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Cynthia Stone: The tartest berry


With prodigious pucker power partridgeberries close out the berry season in style. I can’t imagine what the first person who tasted them thought, or why they got picked and brought back to the cave, but I’m glad they were discovered and became part of our fall tradition.

Partridgeberry Molasses Cobbler

I’ve tried several versions of crisps, crumbles and cobblers with molasses added to the berries on bottom, but it always seemed like the flavours competed rather than complemented. The right answer turned out to be putting molasses in the topping.

In this simple recipe the berries shine and the cake-like biscuit topping is so delicious it can be eaten all by itself.

Other versions call for melted butter or oil but cold butter results in a fluffier cake with great texture and taste.

Make 4 large individual cobblers or 1 big one that will stretch farther to serve 6 or even 8 people.

Berry Bottom:

2 cups partridgeberries, fresh or frozen
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 small orange, juice and finely grated zest
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. cold water

Molasses Cake Top:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup molasses
1 egg
2 tbsp. coffee cream or whole milk

Combine berries, sugar and orange juice in a small pot and bring to a boil. Break up the berries with a potato masher to release their juice faster. Boil 5 minutes. Add orange zest.

Combine cornstarch and cold water and stir into boiling berries. Cook, stirring, another minute until mixture has thickened a bit. Pour into 4 individual ramekins or an 8-inch baking dish.

For the topping, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. If you use salted butter reduce the salt by half. A food processor makes this job easier. Cut in the butter until mixture is crumbly and there aren’t any big lumps.

Whisk together molasses, egg and cream and add all at once to dry ingredients. Stir or pulse to get a smooth but very thick batter. Spoon over the berries, dividing evenly if using ramekins. Don’t worry about smoothing the dough or covering the berries completely —I t’s more important not to mix the crust with the jammy base.

Bake at 425 degrees F 25 minutes or until a tester in the cake part on top comes out clean,    shape and depth of your dish or dishes so start testing at 15 minutes; be especially attentive if using broader, shallower vessels. Allow to sit 10 minutes before serving.

Now for a confession. I absolutely adore canned cream on top, even when I serve this for breakfast. There, I’ve said it.

Partridgeberry Brown Sugar Scones

Biscuits and scones seem to scare people off because of their tendency to be dry and sometimes tough. I believe they are best made by lazy people who can't be bothered fussing with the dough.

Partridgeberries are the perfect fruit in these, adding exactly the right, refreshingly sour note. The crumb isn’t the typical flaky texture you get in a coffee shop scone, but rather more cake-like and, therefore, a better carrier for the berries. Because of that lighter texture you can serve these for breakfast, afternoon tea or even dessert.

This recipe makes 8 large scones.

1-1/4 cups partridgeberries, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp. icing sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. nutmeg, freshly ground if possible
¾ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¾ cup whole or 2 per cent milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs

Toss partridgeberries with icing sugar and set aside.

Whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. If you use salted butter reduce the salt by half. Cut in the butter to get a coarse crumb with lumps the size of small peas. A food processor does a nice job but so does a pastry cutter or your fingertips.

Stir in sugar-coated partridgeberries and any icing sugar left in the bowl but be gentle so you don’t break them up.

Whisk together milk, vanilla and eggs and add all at once to flour, butter and berry mixture. Gently stir to create a shaggy dough. Dump the works out onto a lightly floured work surface and bring everything together, kneading a few times, just until it holds together. Press into an 8-inch circle then cut into 8 wedges.

If the butter is getting soft refrigerate half an hour or so to firm it back up before baking.

Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees F 25 minutes, until golden brown all over with maybe a darker brown bit here and there around the edges. A tester in the middle should come out clean.

For fresh scones anytime you want them place cut scones on parchment paper and freeze, then store tightly sealed in a freezer bag. Bake them from frozen but at 375 degrees F and for about eight minutes longer.

Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. E-mail questions to her at cynthia.stone@nf.sympatico.ca.

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