juicyberry pie: recipe for all juicy berries


Since my haskapberries went bonkers this year, I thought I’d turn some into pie.  The texture of these berries, which look like elongated blueberries and taste like a combination of tart boysenberry and wine grapes, is soft and juicier than blueberries.

Haskapberries!  I think I finally picked the last of them yesterday.  Not bad for a crop that ripened in the third week of May this year.  The berries sweetened and softened on the bushes, too, making even the annoyingly clingiest bush easy to pick.

IMG_7529This recipe is an adaptation of my blackberry pie recipe, but it works for haskaps and all juicy berries, really.  The main idea is to showcase the raw berry flavor and texture, but hold together the filling with a “paste” of cooked berries with a little thickener added.

Why am I so convinced this is the way to go?  Ah yes, my juice factory with the last haskapberry pie I made:

IMG_7666Tasted great; bled like a stuck pig.  So yeah, trust in me…I fail for you!

Plan ahead: the pie crust, the berry sauce, and the finished pie all need to be chilled before serving.  You’ll also need to buy some Clear Jel, a modified food starch that doesn’t break down after time, like corn starch does; you might substitute corn starch for less satisfactory results.

IMG_7664Juicyberry Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie.

  • 5-6 cups fresh haskapberries, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, or any juicy berry
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Clear Jel
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 prebaked and cooled pie shell (see recipe below)

The day before or several hours before you assemble the pie: prebake and cool a 9-inch pie crust.

In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups of berries and water. Mash berries well. Heat until boiling on medium high heat. In a small bowl, mix Clear Gel and sugar. When berries are boiling, add sugar mixture to berries, stirring constantly for one minute to set the starch and thicken the juice. When thick, remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Don’t omit the cooling process.

(Whoa!!  A note from our sponsor about blueberries:  You might want to add the fresh blueberries to the hot slurry mix instead of waiting for it to cool down so they soften a bit.  Your goal is to have a fresh tasting pie, not cooked, but blueberries benefit from a little taming.)

Pour cooled sauce over top of rest of fresh berries in a large bowl.  Stir gently to combine with sauce, trying not to break berries. Chill well, at least an hour before serving.

Slice with sharp knife and use pie server to aid transfer of servings, as the pie will be looser than pies made with cooked fruit. Top with whipped or ice cream.

Prebaked Pie Crust

1/4 cup cold water with ice cubes in it
3/4 teaspoon vinegar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I’ve tried soft pastry flour and white whole wheat; it never works as well as just plain ol’ flour)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
9 Tbsp. (4 ½ oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

About 30 minutes before you plan to make the crust, throw butter and a bowl of iced water in the freezer.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times to blend, then  add the chilled butter.  Pulse until it looks like a coarse meal (the old way is to say ‘alligator’ six times) and the butter is in tiny pieces but still very visible.  Measure out 1/4 cup of water from your chilled bowl of ice water, then add the vinegar to the water.  Slowly add the water-vinegar mixture to the flour meal, pulsing until the dough starts to come together.  You want it to be right on the borderline between crumbly and a clump of dough.  You may need to add a tiny bit more water.

Gather the dough and mound it on a clean surface.  Now here’s the fun part.  Take egg-sized bits and press down with the heel of your hand, “smearing” the butter and flour together.  Then shape all the dough into a disk about 1 ½ inches thick, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, refrigerate it for a few hours to two days.

When you are ready to roll, take the dough out to soften for 15-30 minutes (you want it cold but pliable, and not sticky).

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle with the diameter of about 11 inches. As you roll from the center outward, turn the dough so you ensure it doesn’t stick.  Add flour to the surface and your pin as needed. Transfer the dough gently into your pie dish, and press it to shape.

Trim any dough to about an inch larger than the dish edge, then fold the dough under, pinch all along the top, and prick dough with a fork all over, including the sides. Place the pie crust in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bake the empty pie shell (this is called blindbaking, and helps combat sogginess) for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown, on the lower third of the oven.

Cool the pie shell to room temperature before adding filling.


duck egg leche flan for pi day

IMG_5784Of the fowl I coddled recently on a two-week farm stay, I became a duck supporter.  Go Ducks!  I had heard that ducks have a presence that chickens lack, and it’s true. Their soft, smooth heads and facial expressions just charmed the pants off me. And they don’t have roosters who insist on pecking me and they’re not geese, period.  Seriously, a plus.

