Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Blackberry Crumb Bars

For regular readers of this blog, you’ll know that May heralds the arrival of my favorite social event of possibly the entire year: The Virginia Gold Cup Steeple Chase (and terrier race). An homage to floppy hats, fascinators, sundresses and seersucker in the style of the Kentucky Derby, this day filled with lawn drinking, people watching and, of course, horse racing is something I look forward to every year.

In addition to the critical details of planning the perfect attire, unsurprisingly I also spend weeks debating the perfect dessert to bring. Usually I, of course, lean towards cupcakes, celebrating with Derby-worth flavors like Mint Julep and Lemon Iced Tea. But the past two years I’ve come to realize that, sadly, perhaps cupcakes aren’t the most picnic-friendly food. So this year I decided to embrace the finger foods and went with crumb bars. Which can only mean one thing…BLACKBERRIES!

It’s no secret by now that blackberries are by far my favorite fruit, and I can’t help but whip up one of my signature blackberry pies whenever they’re on sale at the grocery.  One would think that crumb bar recipes would be pretty standard, but apparently this is not the case. I scoured dozens of recipes to find one that was not too crumb-heavy, and used both blackberry jam as well as whole blackberries to boost the sweetness and blackberry flavor. And, let me tell you, this recipe from Rumbly In My Tumbly is beyond drool-worthy. Trust me. Plan ahead, because when blackberries hit your local farmer’s market this summer, these will be the star of any pool party or BBQ you take them to.

Blackberry Crumb Bars make their Gold Cup debut

A couple of notes:
I love that these came together very quickly, leaving me plenty of time to also throw together a batch of lemon bars (can we also talk about how there is a dearth of good lemon bar recipes out there?) But I do recommend refrigerating them for several hours if you have the time to help them keep shape once you slice them. You could also substitute just about any fruit/jam combo for these bars, and the cream cheese drizzle frosting is optional if you’re trying to cut sugar but, believe me, it adds a lot. 

Blackberry Crumb Bars
1 cup white sugar
1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon zest (about 1 medium-sized lemon)
1 teaspoon baking Powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, Cold and cut into pieces
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh blackberries
1 1/4 cups of blackberry jam
1/8 cup white sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch

3 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 - 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon extract *optional
1-2 Tablespoons of cream or milk

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a 9x13 inch pan with foil and butter/spray the foil.

2. In a large bowl, combine the lemon zest and 1 cup sugar. Using your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until it becomes moist and fragrant. (I used my food processor, and just pulsed the sugar and lemon together a few times) Add the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter, or use your finger tips to incorporate the butter. But work quickly, you don't want the heat from your fingers to melt the butter too much. (Again, I just used my food processor and pulsed it a few times). Stir in the egg. Dough will be crumbly and coarse, like thick wet sand.

4. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

5. In a separate, large bowl, stir together the 1/8 cup of sugar and cornstarch. Gently mix in the blackberries and jam.

6. Carefully sprinkle/spread the blackberry mixture evenly over the crust (leave about a 1/4-inch border around the edges of the pan so the berries won't burn.)

7. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer. Bake in preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown.

8. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Slowly sift in the powdered sugar. Start to add a little bit of the cream (don't add it all at once.) Add as much or as little of the powdered sugar and cream as needed. The drizzle should not be too thick, you want to be able to shake it onto the bars in a zigzag patten with a whisk or fork.

9. Drizzle the cream cheese mixture over the top of the warm bars.  Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pistacia Vera

Even though I try to keep up with bakery developments in my home town, luckily my parents are always on the lookout for new sweet spots to try out for whenever I come to visit. This was the case on my last trip home--even though my visit was a surprise, my mom didn't miss a beat and dropped several hints that there was a place in Columbus' German Village called Pistacia Vera that she thought I might like.

I know what you're thinking--German Village?? For those who haven't had the pleasure of visiting Columbus, Ohio, German Village sparks the same reaction in many Columbusites that Georgetown invokes in some here in D.C. "It's out of the way!" "It's crowded!" "It's so hard to park!"All valid points. But Pistacia Vera is more than worth the trip to this quaint cobblestoned neighborhood.

Billing itself as a "dessert boutique," Pistacia Vera might as well call it like it is--a patisserie. I was amazed walking into the adorable shop, with a case full of pastries that could have come straight from Paris.

In addition to the traditional galettes, financiers, palmiers and (my all time favorite) cannel├ęs there are, of course...macarons! Can you tell I just can't get enough of these things? :) Pistacia Vera whips up traditional flavors like pistacio, coconut and nutella as well as amazingly delicious, unique flavors like Black raspberry Rose, Cassis Chocolate Bergamot, and Yuzu Bergamot.

In addition to phenomenal pastries, Pistacia Vera also offers a small brunch menu from 7am-2pm daily--be sure to get there early to snag one of the few tables in the light-filled dining room. If Columbus isn't on your radar any time soon, never fear--Pistacia Vera has an online boutique! Their macarons, nougat, toffee, cookies and coffee are all available to order.

If you go:
Pistacia Vera
541 South Third Street
Columbus, OH 43215
(they have a parking lot across the street!!)