Garnish with ice cream and berries for a red, white & blue July 4th dessert
This coming Thursday is July 4th. It’s Independence Day in the US — and a big cookout opportunity for many of us. What’s more, July 1 is Canada Day. So there are lots of reasons to celebrate here in North America!
The arrival of July also means that blueberries are at their best. Although blueberry bushes produce fruit from May to September in this part of the world, the peak crop always arrives toward the middle of the season. So starting about now, the year’s most flavorful blueberries are showing up in markets. And since the blueberry is a North American original, what could be more fitting for July 4th, that most American of holidays?
If you’re making a blueberry dessert for a cookout, you’d probably welcome an easy-to-make dish that can be whipped up ahead of time — and transported easily.
Blueberry Buckle, at your service.
This traditional dish is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. It’s great served neat, or you can fancy it up to create an appropriately patriotic plate: Just add a bit of vanilla ice cream and some raspberries or strawberries for garnish. Voilà! A glorious red, white, and blue dessert.
Recipe: Blueberry Buckle
A “buckle” is a dessert that features fruit (blueberries are the most popular) baked in cake batter, and topped with streusel. (See Notes for more information on buckles and other baked fruit desserts).
Blueberry Buckle is delicious served all by itself. But it’s fun to dress up the plate with ice cream and colorful raspberries or strawberries (maybe some fresh blueberries, too). A sprig of green mint adds nice contrast. Or you could serve Blueberry Buckle in a bowl, with some heavy cream poured over it (when I was a kid, my mom sometimes served it that way).
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs is the baker in our household, and this recipe is hers. She adapted it from a recipe found in The Cook’s Bible by Christopher Kimball. (BTW, according to Mrs K R, this recipe includes more butter and eggs, and less flour, than most recipes for Blueberry Buckle.)
This recipe takes about 30 minutes to mix up, plus another 45 to 55 minutes of baking time.
This recipe serves 8. Leftovers keep well for a day or two at room temperature (covered with cling wrap). Or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
For the batter:
- ~3 cups blueberries
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (see Notes)
- 3 large eggs, preferably pasteurized (see Notes)
- ¾ teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ~ ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional; see Notes)
- vanilla ice cream
- raspberries or strawberries
- mint leaf (very optional, but colorful)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (350 for glass baking dish). Butter an 8 by 8 inch baking dish, and line with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Wash blueberries and remove any stems. Drain berries (I generally use a colander or a large strainer placed over the kitchen sink).
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup of flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer), cream the softened butter. Add granulated sugar and vanilla, and beat until fluffy. Add eggs and beat until well combined. Add lemon zest and beat until well mixed. With mixer at low speed, beat in the flour mixture, and mix until well combined. Add the drained blueberries and mix until just combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
- Now make the streusel topping: Cut the chilled butter into small pieces. (I cut the butter in half lengthwise, then in half again, forming quarters. Then I cut across the width a few times to create smallish dice.)
- Add the diced butter to the bowl of a food processor, along with ¼ cup of flour, the brown sugar, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts (if using) and pulse for a minute or so. Alternatively, add the diced butter and other ingredients to a medium bowl and mix with a fork, pastry blender, or your hands until you form a coarse meal. Spread the streusel mixture evenly over the batter in the baking dish.
- Place baking dish in the oven and bake until the buckle is set and a knife inserted into the middle comes out barely moist (45 to 55 minutes).
- Serve slices of buckle by themselves, or add optional garnish.
- How did Blueberry Buckle get its name? Nobody really knows for sure. The best guess is that it refers to the “buckled” look the streusel topping gets when it’s baked.
- Fruit buckles seem to have been around since the early colonial era in America. But according to food guru Alton Brown, nobody bothered to publish a recipe for one until the late 1950s, when Elsie Masterton included Blueberry Buckle in her Blueberry Hill Cookbook. (That’s a terrific book, BTW — but now out of print, alas).
- The best blueberries are smooth, with a deep blue (indigo) color. Size has no bearing on quality.
- Fresh blueberries are covered with a silvery coating — it’s actually a protective epicuticular wax, called fruit bloom. (You see the same thing on some other fruits, such as plums.)
