Small, Good Things: Buckle Up

Blueberry Buckle

Blueberry Buckle

What’s in a name?

Discreet American regions have distinctive recipes for fruit compotes that each traces a vague lineage to classic European pies, tarts and cakes. But rather than pies, we have grunts, slumps and sonkers.

There are also crisps and crumbles topped with loose, crunchy streusel toppings of nuts or oats — a definite in crisps; not so much in crumbles. The betty (or brown betty) includes no oats, though the crunchy streusel is layered throughout.

Then there’s the fungy, loosely topped with a rolled pastry-ish crust permeated by holes. The Appalachian version — sonker — is a bit soupier and can incorporate cream or buttermilk. It’s almost always finished with a vanilla cream glaze known as a dip. (Sonkers stretch the limits of what constitutes fruit: a favorite filling is sweet potatoes.)

In a pandowdy, a cousin to the cobbler, the crust is broken up and pressed into the fruit halfway through the baking in a process known as dowdying.

Ivan Rinaldi

Ivan Rinaldi, 8, of Beacon, enjoying this week’s recipe

Slumps, named for the way they inhabit a plate, feature nuts in their biscuit topping for crunch, the most famous example being Louisa May Alcott’s published recipe for Apple Slump. 

The grunt is a stovetop cobbler, cooked in a Dutch oven, with sweet biscuit-batter dumplings steamed on top. The name comes from the “grunting” sound the fruit makes as it bubbles and cooks.

Which brings us to the buckle, which is cake batter with the fruit folded in, layered with a streusel topping before baking. 

As an introduction to the dish, I was fortunate to have come into a couple of pints of wild blueberries. Other fruits and berries — or combinations — are all ripe for inclusion. Substitute almond flour for some of the wheat flour, which makes sense with the blueberries, but if you don’t have any handy, no one will be the wiser. The lemon glaze drizzled over all is tartly gratuitous. Buckle up and enjoy.

Blueberry Buckle

9 to 12 servings

Streusel topping:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed & chilled
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour or almond flour
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Lemon syrup:

  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Juice of 2 medium lemons (about 6 tablespoons) 

Batter:

  • 1¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cups almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • Zest of 2 lemons (juice the lemons for the syrup)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 3 cups blueberries (Frozen berries can be used; add them to the batter and they will get soft once defrosted.)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan.

2. Make the streusel topping: Using your hands, crumble butter, sugar, flour and nutmeg until the pieces are pea-sized; refrigerate and reserve.

3. Make the batter: Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into a medium-sized bowl and reserve. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar and lemon zest with a mixer until creamy, about three minutes. Add one egg at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition.

4. With mixer on low, add half the flour mixture to incorporate. Add the buttermilk and incorporate, then the remaining flour mixing so it’s barely incorporated. Using a spatula, gently fold in the blueberries until incorporated. Do not overmix or smash the fruit.

5. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Strew the topping over the batter and bake until lightly browned and just set in the center (it should spring back lightly when you touch the center), about 55 minutes.

6. When buckle is almost done, make the syrup. Heat lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat cooking it until it thickens. It’s done when bubbles get larger and when removed from the heat (do this a couple of times while it’s cooking), consistency is like warm syrup, about five minutes. (Note: This will make twice as much syrup as you need. Reserve the remainder for the next buckle you make or for other uses — drink mixes, whatever.)

7. Remove buckle from oven and drizzle half warm lemon syrup equally over the top. Serve buckle cool enough to slice. Yogurt, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream make nice accompaniments but are completely unnecessary.

Storage: Keep up to three days at room temperature, well wrapped, or freeze for up to two months. If freezing, do not add the syrup. Defrost and rewarm in a low oven wrapped in foil and add the syrup before serving.


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