*Or, When Pizza Crust Eludes You, Make Danish
Despite our reputation as perhaps the most polite and tolerant folks on the face of the planet (and let’s not forget “the funniest,” too), we Canadians are still divided on certain issues. For instance, which is the better team, the Canadiens or the Maple Leafs? (What? Did I hear someone say, “Canucks“?). Does my Canada include Quebec, or not? (Many Quebeckers think not). And which one is it–is our summer vacation getaway a “country house,” a “cottage” or “camp”? Well, if you were born in Montreal, as I was, it’s definitely a “country house.”
Throughout my childhood during July and August, that’s where my parents took me and my sisters while we were on vacation from school. Our country houses were seasonal rentals in a little French town called Val Morin, nestled in the Laurentian mountains. My parents would pack up the station wagon with boxes of summer clothes, pots, pans, dishes, towels and toys for the kids, and we’d make the 2-1/2 hour trek up north (always stopping in St. Jerome for ice cream, of course) before slowing to a stop in front a nondescript wooden edifice that could barely be called a “house.” As children, though, we didn’t mind–we loved the musty, woody smell of the walls, the rusted bathroom water that flowed for 5 minutes before we could brush our teeth, the flecks of grass strewn across the living room floor where we’d tracked them in with our bare feet (since we almost never donned shoes during the entire two months there).
Once the boxes were unpacked and the kitchen set up, Dad would linger for the day and then, next morning, make the trip back to Montreal for the work week. From then on, we saw him on weekends only.
Our last summer up north, we rented one of six identical houses laid out in a horseshoe, in a meadow not too far from the beach. That house stands out in my mind for its lack of hot water during the first two weeks we lived there (Mom was not too happy, let me tell you), the wasps’ nest right beside the front door (which we learned to avoid by bending low to the ground as if scouting anthills, then swerving round from the waist and ducking through the open door with our hands clasped to our heads), and the bunk beds I shared with The Nurse. In fact, it was that very summer when I first began to appreciate literature courtesy of my older sister: each night after we got into bed, The Nurse used a flashlight to read one chapter aloud from Little Women, complete with different accents for each character. It was there in the dark that I fell in love with Jo and Laurie and Marmie, their disembodied voices wafting down from above, a beam of light flickering above me like a beacon transporting their words in the dark.
Val Morin was also remarkable for the few attractions in or near the village. For instance, did you know that Val David was the summer residence of Santa Claus? It’s true: his eponymous Village was situated just before the final highway exit to the town. I never did manage to catch of glimpse of the rotund Red One during the summer (I was likely too busy making sand castles on the beach or toasting marshmallows in the evenings), but I did manage to enjoy the other major attraction, a huge Go-Kart track along the roadside which I was always too young to ride until the very last summer we spent there. When I finally did whirl around the track a few times, I thought it hadn’t been worth all the hype (sort of like when I finally got my first boyfriend after being jealous of my friends all those years).
The end of town was also where we found Blueberry Hill, one of the rolling hillsides that rose up suddenly like a movie set behind the post office and corner store. On weekends when my dad was in town, the CFO and I would each grab a plastic sandpail and trot along behind him along the dirt road, through the village to the foot of the hill. Then we’d climb along the path to the top and work our way down, picking wild blueberrise as we went. Our intention was to each fill a pail with the tiny indigo gems and bring them back to my mom so she could bake up her famous Blueberry Coffee Cake for the weekend.
Of course, the CFO and I couldn’t resist eating the supplies along the way, and inevitably we’d reach the bottom of the hill with our pails only half full, and our distended stomachs already in full protest after being stuffed with all the juicy, matte berries we could shove into our mouths (which were now unevenly lined with deep purple dye). Luckily, my dad always managed to fill his own large basket to the brim, so we never did without cake.
Even though my favorite way to consume blueberries is still fresh, on their own, I thought I’d re-create a favorite of the HH’s for this post. After he takes The Girls for their weekend jaunt through the local trails, the HH stops at Tim Hortons for a large coffee and a baked good; sometimes (but not too often) a Carrot Muffin, occasionally a croissant, or, most often, a blueberry and cream cheese danish. Aha!
Those of you who follow me on Facebook or twitter may remember that I had been working on a bean-based pizza crust. As I mentioned on Facebook, the flavor was great, but the texture was a bit too soft and cakelike for pizza. Well, I decided that the dough would be much more suited to a sweet treat than a pizza–and adding blueberries seemed like a great idea. Since the dough was too soft to roll out, I opted for a freeform shape.
Once baked up, these pastries have a somewhat scone-like, somewhat cake-like texture: dense but not overly so, yet the perfect level of firmness to support a layer of cream cheese topped with a heap of blueberries. When baked, the bottoms become deep golden, while the tops retain their pale hue (you can brush them with oil or milk if you prefer a browner surface). They’re not overly sweet–just a dusting of coconut sugar over the berries–but I loved the contrast of the fresh, juicy berry topper against the silky smooth “cheese” filling.