- You can store blueberries in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They’ll keep for a few days — maybe up to a week (though that’s pushing it). Don’t wash blueberries before storing; wash them only when you’re ready to use.
- You can substitute frozen blueberries for fresh in this recipe. Frozen blueberries are often quite high quality, and generally are a safer bet during the winter months than “fresh” blueberries picked half a world away and flown in.
- I’ve said it before, but will repeat myself: You should use high quality (pure) vanilla extract in this recipe. Its flavor is so much better than the imitation kind.
- Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in a mixture of water and alcohol for several months. BTW, the FDA requires that pure vanilla extract contain at least 35% alcohol. If the label doesn’t say “pure,” that means it’s made from synthetic vanilla. The artificial kind is usually derived from the sapwood of several species of conifers — or from coal extracts! How appetizing (not).
- The flavor of some imitation vanillas can be nasty. You don’t have to spend a fortune on pure vanilla extract, but getting decent quality does mean spending a bit more for something that’s not loaded with sugar or imitation flavoring. Do yourself a favor and get the real stuff.
- Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella. So I suggest using pasteurized eggs. Although it’s unlikely that the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk? I don’t know about you, but I find it’s impossible to make a dish like this without tasting as I’m preparing it!
- You can easily identify pasteurized eggs because they usually have a red “P” stamped on them.
- A traditional streusel topping contains nothing more than flour, butter, and sugar — plus maybe a bit of spice. It’s tasty, but it tends to “melt” into the underlying batter. So some recipes add oats to streusel in a bid for texture. Unfortunately, oats are flavor-challenged — not to mention tough. So I don’t recommend them. Chopped nuts make a much better streusel extender.
- If you’re serving ice cream with Blueberry Buckle, you may want to top it with a berry-based sauce instead of whole berries. Homemade Strawberry Sauce is nice (or substitute raspberries for strawberries in that recipe).
- A buckle is similar to a crisp, but a crisp has no cake batter (it’s just flavored fruit covered with streusel). For an example of a crisp, see last year’s post on Walnut Apple Crisp.)
- In addition to buckles and crisps, there are many other types of baked fruit desserts. Including, of course, the ever popular pie! For more baked fruit desserts, read on. (Keep in mind that these definitions are not set in stone — there are endless variations on variations.)
- A crumble is basically another name for a crisp (the term “crumble” tends to be preferred in Britain, where “crisps” are what Americans call potato chips).
- A betty is a crisp in which the streusel is replaced by buttered bread crumbs (you usually toss some of them with the dessert).
- A cobbler features fruit baked in a deep dish, topped by biscuit dough. (For an example, see our post on Easy Peach Cobbler.)
- A short cake typically is made with biscuit-like dough and served with fruit on top (strawberries being the favorite).
- A fool is generally made with pureed fruit and whipped cream.
- A grunt features fruit that is stewed on top of the stove (often in a cast-iron skillet). You drop biscuit dough on top of the fruit, and then steam or bake until the dough is cooked. (Some say the dish got its name from the sound it makes while cooking.)
- A slump is the same as a grunt.
- A pandowdy (or pan dowdy) is baked fruit covered with a top crust that has been “dowdied” (i.e., broken into pieces).
- A clafoutis features cherries baked into a flan-like mixture (this dessert probably originated in the Limousin region of France).
- A flaugnarde is the same as a clafoutis, but it’s made with fruit other than cherries. (For an example, see our post on Grape Flaugnarde.)
“Such a great dessert!” I enthused. “Blueberry Buckle is one of my summer favorites — my mom always made this several times every summer when I was a kid.”
“It really is good,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And I love the names of these dishes: Buckle . . . cobbler . . . fool. Who thinks those up?”
“Don’t know,” I said between bites. “But maybe we should make more of them, with all these blueberries we have around.”
“We could,” said Mrs K R. “Maybe I should do a flaugnarde.”
“Or, hey — how about a grunt?” I said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had one, and I love the name.”
“That certainly would be appropriate,” said Mrs K R as she watched me oink down my last bit of buckle. “Although a fool might be even more appropriate.”
Wonder what she meant by that.
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