Bread of the Month: Lightening blackberries with lemon

berrylede01[I] tend to disregard blackberries. These dark beauties are certainly worth my attention, yet I find myself more likely to veer toward strawberries and blueberries, the brighter and seemingly more versatile of the berry world.

It’s not that I don’t find blackberries delicious; I do. Sweet and less tart than a raspberry, they are laden with juice and so large and full at times they rival a strawberry in size. But they are also seed-ridden.They grow in thorny brambles in the “wild” where I live. The birds have made certain a few vines got established in my yard and I have torn both pants and skin getting through them, while the birds make off with the fruit.

And while I have made numerous treats with any number of the other berries, I haven’t done much with a blackberry. Perhaps I’ve been unreasonaby resistant.

In an issue of Bon Appetit magazine last year that featured treats from different coffeehouses, a recipe for blackberry muffins caught my eye. The muffins, created at a bakery called Cake Monkey and sold at Intelligentsia Coffeehouse in Los Angeles, featured loads of lemon zest and, of all things, chopped thyme in both the muffin and its crumble topping. This could not be passed by!

crumble01I’ve made the muffins twice now for work colleagues, who have been delighted with these treats. They are slightly labor-intensive, but worth the extra steps. The crumble must be made and chilled, but the muffin can be stirred up during the chilling process. There was only one step I skipped. The recipe called for halving each blackberry lengthwise, in a cup and a half of blackberries (actually three cups, as I doubled the recipe). I drew the line here. I tried slicing a blackberry in half — it is doable, particularly if the berries are large, but as I saw the dark juice on my cutting board and fingers, I declared this a tad too laborious. It seemed excessive, not to mention that it harkened back to eye surgeries in the past. Besides, wouldn’t a blackberry explode and release juices as it baked, as berries do?

The full heavy berries are tossed in flour to keep them from descending to the bottom of the muffin. They are folded in delicately at the end of the preparation of a batter made with cake flour, buttermilk, lots of lemon zest and the intriguing ingredient of chopped thyme.

berry4The muffins are sprinkled with the crumble (also made with cake flour, lots of butter and thyme) just before oven time. The smell while baking is heavenly.

The reviews i’ve received on these muffins have been highly favorable. The flavors of lemon and thyme are harmonious, not overbearing. In fact the thyme is so subtle, it seems a slightly savory support of all the sweetness oth the other ingredients within. The blackberries, too, all dark, juicy and heavy have found their place here, just sweet and tart enough to complement everything else. The texture of the muffin is light and moist and just slightly crumbly….butter casts a heavenly shadow over all.

I suppose you could make these with blueberries….nah, blackberries have found their place here, after all.

Blackberry, Lemon, and Thyme Muffins
From Bon Appetit Magazine

Makes 8 large or 16 standard muffins

1 cup cake flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups fresh (or frozen, thawed, drained) blackberries (about 6 ounces), halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Whisk first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add butter. Using your fingertips, rub in butter until pea-size lumps form. Add egg yolk; stir to evenly distributeand form moist clumps. (Crumble should resemble a mixture of pebbles and sand.) Chill for at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

Preheat oven to 325°. If making standard-size muffins, line 16 1/3-cup molds with paper liners. Whisk 1 cup all-purpose flour and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat butter until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and continue to beat until well incorporated, 2–3 minutes longer. Whisk eggs and vanilla in a small bowl to blend; gradually beat into butter mixture. Continue beating until light and fluffy, 3–4 minutes. Combine buttermilk and lemon zest in a small bowl; gradually beat into butter mixture. Add dry ingredients; beat just to blend (do not overmix).

Toss blackberries and thyme with 2 Tbsp. flour in another small bowl; fold into batter, gently crushing berries slightly to release some juices. Spoon about 2/3 cup batter into large paper muffin molds, or divide between prepared muffin pans. Top each large muffin with 2 Tbsp. crumble or each small muffin with 1 rounded Tbsp. crumble.

Bake until tops are golden brown and a tester comes out clean when inserted into center, about 50 minutes for large muffins and 40 minutes for standard-size muffins. Let cool in pan at least 20 minutes, then transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store cooled muffins airtight at room temperature.

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