Toward the end of every summer, my family and I abandon New York City for my parents’ Massachusetts farmhouse, where the fields out back are lined with blueberry bushes. Some years, the crop is tiny. Other years, it is so good we are overwhelmed, calling up visions of Lucille Ball wrapping chocolates in the candy factory.
One summer, my uncle Steve — in a noble, but ultimately futile effort to handle the abundance — designed and engineered his own “Blueberry Holding Unit.”
He hung an empty tennis can on a string around his neck, freeing up both of his hands, which allowed for simultaneous non-stop two-handed picking. Eureka!
This was nice for his picking, but it didn’t do much for the problem of what to do with all those blueberries. So I scrambled to dream up recipes such as this one, which is more about the berries than the crust.
And that has an added benefit. Not only does a berry-centric dessert use up a berry abundance, it also produces a healthier dessert. In most pies and baked treats, the bulk of the fat and calories come from the crust or cake involved. Even when sweetened, the fruity filling tends to be pretty healthy.
The “cake” in this case is minimal — just three layers of baked phyllo dough cut into squares. Phyllo is a paper-thin flour dough used to make pastries. It is extremely low in fat and even comes in whole-wheat varieties. It’s widely available at most grocers and typically is found in the freezer section near the fruit and pie crusts.
As for the berries, I love them raw and cooked, which is why this recipe includes the title fruit in both of those states. I wanted to highlight a raw blueberry’s greatest charms, its deep juiciness and the way it explodes in your mouth. To finish it off, I added lemon and cinnamon, both of which always play so nicely with blueberries.
A few recipe notes for you:
• You will use only three sheets of phyllo in this recipe. What to do with the remaining sheets? Roll them up, wrap them tightly in plastic, then in foil, and put them back in the freezer for another day.
• I used a pizza wheel to cut the phyllo dough. It is the best tool for the job; it won’t pull at and tear the delicate phyllo the way a knife can.
• I found that the best way to make sure the sugar is distributed evenly was to put it in my hand and sprinkle it over the dough.
• Keep a close eye on the phyllo squares as they bake; they brown up very quickly.
• This dessert is scrumptious, but it’s a little messy to eat. Serve it with a knife, fork and spoon.
CRISP BLUEBERRY SHORTCAKES
I tested this recipe not with the tart and intensely-flavored wild blueberries from my backyard, but with the cultivated blueberries found at most supermarkets. Cultivated blueberries are larger and less tart than wild ones, and can be quite tasty. I prefer wild, but my testers (the husband and kids) had no complaints.
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 sheets phyllo dough, trimmed to 12-by-16 inches
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Pinch table salt
1/3 cup water
2 cups fresh blueberries, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Low-fat vanilla yogurt, to garnish, if desired
Heat the oven to 400 F.
In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the sugar with the cinnamon.
Lay 1 phyllo sheet flat on a baking sheet, keeping the remaining phyllo sheets covered with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel. Spray the phyllo sheet lightly with the cooking spray, then sprinkle it with 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Layer a second sheet of phyllo over the first, coat it with cooking spray and sprinkle with another teaspoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Repeat with the final sheet of phyllo.
Cut the stacked phyllo into twelve 4-inch squares, leaving them on the baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan stir together the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, the cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the water. Add 1/2 cup of the blueberries and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a full boil, the berries have popped, and the sauce has thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest. In a medium bowl, combine the thickened sauce with the remaining blueberries.
To serve, arrange 6 of the phyllo crisps on individual serving plates. Divide the blueberry mixture between them, spooning it over each. Top each with a second crisp. Serve topped with a spoonful of vanilla yogurt, if desired. They also can be sprinkled with powdered sugar or additional cinnamon.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 110 calories; 15 calories from fat (14 percent of total calories); 1.5 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 25 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 80 mg sodium.
Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”