dessert or simply to have around for midday (or late-day or early-day) snacking. 

The perfect snaking cake is inspired by the Blueberry Cornmeal Cake from Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe in Santa Monica. Have you been? I went for the first time a few weeks ago and spent the whole brunch flipping through the cafe copy of the Huckleberry cookbook. I looked up just enough to notice that the line was out the door from start to finish and that every single thing arriving at the tables looked good. I knew about their Blueberry Cornmeal Cake long before that day and ordering and eating it was the first thing I did when we got there, even before brunch came. 

The Huckleberry recipe - found both here and here - includes, in addition to a load of sugar and butter, one and a half cups of all-purpose white flour. It's really delicious. I'd recommend coming to LA to try it. But for our purposes, for a snacking cake to be a snacking cake, it has to feel okay to go in for a second or third slice without feeling sick or regret.

Although - as with everything - there are exceptions and special occasions, it's increasingly clear that all-purpose white flour is not a solution for everyday cooking. There's a lot of confusion and misinformation these days about wheat and gluten and what, if any of this, is making us unwell. The current thinking is that gluten itself is actually only harmful to the very small percentage of population with celiac disease. For the rest of us who are suffering, we're likely experiencing the inflammatory and digestive issues associated with sensitivity to the modern, mass market brand of wheat.

For thousands of years before us, wheat was a - if not the - nutritional staple, the opposite of making people sick. It was fresh and organic, made from whole kernels and stone ground in small quantities to nourish communities. Modern wheat, however, through a process of 'refining' the berries by stripping them of their nutritious bran and germ and then 'enriching' the flour by adding back the smallest amount of nutrients, is a far cry from from the wheat our grandmothers and certainly their grandmothers were baking with. What we consume today is a dramatically altered - some say 'mutant' - form of wheat that has evolved over the last several generations with the advent of industrial milling, genetic modification and so-called 'high-input' farming to maximize yield and minimize costs. "It ain't wheat" in the words of Wheat Belly author, William Davis, and it's no wonder we are sick. 

Back to the cake. I'd been reading about einkorn flour for some time, but I hadn't tried baking with it until now, and I'm sure it would have taken me much longer to do so had my boyfriend's mom not showed up with a bag of the stuff, sensing that my first attempt at recreating this cake using almond and spelt flours fell flat. Einkorn is the world's most ancient wheat, sometimes called 'man's first wheat', and it's one of the only strains that hasn't been hybridized, meaning it's never undergone the artificial process of selection based on desirable characteristics, such as with high gluten content in modern wheat. As a result, einkorn is as wild as it gets when it comes to wheat, and people seem to be reporting much more positive digestive responses than with regular flour. This makes sense since the low gluten content is easier on digestion, and easy digestion allows for greater absorption of nutrients, with which einkorn is packed.

This cake adapted well to einkorn flour and I was pleased to see what a perfect 1:1 replacement it was. We opt for natural cane sugar in place of white sugar and replace the butter with solid coconut oil to maximize snackability. The greek yogurt adds a density and a volume that really helps both sturdy and fluff up the cake. But really, this cake is about celebrating the magic of the einkorn flour - if you've worked with einkorn recently, let me know about your experience below!

BLACKBERRY CORNMEAL SNACKING CAKE

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil, solid
3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups einkhorn all-purpose flour*
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups full fat greek yogurt
1 cup blackberries, or other fruit
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar for sprinkling

METHOD
Position a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350°F. Line and grease a 10-inch round cake pan.

Using a standing or handheld mixer, beat together the coconut oil, maple syrup and salt until thoroughly incorporated. Add the eggs and egg white, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl well. Stir in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. Stir into liquid ingredients until only just incorporated (batters with einkorn flour can get gummy). Fold in greek yogurt.

Scoop the batter into the pan, pour over the blackberries (or your choice of fruit), and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool for about 15-30 minutes in the pan.

Remove the cake: place a flat plate on top of the cake and pan. Carefully invert the cake onto the plate by flipping both upside down. Then lift the pan off the cake. Gently pull the parchment from every nook and cranny of the cake, being careful not to break the cake. Rest your serving plate on the bottom of the cake and turn the cake right-side up onto the plate.

*If you are trying to stick to a gluten-free diet, a combination of gluten-free flour and/or almond flours should work here. 

mixed berry tart with lemon coconut curd by Annie Jefferson

Spring is here and this tart wants to make sure you don’t forget it and accidentally make another apple pie. It’s bright and nutty and subtly sweet (and vegan and gluten-free) and really lovely to look at, with that particular brand of crust that’s flaked with the textures and shades of brown that you only get when you force seeds, nuts and grains to behave like flour and butter.

The shell is made of oats, flax seed and almonds, the lemon curd of coconut milk and maple syrup, the berries are berries and there are four beautiful varieties of them. They feel extra precious at the beginning of these warmer spring months.

It’s hard to ignore, however, that berries aren’t cheap. And when you’re making a tart like this, you need a lot of berries and they need to look fresh and lively (a.k.a. not frozen). Learning what’s behind a carton of berries made me much more accepting of their price tag and, along the way, much more respecting of these delicate little flavor bombs.

The life of a berry is touch and go from seed to mouth. Berries are one of the most perishable crops, largely due to their comparatively high water content (between 85% and 92%), paired with their very delicate, relatively unprotective skin. Berries, like many fruits and vegetables (for example, avocados and bananas), will continue to ripen even after harvesting through the production of a naturally formed chemical called ethylene – a ‘fruit ripening gas’ – which is responsible for them going from ripe to spoiled within hours. Ethylene is also known as the ‘aging hormone’ in plants. Produced by a plant when it is sick or injured, it’s the same chemical that causes them to die.

