My husband has spoken of 'Blackberry Roll' for years. I have to admit, I'd never heard of it before knowing him. In fact, I don't think I heard of it until after we were married. I don't remember exactly when, but my educated guess would be that it would have been the first summer of our marriage.
Whenever it was that he first mentioned it, I started trying to find recipes for it. Remember, in those days so far away, there was no Google. There was no internet. There were no household computers. I have tried making it the way I've found in recipes, but these didn't meet the 'Nannie B. Standard'. She passed on before I met my husband, so asking or watching her was not an option, and I never saw anyone else in his family make it. From time-to-time when we were around his mom, I would remember to ask how this dessert is created, but there apparently is no actual family recipe. Good family cooks in those days, just performed their magic. They did what their mothers did, from memory. We would discuss it briefly, I would come away understanding that I didn't understand, and let it go...Until the next summer when the subject would arise once again, and I would once again attempt to make it-never quite hitting the mark.
We've been married 33 years. That's a lot of summers and a lot of tries and near misses. So, you can surely understand why I would be so vain as to post the victory now that it has arrived...And surely you'll forgive my vanity...especially after you have made it yourself.
My problem was that I kept thinking it was just a different way to make cobbler, so for many years, I looked up cobbler recipes. I knew Nannie B.used a sauce on top, so I automatically shunned recipes that didn't include a sauce. But always, either the 'bread part', as my husband called it, or the sauce was...wrong. Good, yes, but not on target. And in all those years, for whatever reason, this marvel was never offered at any family gatherings. To be totally fair, we were military and stationed away for many years, so it is quite possible that it made an appearance, or even several, while we were off in Timbuktu or some other such place. I guess it's also possible that it was such a 'normal' offering in the lives of my husband's mom and aunts, that it was considered too 'plain' for a family gathering where we all like to share our 'latest greatest' in culinary delights.
Well, to my husband, it is not too plain or everyday to reminisce about at least once each summer. It is a cherished childhood memory, the kind that gives warm-fuzzy feelings, and I really wanted to help bring this part of his past into the present.
And this year, it happened. God bless you, internet!
I realized several years ago that the term, 'Blackberry Roll' might actually be a real term...not just a family name for an indescribable dessert and object of my husband's adoration. But each time I found it, my understanding of the mechanics was that rolled-out pastry dough was to be amply covered with a simply sweetened, butter-dotted blackberry mix. This part was correct. Then, the dough was to be rolled, pin-wheel style, lifted into the baking pan and baked. For my husband's treat, this was incorrect. My understanding was that after baking, it was to be sliced like a loaf of bread would be, showing off the pinwheel and making a beautiful presentation. Incorrect again. Then, it was to be served with ice cream, whipped cream or sauce. For the latter, there are approximately 203 recipe variations...No, actually, I'm sure there are more. As far as this part of the presentation goes, my husband is partial to the sauce, but did not object when I served it with sauce and home-made vanilla ice cream. I bet he'd have been fine with an added dollop of whipped cream as well, but we didn't take it that far this time around.
This year, as every year when the subject arises, I was minding my own business, not thinking a thing about the elusive Blackberry Roll. Then, at our favorite breakfast 'mom & pop' restaurant, we ran into a couple we had become acquainted with via mutual friends about a year ago, maybe even longer. The place was crowded, and they invited us to join them along with their tiny tot and 8 month-old baby. We accepted, and within moments, we found ourselves immersed in conversation about our experiences with church/home-church, sustainable farming methods, Joel Salatin, and traditional cooking methods. Prior to this, neither of us knew the other had such like-minded interests. I like to call things like that 'God things'.
Eventually, we all ended up at their grandmother's home nearby. In the midst of home-hunting, they had 100 chickens to move and she had graciously allowed them to move some of them to her large acreage. They have some wonderful plans and we just moseyed around talking goats, chickens...and blackberries. As it turned out, their grandfather had gardened prolifically, and grapes and blackberries had been among his prized offerings. We talked, sweated, swatted little mosquitoes and picked lots of blackberries. It was a heavenly time that comes as a gift out of nowhere when we least expect it. A God-given encounter encored by tangible, juicy edibles.
For nearly a week, the berries sat in my fridge while I wondered how to best use them. Then, mid-week, a plan emerged in which we would be feeding family over the week-end. We are always happy to do this, but I was still wondering what to do about those berries. Suddenly, too much for us became possibly not enough for all of us combined. Fortunately, kids like ice cream and watermelon, so I made an executive decision to keep whatever came of the blackberries for the adults and just be sure there was plenty of watermelon and icecream to keep the kids satisfied. So, early on, I made icecream and Jim bought the melon.
I gathered my courage, which wasn't hard because our arriving guests are not hard to please, and I knew that even if I once again failed at 'Blackberry Roll', whatever evolved would satisfy their palates. There is freedom in having guests like that.