Although I wouldn’t say that these are actually much like “real” danish–they aren’t flaky in the least–these confections are substantially fruity, creamy, and crusty in a way that evokes rural evenings in country, a lakeside breeze kissing your cheeks, sand between your toes. Serve these up in the evening after a long day spent at the beach, or riding Go-Karts, or picking berries. Paired with a pitcher of fresh lemonade, they’re great served up to family and friends as they lounge out on the deck of your country house. Or cottage.
Freeform Blueberry Cheesecake “Danish”
(suitable for ACD Stage 3 and beyond)
If you plan to make the “cream cheese” from scratch, you will need to start this recipe the day before you bake it in order for the cashews to soak. If you have a brand of cream cheese that you like and wish to use instead, it should work fine here. Similarly, you can use regular brown sugar instead of coconut sugar for the topping.
For the Filling and Topping:
6 Tbsp (90 ml) already-made sweet “cream cheese” (see below, or use your favorite recipe)
1 cup (240 ml) frozen blueberries (wild would be great, but any kind is good)
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp (8 tsp or 40 ml) coconut or palm sugar, divided
For the dough:
1 can (19 oz/540 ml) white beans (such as navy, white kidney, Great Northern, etc), rinsed well and drained (or use 2-1/4 cups/540 ml well cooked beans, drained)
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely ground flax seeds
1/4 cup (60 ml) fragrant nut oil (such as almond, walnut or macadamia) or extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1/4-1/3 cup (60-80 ml) unsweetened almond, soy or rice milk, as needed
4 tsp (1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp, or 20 ml) apple cider vinegar
15-20 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to your taste
2 Tbsp (30 ml) potato starch (or use tapioca or arrowroot starch)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking soda
3/4 tsp (4 ml) baking powder
1/8 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a food processor, whir the beans until they break up and begin to form a paste. Add the flax, oil, milk, vinegar and stevia and process until very smooth and no lumps of bean are visible. Add the remaining ingredients and process just until blended. It should resemble a very wet, soft dough. (If it’s too dry and won’t hold together, add a bit more milk, about 1 Tbsp/15 ml at a time).
Divide dough into 8 equal portions and place 4 on each sheet. Wet your palms with water, or grease with a bit of the oil, then flatten each mound of dough to a round disk about 1/4 inch (.5 ml) thick (they will be 4-5 inches/10-12 cm in diameter).
Place a heaping Tbsp (20 ml) of the cream cheese in the center of each disk and spread with the back of a spoon to cover the disk, leaving about 1/2 inch (1 cm) dough all around the edge.
Next, pile about 2 Tbsp (30 ml) frozen berries on top of the cheese, creating a bit of a mound in the middle. Using cupped hands, carefully push up the edge all around to form a rim encasing the berries and holding them in place (you’re just creating a “wall” around the outside edge of each danish; leave the berries uncovered in the middle). Pinch the dough with your fingers if it cracks or if there are any holes in the “rim” through which berry juice can flow once the danish begin to bake. Sprinkle the berries in each danish with 1 tsp (5 ml) of coconut sugar.
Bake in preheated oven for 40-50 minutes, rotating about halfway through, until bottoms are deep golden brown and berries are beginning to wrinkle. For browner crusts, brush the crust on top of the danish with more oil or milk after about 30 minutes, then continue to bake. May be served warm (allow to cool at least 10 minutes before eating), at room temperature, or cold. Makes 8 danish. Store in the refrigerator in airtight container up to 3 days. May be frozen.
To freeze, place unwrapped danish in a single layer on a plate or cookie sheet in the freezer and freeze until solid, about 2 hours. Then wrap each one individually in plastic wrap and place the wrapped danish in a ziploc bag in the freezer until ready to use. Defrost, wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.
Lower-Fat Sweet Cashew “Cream Cheese“
Adding some white beans to the cashew mix lowers the overall fat content, and no additional oil is included here. You won’t miss it: this is still a rich-tasting, creamy spread. The recipe makes more than you will need for the danish; leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and are heavenly spread on muffins, scones, biscuits, rice cakes, etc.
1 cup (155 g) raw natural cashews, soaked in room temperature water for 4-6 hours, rinsed well and drained
1/2 cup (120 ml) well cooked, rinsed and drained white beans (canned are fine)
6 Tbsp (90 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tahini
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp (30 ml) water
pinch fine sea salt
10-20 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to your taste
To make with a high-speed blender (VitaMix or Blendtec): Combine cashews and remaining ingredients in your blender, using the wand to push the mixture toward the blades, until silky smooth. This may take a bit of work; the cheese will be thick. Set aside.
To make with a regular blender: first blend all ingredients in a food processor until they are quite smooth. Transfer in small batches to your blender and blend until silky. After blending each batch, transfer it to a medium bowl; once all the mix is blended, stir the contents of the bowl well so that the flavor and texture is uniform.
Store the cheese in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Disclosure: Links in this post may be affiliate links. If you choose to purchase using those links, at no cost to you, I will receive a small percentage of the sale.
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