You know that moment when you're paging through the pictures in a cookbook and your heart does that little flip thingy it do...your eyes dart over to the corresponding recipe, you quickly scan the ingredients, and fall more and more in lust with every word? A love-at-first-sight kind of thing. Well, when I ran across a recipe for blackberry shortbread in one of my cookbooks, I knew I was besotted, that I had the fever, and there was nothing for it except to quickly bake the darn things.
Blackberries and orange zest lounging (in a come hither sort of way) on an almond shortbread crust. What's not to love?
The original recipe comes from a Martha Stewart cookbook that I picked up on the cheap somewhere. I was immediately drawn to the recipe because it was loaded with fruit (my favorite dessert ingredient) and appeared to be ripe (eh hem) for a Luv'n Spoonfuls overhaul.
I replaced some of the butter called for in the original recipe with some coconut oil, added some whole grain flour to the shortbread ingredients, opted for more simple prep by using almond meal (instead of the laborious step in the original recipe of toasting then grinding whole blanched almonds), and added a few flavor boosters like orange zest and two of my favorite baking spices, coriander and cardamom. Martha's called for cinnamon, which you could easily fall back on, but I wanted something a little more exotic.
This is a typical shortbread crust, so it will look like lumpy sand before it gets pressed into the pan.
The orange zest is rubbed into a couple of tablespoons of natural sugar and is sprinkled on top rather than tossed with the berries. Not only does it help cut down on the 'bleeding' that occurs when berries are mixed directly with sugar, the zest and sugar bake up to a slight 'crisp' that is akin to candied orange peel, which is, in my book, simply divine.
The before baking (above) and after baking (below) photos. The outer edge of the crust will have just a light-brown tinge and the berries will be soft. Use the orange zest/sugar mixture as your guide...if this burns, it will be bitter.
I opted for a light glaze of powdered sugar mixed with cream and orange flower water, but these were delicious either way. A dusting of powdered sugar would do just as nicely.
The almond meal, spelt flour and coconut oil bring some subtle but tasty health benefits to the berry orange party. Blackberries are loaded with good compounds, Vitamin C and fiber. Have I talked us into this being a health food yet? Admittedly, at the end of the day, this is still dessert, but it certainly won't derail any healthy eating plan. I would willingly swim a few extra laps or take a couple extra turns around the block for one of these lovelies!
The blackberries stay intact but bake down to gooey nuggets of tart, jammy-wonderfulness, and provide a lovely texture counterpoint to the crunchy topping and nutty shortbread.
Other fresh fruit could be substituted for the blackberries...perhaps blueberries with lemon zest, mango with lime zest? I loved these so much, though, I'd be hard pressed to change a thing. Strange, but I'm hearing faint lyrics from that Billy Joel song 'Just The Way You Are' right now. Weird. Anyway...
sometimes, when you're smitten, you just have to follow your heart,
down whatever sweet path it may lead you.
2 pints fresh blackberries, or fruit of choice
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup spelt flour, barley flour or whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup almond meal (I like Trader Joe's)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 to 1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tbs natural sugar
grated orange zest, from one large orange, approximately 2-3 tbs
If desired, glaze with additional powdered sugar mixed with a small amount of cream (or milk) and orange flower water.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or use parchment paper). Beat the softened butter and coconut oil together in a mixing bowl until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Stir in the almond extract. In another bowl, stir together the flours, salt and spices. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing just until a sandy, crumbly dough forms. Place the 2 tbs natural sugar in a small bowl and grate the orange zest directly over the bowl, capturing all the orange oils and zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers. Pour all but one cup of the dough into the baking dish, pressing the dough flat. Scatter the berries over the dough, then sprinkle the orange-sugar and the remaining one cup of dough over the berries. Bake approximately 45 minutes until the crust becomes lightly browned. Cool in the pan until completely cooled. Cut into large squares; makes approximately 15 squares. These are best within a few hours after baking...the moisture from the berries weeps into the crust, making it soggy.