Wed 30 Sep 2009
I lost my mind while studying for the bar. Sort of. For the uninitiated, bar study is a long, lonely process that readies you, in part, for the actual exam by making you so vomitously tired of the studying that you arrive on test day with a head so swimming with “let’s just do this thing” that you forget to be nervous.
One of the few unscripted days in our agenda that summer was July 4. Overwhelmed by the promise of an utterly free day, I decided to make things. Two things, to be exact. I made the chuppah for my wedding, and I made a fruit buckle. The former took about 14 hours that day, and another 20 hours the week before the wedding; the latter took about an hour and made for a lovely breakfast.
Even today, I can’t quite explain why I found it important, nay, necessary to make the canopy for our chuppah. Nor can I explain why I thought it would be a good way to learn to quilt. And, even when pressed, I come up completely empty-handed when it comes to explaining how my calculations that day resulted in a chuppah canopy that is substantially larger than a king-sized bed. Apparently, I wanted to make sure we had room to both get married and do the Highland Fling underneath its gentle, convex arc.
The ladies at the quilt shop were not particularly convinced that this project was going to be a success. I think I explained the whole venture about 8 times, though several of those iterations were spent describing How a Jewish Wedding Works to these septuagenarian Protestant women. In the end, we figured it out. They sent me on my way with a bag full of quilting tools, a bundle of gorgeous fabric, and good wishes underscored by a Germanic skepticism that’s undetectable to those who haven’t spent quality time in the Midwest. I still owe them a picture.
I think the fact that I stuck with the quilting until the end really illustrates the insanity that flourishes during bar study; when faced with a free day, I shunned the temptation of naps and television in order to work my fingers to the bone and give myself a neck cramp that lasted for the ensuing two months. Still, 14 episodes of Law & Order later (I studied for evidence by shouting out objections throughout the trial scenes), I had made enough progress in piecing together the quilt squares that turning back was impossible. It was a devil’s bargain, bound up in fat quarters of gold calico.
The buckle, on the other hand, was a no-brainer. As I have mentioned here before, my mom is an excellent cook. So when she calls me and says “I’m sending you a recipe; I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” I listen.
A buckle is characterized by a rich cake batter mixed with fruit, topped by more fruit and a crunchy streusel topping. Some variations involve spreading the cake batter over a layer of fruit at the bottom of the pan, but I prefer to fold the fruit into the cake. Blueberries are the classic buckle accompaniment, but wonderful things can come from using raspberries, huckleberries, blackberries - whatever suits you that happens to be fresh and in season. Somewhere, between the jammy layers of berries and the brown sugar splendor of the crumb topping, you’ll find a moment where you can’t help but furrow your brow and exclaim “Mmm! That is good.”
Yields 9 servings
Ingredients – Crumb Topping
½ cup AP flour
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
½ t cinnamon
¼ cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Ingredients – Cake
1 1/3 cup AP flour
¾ t baking powder
¼ t baking soda
¼ t salt
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 cups berries, divided (your choice – blueberries, raspberries, huckleberries)
- Mix the dry ingredients
- Mix the butter, egg, and vanilla
- Alternate the dry and wet
- Fold in half the berries
- Blitz the crumb topping in a food processor
- Spread the batter, top with berries, top with crumbs
Preheat the oven to 375 and lightly grease a 9-inch square baking dish.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, whisking a few times to thoroughly mix. Cream the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer or another large mixing bowl until pale yellow and very creamy.
With the mixer on low, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk until fully incorporated. Fold in one cup of the berries by hand and spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Scatter the remaining berries evenly over the top of the batter.
Prepare the crumb topping by combining the flour, brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, butter, and walnuts in a food processor. Blitz 10 or 12 times until the mixture is evenly mixed and pebbly. Sprinkle this mixture over the top of the berry layer of the cake. Bake for 45-60 minutes until the topping is nicely browned and the edges of the cake begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.
It’s a generous range of time, I know, but the baking time can vary widely depending on how juicy your berries are. Start checking at 45 minutes and return it to the oven in 5-minute increments if you aren’t seeing the edges pull away from the sides of the pan. If the top begins to look like it’s getting overly browned, cover with foil and continue baking.
Cool the pan on a wire rack.
***Bar study epilogue: 2+ years later, these videos are the only things I remember from the copious quantities of information I consumed that summer. Sadly, neither were part of the curriculum I paid for. Happily, I actually sang the hearsay exception song in my head during one of the essay questions on the third day (I think) and saved myself from an otherwise uncomfortable hour of Making Things Up.