Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Restorative (sort of).

Blueberries CAN float.

Spring is here (all 88 degrees of it, yecch), our winter diseases are past (well, except for a lingering post nasal drip), and the time has come for health food. Well, not really health food, but healthier food. Healthy-ish food? Whatever.

This is based on a breakfast bread my husband ordered at Herbivore, a vegan restaurant in San Francisco. Don't sneer; although the service there is predictably spacey and glacial, the food is surprisingly thoughtful and good, and the branch we go to (there are others in the Mission and in Berkeley) is situated in one of the still-irredeemably funky neighborhoods of the city - on Divisidero, a couple of blocks from both the Panhandle and Alamo Square. It's nice to go there when you want to pretend you live in SF, something I've been doing since I was six.

Anyway. They serve a toasted blueberry cornbread loaf there which defies all preconceptions about vegan food: it is luscious, full of fruit, sweet, crunchy when toasted -- in other words, it feels bad. But it is good! And not full of animal products or saturated fat! It does, however, contain gluten, but nothing is perfect. It is also ridiculously easy to make. Oh, and PS: this is my version of the cornbread, not Herbivore's. Theirs is a bit rougher in texture, probably due to the use of whole wheat flour.

Blueberry Corn Bread Loaf

Makes one gigantically hefty loaf, which will serve eight normal people or two gluttons.

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup yellow corn meal

2/3 cup granulated evaporated cane juice (you can get this easily at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, natural foods markets and some very complete supermarkets)

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups unsweetened plain soy milk

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons tasteless vegetable oil (like peanut, canola, safflower, etc.)

1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional; I don't use it because I love the pure taste of corn)

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (if you use frozen, keep them in the freezer until the batter is made and you're ready to add them in)

1 extra teaspoon all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a deep 5"x9" loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. I usually line the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit, but if you use a nonstick pan this isn't necessary.

In a large bowl, stir all purpose flour, corn meal, evaporated cane juice, baking powder, baking soda and salt together with a wire whisk. In another bowl or large measuring cup, stir together the soy milk, oil, vinegar, vanilla and lemon peel (if used). Pour the soy milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir only to combine. The batter will be a little lumpy - do not overmix.

Now comes the best part, a technique for using blueberries in baked goods that is so simple it's amazing no one thought of it before the folks at Cook's Illustrated, who in turn stole it themselves from a very old New England recipe for a coffee cake called "Boy Bait." This method will keep them from sinking to the bottom of the loaf AND prevent that horrible grey-green color which occurs when you mix the berries in the batter: In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with the 1 teaspoon of flour (if you're using frozen berries, work fast). Pour roughly half the batter into the prepared loaf pan, and then scatter half of the prepared blueberries over the batter. Pour the rest of the batter over them and then scatter the remaining blueberries on top. At this point I usually sprinkle a bit of sugar on top to make a crunchier crust, but this is entirely optional.

Bake the loaf for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the loaf is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool the loaf on a wire rack for about 15 to 20 minutes. Loosen the sides of the loaf with a small sharp knife and tip out, inverting onto a serving plate. Cool for a bit longer, but this is spectacular served warm, although it will be quite crumbly. When cool, it can be sliced and toasted in the toaster, which is almost as good. When well wrapped in plastic wrap, this loaf will stay fresh for two or three days, but it's never around that long at our house.

Really, this will change your mind totally about vegan food.

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich

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