“those” blueberry muffins

My family and I just returned from our annual summer vacation in Vermont. It’s our yearly opportunity to kick back, relax and enjoy doing all the wonderful outdoor country things the Green Mountains have to offer; not the least of which is going blueberry and apple picking. July is actually blueberry season in New England which means that come mid August the pickins’ were a bit slim. But what was left on the bushes was so crazy plump, sweet and juicy that we had to fight to kids to actually have enough left in our pail to bring home!

Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits. They’re perfect eaten out of hand, can jazz up an ordinary bowl of cold cereal, turn plain pancakes into something special and even add a little something unexpected to a green salad. They’re perfect made into sauce, jam or even turned into an infused cocktail. It seems like the simple blueberry has limitless possibilities.

As you are aware, a few weeks ago I was on a blueberry muffin bender of sorts. I made numerous batches, tweaking and adjusting the recipe again and again until I had what I thought was a winning version. But (sigh) it wasn’t, at least not in the eyes of the bake-off judges. So while my dear son proudly basked in his bake-off glory I quietly collected my cake plate and headed for the door…

But damn it, I worked hard on those muffins and I stand by my recipe! So here it is; the recipe that didn’t make me famous, win me a blue ribbon or change my baking career forever. They may not have been winners at the bake-off, but I still think these are some of the tastiest blueberry muffins you’ll ever make. But you be the judge.

Blueberry-Limoncello Muffins with a Lemon Zest Crumble Topping
These muffins are equally tasty without the limoncello (substitute lemon juice instead) and are great in mini size as well.

For the muffins:
2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 pint fresh blueberries (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup limoncello
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the crumble:
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Gently stir in the blueberries and lemon zest.
  3. In a medium bowl combine the melted butter, lemon juice, limoncello, yogurt, egg, and vanilla; stir well with a whisk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold everything together until just moist. Set bowl of batter aside and make the crumble topping.
  4. For the topping; in a small bowl combine the sugar, flour, and lemon zest. Add in the butter and stir until the mixture is crumbly, breaking up any large clumps.
  5. Give the batter one last stir then spoon evenly into the lined muffin cups. Top with a generous amount of crumble.
  6. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow muffins to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then place on a wire rack for remainder of cooling.

And the winner is…

I bake all the time, almost weekly in fact. Usually it’s cookies for my “should never be empty” cookie jar or some crazy homemade goldfish crackers or pretzel bite recipe I found on Pintrest. And sometimes it’s lush seasonal fruit muffins, either mini or full size. What I like most about muffins is they’re quick to whip up, easy to make nutritious, and ideal to have on hand for a quick breakfast or afternoon snack. So when I decided to enter a local “Summer Berry Bake-Off” contest the first thing that came to mind was… muffins.

I happen to have a knock ’em dead Fresh Cranberry and Orange Muffin recipe that would without question have been a winner. I’ve been making this recipe for years and I have yet to have anyone not like them— children included. (Oh yeah, they’re really that good.) But… unlike a lot of other produce available year round, cranberries are only grown in the Northern United States and Canada and they’re only in season (and available) October through December. So in other words, I would not be making my cranberry-orange muffins in July! Okay, onto Plan B.

Since the combination of cranberry and orange is such a winner then how about another berry and citrus match up? How about blueberry and lemon? Hmmm, a recipe slowly formed in my brain. I still had some homemade limoncello in the refrigerator, that might be a great way to make my muffins stand out against the competition. So there it was, my bake-off entry would be (drum roll please) Blueberry-Limoncello Muffins with a Crumb Topping.

I worked like a mad woman to perfect this recipe. If you were at my house last week or went to camp with my kids then odds are you tasted one of my variations of this muffin. Naturally witness to this baking frenzy were my son and daughter, who were more than happy to partake in the repeated taste testing. In fact my son was so taken with the bake-off idea that he decided he wanted to enter something in the 10 yrs. and under division. Another eager baker in the Greco house? Fantastic! Let’s do a little recipe research my boy and come up with a plan. And so we did.

We looked at recipes that contained a limited amount of ingredients, would be easy for him to execute with only a little help from me, could possibly be made ahead of time and would of course be award winningly delicious. Not such easy criteria to meet, right? But meet it we did. The recipe we ended up picking was a Summer Strawberry and Cream Scone. These scones were loaded with fresh juicy strawberries, easy to put together and could be made and frozen a day ahead and baked fresh the morning if the contest. It was the perfect combination!

Fast forward to the day of the bake-off; we both proudly carried in our entries and were met with numerous oohs and aahs from the registration committee. Would this mother-son team sweep the contest? Would our grinning faces be plastered on the front page of the paper? Would the name Greco instill fear and dread in local baking circles? We added our entries to the others on the table and walked away, it was now all in the hands of the judges.

While we waited for the judging to take place we talked about how great it would be to win. But we agreed that winning wasn’t the most important thing, it was just fun to do this together. That is until my sweet boy, my first-born, my one and only son— rocked his division and won first place! He hooted and hollered, spun around in the air and hi-fived a competitor before they could even tell him what he had won. My daughter rushed the stage, arms raised high, yelling “I won!, I won!”, (which of course if you know her then you know she has to do everything her big brother does.) It was an exciting, entertaining and truly proud moment for our family and the entire bake-off crowd.

He’s already been talking about what he’d like to enter for next years competition and was eager to start making dishes out of the kids cookbook that was one of his prizes. I’d like to think that one day we’ll look back at this bake-off as the beginning of all his culinary adventures.

