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Cherries, Custards, and Why Acidity Matters

Posted May 12 2010 8:19am

Cherry-Oat Custard

Top-notch eggs (i.e., eggs from hens who peck about in the dirt and eat bugs) are our best source of protein in terms of bioavailability and sustainability, plus they’re incredibly versatile from a culinary point of view.  The only caveat is that you can easily overcook them and therefore make them tougher than you’d like — I’m sure all of us have experienced Rubbery Scrambled Egg Syndrome at some point.  That’s the flip side of having so much protein in one little shell!  (The protein, by the way, resides in the egg whites, which is why the whites “cook” so much more quickly than the yolks.  I say “cook” because it’s really more of a coagulation process, but we won’t get overly technical about it.  For those who are interested in culinary chemistry, check out The Curious Cook by Harold McGee.)

Custards fall into the it-can-be-tricky category because they contain a high ratio of eggs to flour/sugar.  The good news, though, is that you can add a decent amount of flour to a custard — thereby making it less likely to overcook — and still have a nice custardy texture.  This recipe uses freshly-ground oat and Brazil nut flours, although you could just as easily use store-bought oat and almond/hazelnut flour.  The idea is to pair the cherries with oats and nuts in a custardy kind of way.

Cherry-Oat Custard

1/2 stick butter, preferably from grass-fed cows
3/4 cup buttermilk (do NOT substitute regular milk!)*
1/3 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
1/4 cup oat flour, store-bought or freshly-ground (you can grind your own steel-cut oats in a coffee grinder)
1/4 cup Brazil nut flour OR almond flour OR hazelnut flour, store-bought or freshly-ground (if the nuts are whole, chop them coarsely and then grind them in a coffee grinder)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
2 cups chopped pitted cherries, fresh or frozen
Juice from one lemon

Place the butter in a 9″ glass pie pan and then place the pan in the oven. Preheat to 375 degrees F. Watch for butter to melt — it should be melted well before the oven is fully heated. (You’ll probably start to hear the butter hissing as it melts and spreads across the hot bottom surface of the pan.) Remove pan and melted butter from oven and continue with the preheating process.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter, the buttermilk, the maple syrup, the vanilla, and the eggs. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flours, the sea salt, and the baking powder.

Sprinkle the chopped cherries across the bottom of the pie pan. Quickly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ones, then whisk in the lemon juice. Pour batter over cherries and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is slightly puffed and golden brown. Serve as is or with a side of Greek yogurt. (The latter serving suggestion makes a great breakfast!)


* The reason you need to use buttermilk and NOT regular milk is that the buttermilk is acidic while standard milk is alkaline. The anthocyanin pigments in the cherries (and in all dark purplish and reddish produce) will turn greenish-blue in an alkaline environment. That means that you need the acidity of the buttermilk and the lemon juice to ensure that your cherries retain their beautiful cherry color.  If you’ve made blueberry muffins in the past and wound up with greenish circles surrounding the blueberries, that’s because you had an alkaline batter.  But the good news is that berries/cherries-turned-green still taste great!

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