I was helping out some family farmers who needed livestock coverage in nearby Cottage Grove, a bucolic little rural town of covered bridges, plant nurseries, bookshops, and great breakfasts.  Part of my daily job was to process dozens of eggs from 24 chickens, a single egg a day from the horrible four-goose thug team, and whatever eggs the six ducks saw fit to lay.  I also had to milk two goats, an endeavor I enjoyed quite a bit, and one I’ll write about later.

IMG_5966So I suddenly found myself in the middle of the road of my life, surrounded by eggs.  I’ve been experimenting quite a bit.  I was reminded how delicious a classic béarnaise sauce is with a ribeye steak.  I learned that, despite a promising concept and the heart willing, leftover béarnaise sauce does not a good scrambled egg make.  I’ve made a glorious caramel duck egg bread pudding, a single goose egg chilaquiles (above), frittata, aioli, and Alice B. Toklas’ tricolor omelette with spinach and saffron layers, draped with tomato sauce.

And, my friends, I made this.

IMG_6024Duck egg leche flan with blood orange.  Doesn’t look like much, does it?  But o o o o that simple appearance belies a rich, deep, exquisite flavor of almost savory sweet egg custard, and the whole thing is bathed in caramel.  It’s a Filipino specialty, and traditionally relies on creamy water buffalo milk and a sour lime called a dayap (similar to a calamansi), but now uses pantry ingredients.  I opted for the “traditional” version with evaporated milk and condensed milk, managing to source some organic varieties of both.  For some thoughts on the rich variety of recipes using different kinds of dairy and eggs or whole eggs, click here.  I may still try it with cream and honey, but I present you with my first go, which was absolutely delicious.

The recipe uses 12 duck egg yolks.  If you ever find yourself in duck egg heaven, you won’t regret making it, since duck eggs are noticeably richer than their chicken cousins, but farm-fresh chicken egg yolks would work too.  It just wouldn’t be as rich.  And I hate to be a snob, but I wouldn’t bother making this with grocery store eggs and their pale yellow, tasteless yolks.

The traditional mold, a llanera, can be replaced by a cake or pie dish or ramekin.  A ramekin will give you less caramel on top, so screw that.  I found it much more reliable to bake the flan in a water bath versus steaming it (also more traditional).

What to do with the duck egg whites?  Well, they’re thicker and richer than chicken eggs, so they don’t work the same way in cakes and pastries.  I suggest beating them to soft peaks and making chiles rellenos out of them, which is what we had for dinner the night of the flan.  Yes, it’s decadent, but hey, I’ve got farm work to do.

Duck Egg Leche Flan with Blood Orange

Serves 12, very rich.

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 12 duck eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 1 blood orange
  • 1 can condensed milk (best quality), 14 oz.
  • 1 can evaporated milk (best quality), 12 oz.

Prepare a waterbath for a 10-inch cake pan or deep pie dish using a roasting pan or similar that will allow you to fit the dish in the pan and add hot water.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Place your cake pan next to the stove.  In a light-colored skillet, melt and caramelize the sugar on low heat.  As it melts, gently push the unmelted sugar into the melted sugar to help keep the heating constant.

Watch the skillet constantly, especially near the end, as burning is quick and fatal.  You want a medium-dark brown color, but dark brown will impart a bitter flavor, so take it off the heat immediately when done, and pour it into your reserved cake pan, tilting the pan for a thin layer and ensuring that the caramel goes on the sides as well as the bottom.

Place the pan in the roasting pan, and add very hot water to about midway up the side of the cake pan.

Zest the orange and squeeze about a tablespoon of juice.  Add to egg yolks in a medium bowl, and whisk.  Reserve whites for another use.  Whisk in condensed and evaporated milk, then pour batter into caramelized cake pan.  Place pan into water bath prepared earlier, and cook until just set, about 1 hour.  A knife inserted in the middle should come out almost completely clean (the caramel will make the tip wet).  Don’t overcook.

Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for several hours.  Carefully slide a thin spatula around the sides of the pan, then invert onto a dish quickly.  Be sure the dish is large enough for the liquid caramel on the bottom.

Serve with whipped unsweetened cream, berries, or supremed blood oranges, grapefruit, and limes tossed with a little Grand Marnier.

berries with frothy custard clouds

IMG_3571I have my repertoire of berry recipes indexed, if you’re interested, but my new obsession is berries with frothy custard clouds…or as the Italians call it, zabaglione.  The first time I had it, I was a teenager, and thought it was the most exquisite dessert in the world.  I’m not sure if I’ve been disabused of that notion.

