Summer: is there any other season in which we do extra work in the pursuit of "fun?" I present to you Exhibit A: Pick Your Own farms. This past weekend, I was jonesing for berries. I grew up in the country, in South Georgia. Fresh fruits and vegetables were plentiful; we had a large garden and fruit trees and bushes aplenty. Nuts, too-- pecans and hickory nuts. As a child I provided some willing manual labor in the harvesting of these delights. Somehow, my bug phobia never stopped me from wanting to "scratch" for potatoes or venture down into the soggy, swampy blueberry patch where you were just sure to get eaten alive by red bugs. Perhaps fueled by nostalgia, I wanted fresh berries this year. And, I wanted to pick them myself. I envisioned a couple of days playing Holly Homemaker, converting berries to jam and making desserts.
So, my husband and I put in some sweat equity this year, and our yield was 2 1/2 quarts of blackberries and a pint of raspberries. I didn't get the mixed berry festival that I was pining for, but I got some great berries, a tummy ache, some scratches, and one squealy screaming fit when a beetle crawled on me. But we had fun, I swear! I made a blackberry cobbler, 7 8 oz. jars of blackberry preserves, froze a few pints of berries, snacked on some fresh one, and made these:
Blackberry Polenta Muffins.
I've made a few breads with polenta lately, and I love the crunch that the coarse cornmeal add to the breads. It's a great texture. Plus, the sweetly intense corn flavor adds the essence of summer to every bite. Who doesn't like corn in summer? The key to adding polenta to your baked goods, as I've learned from Peter Reinhart, is to make a soaker of the polenta in either some water or buttermilk the night before you want to bake. The polenta soaks overnight in the liquid, which softens it and lures the flavor out. It's a great way to use some of the polenta hanging out in your pantry, but you have to plan your muffins just a little ahead. Stirring polenta into some liquid to rest overnight isn't really any extra work, and the results are worth the tiny amount of planning. When you bite into a warm, vanilla-scented muffin, and the sweet, summer tang of a fresh blackberry melds with the gently sweet crunch of polenta you'll be glad of the five minutes you spent making that soaker.
These muffins are vanilla-scented and sweet. They're not your morning bran muffins, but the polenta gives them a more substantial texture. The batter comes together very easily, and no mixers are needed as the butter is melted and not creamed with the sugar. Taste your berries before you add any to the batter; if they are very tart, you can increase the amount of sugar in the muffins (you could double it really, but it's not necessary). I like mine lightly sweetened. When you are ready to fill your muffin tins, use an ice cream scoop to measure them out. It's the way to go! It keeps your muffins evenly sized and well-formed. To finish the muffins, rather than opting for streusel or a glaze on top, I press one berry into the center of each muffin and sprinkle them with a bit of sparkling sugar. These muffins are winners-- tender, sweet, and berry-rich, filled with the scent and flavors of summer nostalgia and homemade comfort.
Blackberry Polenta Muffins
- 1/2 C polenta (coarse ground yellow cornmeal)
- 1/2 C buttermilk
- 1 C all purpose flour
- 1/3 C sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 C butter, melted
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 pint fresh blackberries
- sparkling sugar and a dozen berries to top
The night before making your muffins, stir the polenta into the buttermilk. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit out at room temperature overnight. (Trust me.)
The next day, preheat your oven to 350¼. Sift your dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl: flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Let your melted butter come to room temperature, then whisk it into the beaten egg with the vanilla. When this is well combined, whisk in your polenta and buttermilk soaker. Mix well, then slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry, whisking constantly. When the dry ingredients and the wet are fully combined, fold in the berries.
Next, line a muffin tin with muffin wrappers. Using an ice cream scoop, measure out one scoop into each cup. Press a single blackberry into the center of each muffin, then sprinkle the tops with sparkling sugar.
Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, until they are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Let cool on a rack before serving.
Makes 12 muffins.