Oh and you may be wondering how my muffins went over. Well, let’s just say there’s always next year…

Summer Strawberry & Cream Scones
These are delicious on their own but according to my blue ribbon winner, even better with a little strawberry jam or vanilla ice cream on the side!

scones2

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, frozen
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 cup heavy cream
1 beaten egg, for wash
1 tbsp. heavy cream, for wash
demerara sugar, for topping

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add the butter by grateing it on the large holes of a box grater. Stir the butter into the flour mixture with a fork until the mixture looks crumbly. With a wide spatula, gently mix in the strawberries and then fold in heavy cream. When you’ve given it a good mix,  knead it once or twice in the bowl to create one large lump of dough. (Don’t worry about getting the dough evenly mixed. It’s far more important that the dough is not overworked.)
  3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times to incorporate dry ingredients. Sprinkle top of dough with additional flour and press/pat it into a 3/4 inch thick circle. Cut the circle into thirds and then into wedges. Transfer wedges to the cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/2 inch of space between them.*
  4. Whisk together the egg and 1 tbsp. of heavy cream. Brush the top of each scone with the egg wash and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake 8 minutes, spin the cookie sheet around and bake for an additional 3-5 minutes or until the tops are beginning to brown. Let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with jam, clotted cream or vanilla ice cream.

*To make ahead and freeze: Make the scones as instructed above. Place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and slide the cookie sheet into the freezer. When you’re ready to bake them brush the still frozen scones with the egg wash, sprinkle them with sugar and pop them into a preheated oven, adding 2 to 3 minutes to your baking time.

*adapted from smitten kitchen

you’re so granola!

I happen to be a savory, not a sweet girl (but then you may have already known that!) I like bold flavors like dark chocolate, strong coffee and dry red wine. This preference of mine is most evident at breakfast time. I’m a sunny side up eggs, grits with butter or even last night’s leftovers kinda girl. The idea of a stack of pancakes smothered in syrup and butter makes my stomach ache. In fact I have childhood memories of waking up to the smell of pancakes cooking and thinking “oh yuck, not pancakes again.” (sorry Mom!) Anyway you get the idea, I don’t like sweet, especially in the morning.

My breakfast most weekday mornings is usually something fast, simple and often consumed standing at the kitchen counter. Something like toast with butter, a homemade muffin or granola with a dollop of plain yogurt. Good store bought granola can be expensive and is often too high in calories to feel like I’m starting the day the right way. So instead I make my own. It’s quite tasty and as long as you keep an eye on it while it bakes (a lesson I learned the hard way) almost foolproof to make.

While standing at said kitchen counter one recent morning I thought to myself “I wonder how difficult it is to make yogurt.” It turns out it’s not difficult at all, but it is a process. It’s by no means hard or even particularly labor intensive, but if you want a bowl if fresh yogurt and granola on Sunday morning, then you better start cooking it on Saturday morning.

I read a lot of recipes for making yogurt before attempting my first batch and it turns out that the science of fermenting milk is fairly straightforward: You heat the milk to just short of boiling, cool the milk to a temperature that will allow the yogurt cultures to grow, stir in the cultures and let it sit in a warm and undisturbed spot for several hours. And voilà— yogurt!

My homemade yogurt was creamy, delicious and much more lush than store bought. And even though it was crazy easy to make, I still get this great sense of accomplishment each time I sit down to eat it (or lean against the counter as the case may be). But next time I make it I think I’ll double the recipe. Now that my family has tasted homemade yogurt they look truly offended when I try to offer them the store bought variety. But I guess I only have myself to blame…

Homemade Granola
This granola can really be customized with whatever dried fruits or nuts that
appeal to you the most.

2 1/2 cups regular rolled oats
3 tbsp. wheat germ
2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp of salt
2 tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 cup apple juice
4 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup apricots, diced
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease baking sheet with cooking-oil spray. In a large bowl, combine the oats, wheat germ, cinnamon, nuts, dried fruit, coconut and salt. Mix well.
  2. In a small bowl combine the apple juice, maple syrup, honey. Mix well.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring until the mixture is fully combined and moist.
  4. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently until golden brown and crisp.
  5. Remove from the oven and stir again. Allow to cool. Store the granola in an airtight container.

*adapted from Body + Soul

Homemade Yogurt
You can make this yogurt with whole milk or 2% if you like, but I don’t think I would use skim milk.

1/2 gallon organic 2% milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt (store bought or your own)
1/2 cup organic powdered milk (optional)

  1. Preheat your oven on to 250°F. When it comes to temperature turn it off but keep the door closed to retain the heat.
  2. In a large pot over medium-high heat, warm the the 1/2 gallon of milk to 180°F. Stir constantly and do not allow to come to a boil.
  3. Pour the hot milk into a bowl and set that bowl in a larger one filled with ice water. Let the mixture cool to 110-115°F and stir in 1/2 cup of plain yogurt and the powdered milk (if you’re using it).
  4. Ladle the yogurt mixture into warm glass jars, cap and put on a tray in the still warm oven. Wrap the tray in a blanket or heavy towel and let cool down slowly, for 12 hours or overnight.
  5. In the morning you will have yogurt! If you didn’t use the powdered milk and you prefer your yogurt more of a greek style, then you need to drain the whey out.
  6. Line a mesh strainer with a paper coffee filter and set over a bowl. Add your thin yogurt to the filter and allow the whey to drain into the bowl*. After about an hour you will have a thick homemade greek style yogurt.
    Refrigerate and enjoy.

*adapted from happy simple living

*Many of the recipes I read recommended saving the whey to use in place of water when you bake. It’s an easy way to increase the amount of protein in your homemade breads and muffins.