It wasn’t just the taste of the custard. I said the word to myself repeatedly, slowly, sensually: zah-BAG-lee-OHN. As a word, it was a marriage between other things I loved to say: zamboni and linguine and Sierra Lione.  It was much nicer, indeed, than the French word sabayon, a similar custard, the cookbooks told me, but one that seemed vastly different to me — almost smug in that way the French can be. No, zabaglione was what I wanted to float away upon if I could choose any liquid for Lethe.  Zabaglione, take me away…

And as a young adult who reads more about the world than circles it soon discovers, I realized I had been saying it incorrectly.  ZAH-bahl-YOH-nay.  Makes sense, no?  Much closer to sabayon, much further away from my version of linguistic heaven where custard canoodles on the perfectly shaven-smooth clouds of West Africa.

Nevertheless, it’s still good, the perfect summer evening dessert.  With three ingredients: farm fresh egg yolks, sugar, and marsala wine (the sweet, fortified wine you can find in better supermarkets, but for godsake don’t buy the cheap stuff), it’s easy to count on it.  Use the best eggs you can. Ones straight from the chicken will yield a lemon yellow custard; supermarket eggs, even good quality, will give you more of a pale froth.

You’ll need a strong arm.  It’s a thin custard, sometimes served like a soup, but you’ll need to froth it to triple its volume.  I’ve long loved the small drama of walking around a dinner party whipping cream by hand with a big whisk.  Whipping the zabaglione takes just as long, anywhere from 10-15 minutes, and you really want a full volume.  Pour it into long, skinny glasses over your favorite fresh berries, either macerated with a bit of sugar and marsala or just left nude as the way you found ’em.

And don’t skimp, you frugal American, as I did in the photo.  I saw a version at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco a couple of months ago that was served absolutely overflowing a tall pilsner (?) glass, frothing down over the sides of the glass and piled up a little on the charger plate.  It was a disaster and fabulous and a showstopper.

If you’re interested in stabilizing the custard and serving it cold, see Elise Bauer’s recipe or others for the incorporation of whipped cream.  You might also try Marcella Hazan’s cold red wine version, reprinted here.  Just don’t put any extra flavoring crap in it, like vanilla.  It’s perfect the way it is.

I was charmed by Giovanna Zivny’s history of the recipe, which reports the old fashioned way was to make the custard using the egg shell as a measurement, with a 1:1:2 ratio (egg yolk: sugar: marsala), so that’s how I eyeball it when I add the sugar and wine.  Egg shells, however, differ in size and it’s an utterly bad way to measure things, not to mention the recontamination issues when handling egg shells in a dish that’s already suspect because the eggs aren’t completely cooked.

Also notable is that Zivny never uses a double boiler, so it’s not essential, but if you don’t your custard won’t be as frothy and will surely curdle on the bottom. Also, you might need to worry about the higher level of heat if using fragile glasses.  Does that stop me?  No.  But you might be more particular, or have nicer glasses.


Serves two, preferably lovers, and preferably on a warm summer night.  Whisper it to your partner in a husky voice: ZAH-bahl-YOH-nay is served!

  • 3 eggs, as fresh as possible
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Marsala or another fortified or sweet wine
  • 2 cups or more fresh berries of your choice

Separate the eggs, place the yolks in a small bowl, and reserve the whites for another use.

Clean and slice berries, if necessary, and place in tall glasses or wine glasses.

Prepare the double boiler by placing 1-2 inches of water in a medium saucepan, then place a stainless bowl on top of the pan. Note you’ll need a large bowl to accommodate the whisking and triple-volume of the final product.

Bring water to a gentle boil on medium-low heat.

Whisk together the wine and sugar in the heated bowl until sugar dissolves.  Add eggs, whisking constantly, and whisk them for 10-15 minutes, until the custard has thickened slightly, tripled in volume, and is very foamy and pale in color.  If the eggs start to cook, turn the heat down to low and remove the bowl for a few seconds.  Be careful, as this custard, like all custards, will break if overcooked.

Serve immediately, pouring the custard over the berries until barely overflowing.

baby, it’s hot chocolate inside

IMG_3458IMG_3490 IMG_3476Definitely a day to cozy up to your couch and drink some hot chocolate.  I wish I were back in Amsterdam, where I had the good fortune to meet Kees Raat, master chocolatier and proprietor of the award-winning Metropolitan Deli, a sweets shop dedicated to stretching the chocolate imagination as far as it can go.  His hot chocolate, a thick, dark cup that blows away the competition in the land of hot chocolate, is exquisite — almost savory and velvet-textured, caressing your tongue and throat as you take tiny sips.

