In pursuit of black raspberry vinegar

Wild black raspberries

A few years ago I bought a bottle of black raspberry vinegar from Montgomery Place Orchards in the Hudson Valley, as a gift for my cousin and his girlfriend in Germany. They liked it so much that I bought a second bottle for my next visit, but then had to tell them this would be the last one, because after our daughter graduated, we would no longer make frequent trips to Annandale-on-Hudson. I suspect one of the motives of my cousin and his now wife for spending their summer vacation in the US this year is to load up on black raspberry vinegar… There are no black raspberries in Germany, they are a North American specialty.

We have a few black raspberries on our grounds, usually not enough to get excited about. This year however seemed different. I spotted brambles full of berries and picked a handful for fruit tart the other day, making a note to myself to get more. It took me a few days to work up the energy to leave my cool office and actually do it – in 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 55 percent humidity, covered up head to toe with boots, long sleeves, hat, protective glasses, and gloves. Even the dog, usually following me everywhere and inching forward with me sphinx-style when I pick strawberries, preferred to stay in the house.

For a good hour or so, I disappeared into the thicket. It was work but I picked more berries than I had hoped for. And I even found a large patch of blackberries, to return to in August. I don’t think I have had this explorer/discoverer feeling since I was a kid. When I came back to the house I was filthy and slightly scratched yet exhilarated and happy.

Of course the black raspberries had to go into black raspberry vinegar. For all that effort, I want something lasting. For instant gratification, there were enough berries left for a quick dessert for two.

I had made raspberry vinegar before, according to a recipe from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook, and found it a bit too sweet. This time I followed the recipe recently posted by Phoebe’s Pure Food.

It remains to be seen if the black raspberry vinegar will be as good as the one I gave away as a gift. Maybe knowing that it was made with the berries I foraged will make up for the difference in taste.

Raspberry vinegar & dessert

A substitute for Quark

Until Greek yogurt become more widely available in the United States in recent years, as a native German I felt extremely Quark-deprived. Creamy Quark, which is often referred to as cottage cheese without curds but is actually nothing like it, is my favorite dairy product. It can be made at home (the recipe is in my cookbook Spoonfuls of Germany), however, the process is lengthy and quite involved, and getting the right consistency is a hit and miss.

Greek yogurt is an acceptable substitute for desserts calling for quark, and other non-baking recipes. For cakes and pies, however, I find it rather flat. But don’t get me wrong, I am already quite happy to be able to make desserts that taste almost like Quark.

When I was a kid my mother used to make this vanilla custard with Quark, which I could eat by the tubful. She used instant custard powder while I make the custard from scratch. I topped it with our last own frozen raspberries but there is room for experimentation here.

Vanilla Custard with Greek Yogurt

1 cup milk (2%)

1 vanilla bean

3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2/3 cup sugar

2 cups Greek yogurt

Fruit topping to taste (raspberries, blueberries)

1. Put the milk in a small pot. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds thoroughly into the milk. Add the vanilla bean to the milk and slowly bring to a boil.

2. In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks with the cornstarch and the sugar until both are dissolved. There should not be any lumps.

3. Strain the milk and pour it back into the pot. Put it back on the stove and whisk in the egg mixture.

4. Bring to a gentle boil until the custard thickens, whisking constantly. Make sure to also scrape with the whisk over the bottom to prevent the custard from sticking and burning.

5. When the custard is nice and thick, remove from the heat immediately. Let cool completely, stirring every now and then.

6. Add the Greek yogurt and whisk until creamy. Refrigerate. Top with berries or other fruit to taste.

The now-or-never raspberry scones

Most cooks I know have a collection of recipes that they ripped out of some magazine or newspaper with the intention of trying them out some time. I have made it a habit of cleaning those out once in a while, discarding the ones that, if I am honest to myself, I will never ever make.

Corby Kummer’s Raspberry-and-Raisin Tea Scones from The Atlantic were on their way out. I am not sure whether it was that the recipe calls for the flour being sifted five times (I usually never sift flour), or that I could not warm up to the combination of raspberries and raisins.

But because I have frozen raspberries from the garden, and I seriously need to start cooking and baking my way down our overfilled freezer, I gave the recipe a try. However, I made a few changes. I used dried cranberries instead of raisins, and canola oil instead of olive oil. As the dough was a sticky mess, cutting was difficult. So I ended up shaping the scones by hand, but I did this very quickly, so that the consistently would not become too dense – why, otherwise, would I have sifted the flour five times?

I find the result yummy – light and with a subtle sweetness, so you can still put jam or jelly on them. Now I am waiting to hear what my family tasting panel says.

Raspberry-Cranberry Scones

2¾ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

½ cup canola oil

½ cup sugar

2 eggs

½ cup unsweetened dried cranberries (preferably organic)

½ cup frozen raspberries

1. Sift the flour five times into a large bowl. Mix with the baking powder and salt.

2. Whisk the buttermilk with the canola oil, sugar and 1 egg in a small bowl.

3. Add the liquids to the flour mixture and quickly work it in with a spatula until the dough holds together. Fold in the cranberries Do not overwork the dough.

4. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

5. Place a large piece of wax paper on the counter. Put the dough in the middle of it and place another sheet of wax paper of the same size on top. Pat the dough with your hand to an equal thickness, about the size of letterhead paper.

6. Peel off the top layer of wax paper and sprinkle the individual raspberries over half of the dough. Fold the other half of the dough over it.

7. Place the top wax paper on top of the dough gain and flatten the dough slightly. 8. Remove the paper and cut the dough into 12 to 14 equal pieces.

9. With floured hands, quickly and lightly shape round, about 3-inch scones, taking care not to compress the dough.

10. Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Whisk the remaining egg and brush the scones with it.

11. Place the baking sheet into the freezer for 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the freezer and brush the scones again with the egg wash.

12. Put the baking sheet in the oven and reduce the temperature to 425 degrees F. Bake for 18 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet immediately and cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 12 to 14 scones

Confessions of a raspberry hoarder

When it comes to raspberries, I turn into a combination of a hoarder and the food police – at least when the harvest is scarce in mid-summer. It ticks me off when someone pops a handful of freshly picked raspberries in their mouth after I have spent so much time picking (needless to say, I am particular about letting someone else pick the raspberries in my garden).

I admit that sometimes, I even leave the raspberries in the garage and wait until I’m alone in the kitchen so I can spread them on a baking sheet and freeze them.  I keep hoarding until I have a couple of 1-gallon bags in the freezer to make cakes, pies and desserts when the children are home so everyone gets their equal share of raspberries. The addictive Raspberry Almond Vacherin from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte is everybody’s declared favorite.

Now that I have reached my raspberry target for 2010 and I am still harvesting raspberries, I can finally relax! I used half of the two pints I picked today to make a custard pie just for my husband and me to splurge on.

One remark about shortening: Until I discovered the organic Jungle brand, shortening was a big no-no for me.  This is the only shortening I will use. It is non-hydrogenated and makes a great flaky pie crust.

Raspberry Pie with Crème Anglaise

Pie crust:

1 cup flour

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1/3  cup (about 2½ ounces) shortening, at room temperature

¼ cup ice water

Crème anglaise:

¼ cup sugar

2 egg yolks

¾ cup + 2 tablespoons low-fat or whole milk

1½ teaspoons cornstarch

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Filling:

1 pint fresh raspberries

You also need:

A pastry blender

Wax paper

A 9-inch pie pan with removable rim

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

2. For the pie crust, mix flour, salt and shortening with a pastry blender until crumbly. Add water by tablespoons until the dough holds together in a ball. Blend briefly to get rid of any lumps.

3. Roll out the dough to an 11-inch circle between two sheets of wax paper. Remove the top layer of the wax paper and flip the wax paper over to fit the circle into a 9-inch fluted pie pan with removable rim. Carefully remove the wax paper. You might have do this by ripping off strips of paper in order to leave the dough intact (sorry, no recycling). Let the dough come up to the height of the rim. Trim the dough along the rim with a sharp knife.

4. Loosely line the crust with lightly greased aluminum foil (shiny side down) and fill with pie weights. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the pie weights and the aluminum foil and bake for 10 to 13 more minutes, or until the crust has a golden brown color. Let cool on a wire rack.

5. For the crème anglaise, beat the sugar and the egg yolks with an electric mixer until thick and pale yellow. Cook with ¾ cup milk in a small heavy saucepan over very low heat for 5 minutes, whisking constantly. Dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons milk and whisk into the mixture. Cook a few more minutes until it thickens. Make sure it doesn’t boil or the eggs will curdle.

6. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract. Let cool to room temperature, whisking a few times to prevent a skin from forming.

7. Whisk the crème anglaise, then spread it evenly on the cooled pie crust. If it is lumpy, strain through a sieve before spreading.

8. Set the raspberries into the custard and refrigerate until the custard has completely set and the pie is chilled, about 1 to 2 hours.

Ice-cold resolution

Each time I make my berry frozen yogurt, I promise myself to use the ice-cream maker more often instead of lazily grabbing a pint of ice cream or sorbet in the store, which tastes overly sweet after eating this.

The most important ingredient is a good berry concentrate (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, red and/or black currants if you have them). I cook the fruit for a few minutes until they pop and release all their juices, then strain them through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.

It is important that all the ingredients are very well chilled before mixing them. Because homemade ice cream and frozen yogurt does not contain any stabilizer, it melts very quickly.

Berry Frozen Yogurt

1½ cups chilled unsweetened berry concentrate

½ cup heavy cream

2 cups sour cream

1 cup sugar

1. In a bowl mix all ingredients well with a wire whisk until sugar dissolves.

2. Process the frozen yogurt in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. I have an ice-cream maker whose bowl needs to be frozen so when it is warm in the kitchen, I carry the ice-cream maker down to the cooler basement. That prevents the bowl from warming up and improves the quality.

3. Fill frozen yogurt in plastic containers with tight lids and place them in the freezer until solidly frozen.

Makes 1 generous quart