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Blueberries transform with heat

Summer after summer, I have been trying to bond with fresh blueberries but it has not come to fruition.

This is not for a lack of trying. I have traveled miles to find different varieties of blueberries, sampled ones from farm stands and those that come with carbon footprints, analyzed the size and popped in small, medium and big ones. But I still don’t really “get” them. When ripe, I find them to be squishy, not juicy; and flavorless, not sweet or tart.

I know, I know, blueberries are considered the king of antioxidants, packed with vitamins C & K, low in calories and known to lower blood pressure. Much as I am mindful of what I eat, I like fruits that are assertive and have some brass, shall we say, and that’s where blueberries let me down.

Even though I would like them to have more chutzpah as fresh fruits, I would give plenty of fist bumps to baked goods with blueberries. The berries have a wonderful temperament toward high heat, softening well when baked but yet hanging on to their shape. Also, cakes, bars, breads and muffins look visually stunning studded with blue polka dots.

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When it comes to adding blueberries to a cake or bread batter, keep some basic tips in mind: Freeze the fresh berries before adding them to the batter to avoid staining the sugar-egg-butter-flour mixture to an unappealing blue. Also, it pays to toss the berries with flour before adding them to the batter so that they won’t sink to the bottom of the muffin or cake.

BLUEBERRY-BUTTERMILK PIE BARS

Makes 16 squares

FOR THE CRUST:

¾ cup all-purpose flour, divided

Nate Guidry/TNS
Blueberry-Buttermilk Pie Bars are best the day they are made.

1/3 cup sugar

¼ cup cornmeal (not coarse)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

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¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

FOR THE TOPPING:

1½ teaspoons cornstarch

1½ cups buttermilk, divided

4 large eggs, at room temperature

½ cup sugar

Pinch of fine sea salt

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 cup fresh blueberries

For the crust, have an 8-inch square baking pan at hand.

Put flour, sugar, cornmeal, cornstarch and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Drop in the chunks of butter and work in long pulses until you have a moist dough that forms curds.

Turn dough out into the pan and press it evenly, using your fingertips.

Place pan in refrigerator while oven preheats to 350 degrees (dough needs a short chill before baking).

Bake crust for 23 to 25 minutes, until it’s golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the crust to cool completely.

For the topping, spoon cornstarch into a small bowl and add ¼ cup of buttermilk. Stir until cornstarch dissolves to form a slurry.

Whisk eggs in a medium bowl until foamy.

Add sugar and immediately start whisking vigorously (you must beat sugar and eggs together quickly, or the sugar will “burn” the yolks and cause a film to form).

Whisk in salt and vanilla, then whisk in the slurry.

Stir in the remainder of the buttermilk, followed by the melted butter.

Scatter blueberries over the crust and then pour on the topping. The blueberries will shift, so try to even them out by poking them with your fingers or a spoon.

Bake bars for 42 to 45 minutes, until the topping is puffed all the way to the center, brown around the edges and firm everywhere.

Transfer pan to a rack and cool for 20 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edges, place a piece of parchment paper over the pan and unmold the bar onto a rack. Remove the pan and invert the bar onto another rack to cool to room temperature; chill if you’d like.

Just before serving, slide the bar onto a cutting board and, using a long, thin knife, cut into 2-inch squares.

– “Dorie’s Cookies” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; October 2016)

BLUEBERRY- PECAN BREAD

Makes 1 loaf

1½ cups pecans, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped, divided

1½ cups blueberries

3 cups all-purpose flour, divided

Nate Guidry/TNS
The baker tweaked the original recipe for Blueberry-Pecan Bread, with delicious results.

1¼ cups granulated sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

¾ cup milk

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat the inside of a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Evenly sprinkle ½ cup pecans over the bottom of the pan.

Gently toss together blueberries with ¼ cup flour.

In a large bowl, combine remaining flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together melted butter, yogurt, milk and eggs (the mixture may look curdled; it’s not).

Add yogurt mixture to flour mixture. Stir until just combined; don’t overmix.

Add blueberries and remaining pecans. Spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake for about 70 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Let pan cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Remove warm bread from the pan and allow to cool completely before slicing.

– Bob Vivant from Food52.com

TRAX’S BLUEBERRY WINE SLUSHIE

Serves 6

2 cups frozen blueberries, plus more for garnish

12 ounces sauvignon blanc

6 ounces blueberry wine

Nate Guidry/TNS
When blue­ber­ries are blended with white and blue wines and ice, you have grown-up slushies that look like they are ready to go party hopping.

¼ cup sugar (or to taste)

Ice as needed

Puree blueberries, both wines and sugar in a blender until slushified.

Add ice if necessary to thicken.

Divide among 6 glasses. Garnish with blueberries.

Serve immediately or transfer to a container and freeze.

– Adapted from Trax Farms recipe

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