Let’s back up even further. What’s taken place in the life of a berry before the moment you hand over your cash at the market to bring it home where it will continue it’s ripening stroke rotting process on your kitchen counter?

Great care and attention is required in the cultivation of berries. Their growing requirements are extremely sensitive and their behavior unpredictable. Mild rain or extreme heat will destroy them, especially when ripe and even when covered by protective tents. As harvest approaches, growers will keep close watch on the weather and if skies suggest rain, they will pick the berries immediately to save the crop. Too delicate to be harvested by a machine, each berry must be picked by hand. Growers wear heavy gear in hot summer temperatures to protect themselves from stings from bees and raspberries alike.

Once picked, berries can survive for about one day at room temperature, so must be transported quickly, yet often across far distances. National Geographic followed the journey of a strawberry 3,200 miles from the west to the east coast, with fuel bills in the several thousands of dollars and truckers paid by the mile, all racing against the biological berry clock while the little guys sat carefully tucked inside the refrigerated trailer of a truck, suffocating from their own aging gas. This all brings us back to you handing over your cash where we started above

Some foods, it seems, are naturally resistant to the artificial rhythms of industrialized agriculture. Berries, brightly colored compared to the leafy background against which they grow, are meant to stand out and be visible in their natural environments – a pretty intelligent evolutionary mechanism for getting animals to eat and spread their seeds (in biological terms, this is called ‘dispersal’). Given their rapid deterioration once removed from their place of growth, it’s fair to conclude they are intended to be eaten at the source, probably somewhat immediately rather than trucked across the country.

As with everything, your local farmer’s market will have the freshest, least-traveled and least-aged berries. If you sense your berries have started to go off, the berry experts out there suggest a hot water or diluted vinegar rinse to revive them.

As much as the berries take the tart here, the crust is also a treasure for any baking repertoire that seeks healthy alternatives. The recipe is extremely versatile and lends itself to experimentation. I’ve had success with ground pecans and rice flour, also with butter in place of oil for a non-vegan crowd. It presses beautifully into whatever form and crisps up quickly in the oven.

The coconut lemon curd is also a really simple go-to. At first I was inclined to use honey for sweetness, but the maple syrup mellows out the tartness of the mixture, along with the creamy coconut milk. You can put this in/on everything: spread it onto a layer cake, bake it into a loaffry it into doughnuts, fold it into greek yogurt or just eat it on its own with some whipped cream (and berries) on top.

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TART SHELL

INGREDIENTS
1 cup raw almonds
2 1/3 cups gluten-free oat flour
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil, softened
3 tbsp maple syrup, plus 1 tablespoon
1-2 tbsp water, as needed
1 tablespoon almond milk (or soy)

METHOD
Preheat oven to 375° F. Oil a 10-inch tart pan with a removable base (8-inch will work fine, but you may have leftover dough from this recipe) and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

Grind almonds in a food processor until crumbed into coarse, small pieces. Then add oat flour, cinnamon, flax and salt, and continue to pulse until incorporated. Add coconut oil, maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of water, and continue to pulse. You should have a crumbly mess of damp pieces of dough, which should stick together when pressed between your fingers. If it doesn’t, add 1 more tablespoon of water and continue to mix thoroughly.

Pour the dough evenly over the base of the pan and begin pressing down with your fingers from the center of the pan towards the edges and up the sides, ensuring as much as possible that you are forming an even layer of dough. With the pad of your pointer finger, lightly press the lip of the crust into each flute of the tart pan so that your dough mimics the shape of the pan. Using a fork, poke the base of the tart several times to allow air to escape during baking.

Whisk together the almond milk and remaining maple syrup in a bowl. Carefully brush the mixture over the top edges of the crust (this will help the exposed crust get golden and shiny).

Bake for 12-14 minutes until dried out and slightly darker in color. Don’t worry if it feels soft to the touch, it will continue to firm up as it cools.

COCONUT LEMON CREAM FILLING

INGREDIENTS
1 cup canned coconut milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

METHOD
Whisk coconut milk, maple syrup and lemon juice and zest in a large saucepan. Turn heat to medium-high and once warmed throughout, stir in sugar. Then add cornstarch and still constantly for 4-6 minutes while the mixture thickens. If you don’t continue to stir, you will end up with clumps of cornstarch. Once the mixture has thickened to a creamy, thick yogurt consistency, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before applying to tart shell. The mixture can be made several days ahead and stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It will firm up once cooled, so when you’re ready to use it, let it fully come to room temperature and then whisk it until it returns to a creamy consistency.

ASSEMBLY

INGREDIENTS
4 cups fresh mixed berries, rinsed and drained (1 carton of each will do)
1 tablespoon honey
water
1 teaspoon lemon juice

METHOD
Place your tart shell on a serving platter. Spoon the lemon curd into the center and using the back of a spoon spread it out in even circles to the edge of the tart. Continue to smooth until you have a flat surface.

Arrange berries on top of the filling, either randomly as shown above or patterned. I like to fill in any blank spaces so the tart feels full to the brim with fruit.

Whisk together honey, lemon and water in a bowl. Using a pastry brush, paint the mixture onto the top of the berries, covering all surfaces until shiny.