IMG_3460There he is, serving me up my cup of hot cocoa and another customer a waffle at the same time!  What service!

Unlike Willy Wonka and his slave labor, Raat sources cocoa beans from Cuba directly, seeking sustainable practices and the best quality.  He then grinds and cooks down the fermented cocoa beans to make his own chocolate.  I’d never seen chocolate making from bean to bar, and it was kind of thrilling, so simple yet so difficult.

IMG_3452IMG_3453 IMG_3465  IMG_3473IMG_3486IMG_3478 The shop sells everything from chocolate letters to cayenne-spicy langues de chat to ice cream (trompe la langue Campari blood orange, stroopwaffel or “nuts and glory”) to cocoa beer to cocoa lotion to poffertje pancakes, cakes, waffles, and waffle cones.  And it’s all packed into a tiny, narrow space just off Dam Square that’s filled with delighted customers.  He also holds workshops and gives talks on all the troublesome and delightful nuances of the chocolate trade.

But if you’re on your own austerity programme for the new year, might I suggest another treat served up for free at the shop?  I’d never publicly endorse this kind of celebration, and I prefer my own nose to remain snowy white, but there’s always the low-cal version of hot chocolate:

IMG_3471Stay warm, Eugeniuses, however you can!

my latest adventure: local food at riverbend hospital

The weekend in San Francisco was going to be a deserved, long-awaited break and time to reflect and plan out the summer and fall. I had a few fun food goodies to finish, like my over-researched soup dumpling article and a series of posts on my recent experiences cooking Sichuan food. I was going to stay in a posh hotel just blocks away from the SF Pride parade, so I could watch a little bit and then wander off for eats at the Ferry Building.

Instead, I got hit by a car leaving the airport terminal.  The weekend was spent in bed at an airport hotel because I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t concentrate on much because of the pain pills, not to mention all the arrangements that needed to be made for immediate surgery upon my return home.

And so you get a post on food at River Bend Hospital food, instead.

The good news is that our new, state-of-the-art hospital didn’t choose to go the way of many institutional facilities.  I often have a chance to chat with nutritionists at food conferences, and I’ve heard some horror stories about places that contract out ALL their food to frozen packaged food manufacturers so they don’t need to bother with operational kitchen facilities.

Instead of that, we have this:

Which is not horrible, given all the possible horrors, but could be improved. Overall, the food was tremendously salty and nearly everything was sweet.  I thought I had a pretty good sense of how sweet the American diet was, but the problem is astounding.  Even at a hospital, even after repeatedly and bluntly and slowly saying I DON’T LIKE SWEET THINGS and asking if each and every item was sweet when ordering, I was still offered muffins, pastries, pudding, fruit bowls, soda, juice, etc., AND mistakenly served french toast, sugary fruit yogurt, and juice.  You’ll notice even the turkey dinner has cranberry sauce.  I stayed for one night.  I would have been diabetic if I had stayed the week, no?

The only local food on the menu seemed to be Nancy’s plain yogurt, served in a bowl covered with Saran Wrap.  Even that has a sweetener in it!

I think we can do better than these small gestures for offerings.

There is some good news: the local chain Café Yumm has a presence at the hospital if you’re planning to visit and that type of food appeals.  I also managed to score a simple pasta salad from Cornucopia and a plain Greek yogurt at one of the kiosks.

But I sure am glad to be home.  I had a knee operation and it looks like I’ll be laid up and then in rehab for most of the summer.  Stay tuned for what are sure to be some odd times.  Never a dull moment here at Culinaria Eugenius!

culinaria eugenius in taiwan: fruit loops

Part III of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part I on crabs here and Part II on fish/seafood here.

More Taiwanese food, on a day we could all use a little tropical sweetness.  (24 hours to go ’til grading is due!)

Fruit is one of the main daily luxuries in Taiwan; with a subtropical climate, every kind imaginable is available. At the hotel, we were greeted by three different types of fruit that changed on a daily basis.  They even provided a little card that explained what was being presented.  Note the size of the starfruit, above.  It was almost as big as a brick.

