blueberry boy bait

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lately, I feel like many of the conversations I’ve had center around relationships (and lack thereof). it’s something I didn’t really think about much back in philly – but in d.c., a melting pot of semi-transient young working professionals, it seems like people wear their lonely hearts on their sleeves.

for example, a friend of mine was invited to a potluck dinner by a boy she was interested in. she agonized about what to bring – and whether flexing her considerable cooking skills and bringing ottolenghi’s cauliflower cake (look it up – it’s stunning) would be “too much”.

I’m not much good at romantic advice, but my general feeling about talents is that you should never be afraid to show them off! chances are you worked hard for those skills, and sharing them with other people tends to make everyone a little happier. she did end up making the cauliflower cake, and I heard from her later that it was very well-received. of course, the boy didn’t make any overt moves, but that’s just 20-something straight males for ya.

having just returned from dinner with some friends where they once again chatted about the single life, I was searching for a recipe to use up the rest of the almost-expired buttermilk in my fridge and came across america’s test kitchen’s “blueberry boy bait” recipe. the name was simply too good to pass up. (read more about the name here.) my first attempt came out a bit too greasy and heavy on the palate, but with a few tweaks, this “boy bait” becomes a buttery delight – dense with a close, chewy crumb, a slightly crackly sugar topping, and lovely bursts of blueberries.

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makes one 9•13-in pan

cake
250g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
169g (12 tbsp) unsalted butter
145g (3/4 cup, packed) light brown sugar
100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon zest (from ~1 lemon)
3 large eggs
1 cup (235mL) buttermilk
~85g (~3/4 cup) blueberries, frozen*
topping
~85g (~3/4 cup) blueberries, frozen
50g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

jack bishop et al. cook’s country eats local: 150 regional recipes you should be making no matter where you live. new york: penguin random house. 2015.

cake|1 preheat oven to 350ºF. lightly grease and flour a 9×13-in pan.
2 in a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. in a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy (~2 minutes with paddle attachment of stand mixer, ~6 minutes ). add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated. (scrape down the sides if necessary and mix again for a few more seconds.)
3 mix in 1/3 of flour mixture, then 1/2 the milk, and continue alternating, ending with flour, until the mixture is well-mixed. toss the blueberries with flour and fold into the batter. spread the batter into the prepared pan.
topping|1 scatter blueberries over the top of the batter. stir sugar and cinnamon and sugar together in a small bowl, then sprinkle evenly over the batter.
2 bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. (check on the cake at the 25-minute mark – it may brown quicker than expected. if it does, cover it with foil.)
3 let cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then turn out and place on a serving platter or cutting board, topping side up. cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature. (this cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days, and freezes well for up to 1 month.)
 
*I used frozen blueberries in this recipe because I found they held up better to the denser crumb of the cake. but if you have fresh berries, they work beautifully as well. the berries do tend to sink to the bottom in this recipe, as the cake batter is quite thin.
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rice crispy treats

rice crispy treat 1

a few years ago, I studied abroad in beijing. I had heard about the air quality and imagined that it would look something like los angeles, but the reality, a greyish-yellow fog that often obscured buildings across the street, was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. within days, I had developed a hacking cough that made it nearly impossible to speak in full sentences, a condition that ex-pats termed the “beijing cough”. 

a few weeks later, my cough had finally disappeared and my abroad program held a food preparation contest judged by our chinese professors. my friend and I, both huge dessert fiends, wanted to do something sweet, but in the hot and humid beijing climate, we did not want to use too much heat. we settled on rice krispie treats, trekking to a large carrefour to find marshmallows and rice krispie cereal, then melting it all together in a giant pot we borrowed from a chinese student. we actually ended up winning the contest because our chinese professors had never seen rice krispie treats before and thought they were really exotic and creative!

the contest took place on one of the few sunny days of that summer. the sky was a clear cloudless blue. the night before, a thunderstorm had hit with raindrops so huge, they hurt when they hit my bare skin. we half-joked that the government could control the weather, could create a rainstorm so ferocious that it washed away all the pollution. whether it was true or not, the day after  a thunderstorm in beijing was always clear and blue.

I cannot even remember what my friend and I won – it was probably some coupons to a local bubble tea store. but I do remember eating warm watermelon in the sweltering heat, happy to be able to see across the street for the first time in weeks and feeling like I could breathe again.

in the wake of dangerously high levels of air pollution that have made the city almost unlivable, beijing has issued its first red alert for the first time. and for the first time, the chinese government has put environmental concerns before its emphasis on rapid economic growth through industrialization and signed on to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

and here in the northeast, global warming has now made it possible to frolic on a beach in december, then head into the city for some outdoor ice skating (because apparently we still are willing to waste energy for “winter traditions”). so save some energy and add these (super-legitimate chinese teacher’s) award-winning, no-bake rice crispy treats into your holiday sweets repertoire. 

rice crispie

makes one 8•8in pan

1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tbsp vanilla paste
1 10-oz bag marshmallows
heaping 1/4 tsp kosher salt
6 cups rice krispie cereal

deb perelman. salted brown butter crispy treats. smitten kitchen. 2 nov 2011. accessed 22 dec 2015.

1 grease an 8×8-in square pan.
2 in a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. using a silicone spatula, stir frequently until it turns brown and begins to smell nutty. immediately turn off the heat and mix in the vanilla paste.
3 stir in the marshmallows until smooth. if they are not completely melted, stir over low heat until completely smooth. add salt and stir until well-combined.
4 remove pot from stove and stir in rice krispie cereal. using spatula, quickly press into prepared pan.
5 let cool completely (~1 hr), cut into squares, and serve.