Monday, September 13, 2010

Improv Blueberry Bars

One of these days, I'll know what I'm doing. Talking in general terms there, but if you want one specific, you could start with understanding the chemistry of how simple house hold items, like flour and eggs and oils, respond to heat. I mean, I've only been applying heat to food and soon-to-be-food substances for half a century now ... you'd think I'd have paid attention maybe once or twice as to what exactly was going on inside that black box on the wall of the kitchen.

I always thought baking was all about following directions to the T. (Why the T? Why not the S?) But when you can't follow them exactly, because you need an ingredient substitution or don't have the right kind of pan, then you need to actually know what you're doing. Which I don't. I guess it's kinda like jazz. The secret to improvisation is a thorough understanding of the fundamentals. If you're going to cross the line, you have to know where the line is.

So we've been playing around with some desserts yesterday, with delicious albeit less than photographic results. Made a peach pie with Palisade peaches, following the basic peach pie recipe: standard pie shell plus a filling of peaches, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, butter, and flour.

But these were Palisade peaches ... twice as juicy as your standard Georgia, South Carolina, or California peach. So the pie tasted great, but it a little sloppy. Could have used a little tapioca or maybe some more flour. Something to account for these specific peaches.

Same thing with a wonderful blueberry bar recipe I saw at One Ordinary Day. Check out her pix over at her site. Looks perfect as a dessert or snack. Looks like something that would disappear at a family gathering or that would keep in the freezer for quite some time. Whole wheat flour, fresh fruit ... just plain cool all the way around.

Gave the ingredients a quick scan ... yep, got 'em all. So started cranking out a batch without a worry in the world. And mixing the batter couldn't have been easier.

Last step: spread the batter into a 10.5"x 15" jelly roll pan ... oops! No such item in my kitchen. Not a big deal ... can just use a rimmed baking sheet, yeah? So I spread the batter onto a baking sheet ... a 12" x 17" baking sheet. Oops! Only around fifty square inches difference there. Not enough batter to make it to the edge. Dug around and found ... an enameled lasagna pan. That should work, yeah?

Well, it sort of did. But the lasagna pan takes a lot longer to heat up than a simple metal sheet, so while I got a nice crispy top layer, the bottom didn't firm up. Had to stick it back in for another 15 minutes at a lower temp to get the bottom fully cooked without burning the top. Ahhh, well, there you go ... if I had thought about the physics for two seconds, I would have seen that coming. But I still wouldn't have known the right time / temp combo to fix it without trial and error. Because I'm no Miles Davis.

In the pantheon of kitchen disasters, this little experiment doesn't even rate a footnote. My bars weren't as pretty as Michelle's, but they tasted great. And I'd like to experiment a little bit more, maybe make them even more shortbready. But it would be nice, one day, to have a full grasp of the fundamentals so I'd know what was going to happen when I changed Step X into Step Y.

OOD's Blueberry Cookie Bars

½ cup light oil

¼ cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

(I actually used 1 cup sugar + 2/3rds cup of agave nectar)

4 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract or one vanilla bean pod

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

¼ tsp baking soda

2-3 cups blueberries or mixed berries (fresh if you got 'em, frozen works just as well, but as always, use them frozen, not thawed.)

Heat your oven to 350ยบ. Lightly grease a 10½"x 15" jelly roll pan.

Mix your flours and baking soda in a medium bowl. Then cream the oil, butter, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, and beat well.

Add the flour mix slowly, gently mixing as you do.

Spread ⅔ of your mixture into your pan and then add your berries.

Spoon the remaining batter on top of the berries — no mixing required, because the batter will spread out as it bakes.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden. Allow to cool in the pan, then slice and serve.



Sometime "pretty" just doesn't matter! They look delicious to me!

Mary said...

All's well that ends well :-).I give you high marks for your adventurous ventures in the kitchen. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

oneordinaryday said...

Oh no! I'm sorry you had so much trouble with this, but I'm glad they tasted good despite it. You know, I halved my recipe and used a 13x9" pan, but I don't see why your rimmed cookie sheet didn't work for the full batch. Now I'm gonna have to make them again, darnnit, just to see what the deal is. : )

High Plains Drifters said...

No trouble at all! Just didn't have enough batter to cover the entire cookie sheet, but maybe I didn't eyeball out the full 2/3rds.

Whatever happened, they came out tasty. As you can see, I need to work in the presentation department. My blueberries were kinda clumped and my top coat of batter could have been neater. But you're dealing with a retired combat engineer, so anything a step up from cooked over a campfire in a canteen cup is extra credit.

Faith said...

No matter what I think these look amazing! Taste is the most important part. ;)

muddywaters said...

This sounds good. I'm glad you're honest. We need more honesty, and I'm all for less airbushing with photos.

At times I get cocky in the kitchen, and it's good to have a minor disaster humble me. I still make some stupid mistakes in the kitchen that make me question my intelligence.

I enjoyed this post.

I tried making quinoa for the family. I was the only one who enjoyed it. Why are people scared of whole grains?

High Plains Drifters said...

Muddy, If I had a nickel for every meal I've ever made where I was the only one who like it, I'd have several nickels. And isn't it funny how many mid-western, great plainsers have trouble with whole grains? There's a marketing angle there, for sure.