The hotel also provided two fruit stations at the breakfast buffet, so we could either get juice and sliced fruit, including papaya, passionfruit, guava, and pineapple, or chopped up fruit “stew” in a rainbow of colors for yogurt and granola.

Since I have so many images, I thought I’d try a gallery of thumbnails.  Click on the photo for a bigger version.  The series above is mostly from the Agrioz Conserves Factory, a couple of hours from Taipei in Yi-lan province, a coastal area on the northeast side of the island.  The factory candies fruit, a traditional snack for families.  Kumquats are their most popular treat (growing above at the Tea Promotion Center in a different area).  A worker individually packages each candied fruit in a small production area.  The four kumquats on a plate represent different stages of candying and drying.  The one furthest away from the camera has been dried to a leathery nugget and is most like a jujube candy.  The sweet little owner served them to us to try.  She is responsible for the jars of preserved fruit in the last photo, as well.  They’re just for display.

At every meal, we were served fruit as dessert, and often a glass of juice or drinking vinegar made from fruit at the start of the meal.  I usually think of fruit as a cop-out dessert (and therefore my kind of dessert), but in Taiwan, it was really the nicest thing that could follow a meal.  Above, you can see a pomelo we were served at a farmers’ co-op in Yi-lan province; an apple wine/vinegar being fermented in Yi-lan; a rather over-the-top ice sculpture modeled on an ancient Chinese vessel in the National Museum, poised on a bed of dry ice and topped with a fringe of fruit kebabs; and a simple plate of melons, guava, and dragonfruit with the most wonderful ume plum powder used as a sprinkle of sour-sweet-salt on the fruit.  I made it home with two jars of the stuff.

Just seeing the varieties in the market blew my mind.  I fancy myself a greengrocer connoisseur, someone who has a decent understanding of exotic produce.  But I was out of my league.  I recognized the dragonfruit, gigantic avocados and grapes in the first image, but what in the heck were the green things next to the red apples.  Why, fresh dates, of course!

The coconut fruit in the middle and the cherimoya in the fourth shot I could identify, but the delicate red wax apples I had never seen before.  They were fragile and brittle and watery clean in taste.  I recommend them.  Look for dark purple ones, or jade green ones, should you have the good fortune to land in Taiwan.

And last?  That’s a purple glutinous rice “cake” topped with candied fruit for celebrations.  The reddish rice is a lucky color.  A much nicer way to celebrate a birthday than a grocery store sheet cake made from Crisco and powdered eggs, thank you very much.

To you, Taiwan, and your glorious fruit!  I toast you with some passionfruit juice.

the exchange of two baked goods, a morality tale

On the day I baked M. F. K. Fisher’s War Cake (below) to fortify my culinary literature students working on their final papers, a former student stopped by my office to give me a lovely loaf of cinnamon raisin bread.  Better to receive than give, in this case! I turned it in to a simple bread pudding with cream and walnuts (above).

Fisher’s War Cake is a coffee cake-style sweet loaf with raisins cut into pieces to resemble currants.  She adapted it slightly from popular World War I ration-friendly cakes that she had eaten in her childhood.  I found one almost identical recipe in Amelia Doddridge’s propagandistic cookbook, Liberty Recipes (1918).  The name of the cake in that book — Eggless, Milkless, Butterless Cake — kinda gives you the idea of the studied joylessness with which Doddridge crafts her recipes.  The first step, boiling shortening and sugar together with the raisins and spices, softens the fruit.

Even renamed the slightly less bleak War Cake, this is not Fisher’s finest moment.  Without any binding agent, the cake crumbled to bits when I tried to cut it.  Luckily, I teach kids forced to eat dorm food, so they didn’t mind eating the crumbs.  I substituted currants for the raisins and used local whole wheat flour for a bit more flavor, but held off as hard as I could and didn’t add nuts or butter, even though I was sorely tempted.  And I felt pretty bad that the class before mine had a giant box of Safeway donuts for their last week treat.  War, huh, yeah.

What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

But back to that raisin loaf.  My plan was to serve the pudding with some homemade crème fraiche and brandied apricots, but I realized I must have drunk myself into forgetful oblivion with the last of the apricots when I was on that bender a few weeks ago.  The crème fraiche stubbornly refused to set up during the day, too, so we ate the pudding with slightly sour cream and some rather deliciously fizzy and/or possibly poisonous apricot-brandied cherries.

The crème fraiche, by the way, had set up beautifully by the time I woke up this morning, and it was amazing with leftovers.  I strongly recommend making your own.