I found an internet recipe. A really easy one. I decided that since my husband said it was not supposed to be rolled up pin-wheel style, I would use the recipe, but not the mechanics of it. I tweaked the type of sugar, used Coconut Oil, but would gladly use butter if this wasn't available, sea salt instead of valueless table salt, and a easy, easy method for the pastry construction. The berries were organic, which I highly recommend, regardless of what type of berry it is. Berries are very vulnerable to pesticides. You can't just wash or peel away the skin, so go organic whenever you can with berries.
Be forewarned, N.T. and WAPF followers, this is not a totally 'pure' food, even though I do recommend the organic berries. Sugar is used, but Sucanat, Rapidura, Coconut/Palm sugar may be used in the pastry, and any of these may be used OR honey, molasses, or muscavado to sweeten the berries. Some people like more sweet while others like less. Where the berries are concerned, taste-test, but don't add too much more than the recipe calls for because this can make it too juicy. If you simply must add a lot more sweet, counter with a tablespoon of flour mixed in prior to placing the berry mix on the crust.
For the flour, I used chemical-free, hard white whole-wheat grain, which I milled just before using to give it the freshest flavor. I didn't soak this, so we missed out on that facet of nourishment. I would like to try soaking it, but this recipe offered no liquid, so until I learn and master soaking grains to make pastry, I will make this compromise. (It's not like we eat it every day.)
I used home-made baking powder. You don't have to do this, but you'll lose the aluminum factor, the GMO factor, and the corn factor, if you do. According to Wardeh at GNOWFGLINS, Rumford Baking Powder and Bob's Red Mill are good choices if you're buying commercially prepared brands. Manufacturers that omit these additives will be sure to boast of it on the label...They do it because of consumer demand and want to be sure you know they're rising to meet that demand.
To make baking powder yourself, Wardeh shares this mix: 1 part baking soda, 1 part arrowroot powder, (Bob's Red Mill has this, but many grocers carry it as well), and 2 parts Cream of Tartar, (usually found in the spice section at the grocery store.) I store mine in my cupboard in a small jelly jar.
As for the sauce, to make it the most like my husband likes, I needed to use powdered sugar. I don't remember the last time I used this, but I did find organic powdered sugar. I suppose I could have made my own by putting my coconut sugar in the food processor, but due to time factors, I didn't try this. I will next time, with the expectation that the sauce color will be darker since the sugar is unrefined and therefore, not white. (The organic sugar I used was not totally refined, so the resulting sauce was a tad less white than highly refined powdered sugars.)
All this said, here is the recipe:
Preheat Oven to 450 degrees.
Lightly grease 11x7 or 9x12 baking dish.
For the berry filling:
(Assemble this first so the berries start to absorb sugar)
3 C. blackberries
3/4 C. sugar (see my sugar notes above)
*Don't add the following now, wait until after you place the berries on top of the bottom crust!*
2-3 Tbsp. butter (I 'guesstimated' and my guess is that I used closer to 3 TBsp...Just wanted to be sure to dot well and evenly over berries.)
2 C. Sifted Flour (I use freshly ground but 'King Arthur' is an excellent alternative!)
2 tsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum-free, see recipe above)
1/2 tsp. Celtic Sea Salt (or at least Kosher salt)
2 Tbsp. of the least-refined sugar you can manage (Be aware that 'raw sugar' is really only about a half-step better than refined white sugar...However, raw is better than no change at all-every little effort counts for something!)
5 Tbsp. Coconut Oil or Butter (The coconut oil will work best for you if it is at least slightly solidified. Since it has a low melting point, you may want to put it in the fridge a while before using just for the pastry results.)
2/3 C. milk (I use raw)
Remove rings, wash hands well.
Sift dry pastry ingredients together into medium bowl. Using fingers, work in Coconut Oil or Butter until it looks coarse...a bit larger than the texture of corn meal.
Add milk and mix in well with spoon. This should take a minute or less. It will become a pliable soft dough.
Cut dough in half.
Roll one half on floured board or pastry cloth, using a floured rolling pin.
(There are two ways to construct the pastry. I will give you the one that worked best for me here, then at the bottom of this post, tell you the other way in case you'd like to give it a try.)
'Eyeball' the pastry for size, aiming to roll it a tad larger than the size of the pan's bottom. When you think you have it right, sit the pan on top of the crust and trace around the pan's edge. Move the pan to the side, lift the crust gently and place it in the pan's bottom.
Place berry mixture on top of the bottom crust.
Dot berry mix with butter.
Roll the top crust as you did the bottom, measuring in like manner.
Place this crust on top. Cut diagonal slits across the top...I cut about 8.
Put in 450 oven for 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 350 and bake another 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye on the crust done-ness/brown-ness.
While it's baking, make Sauce:
1C. powdered sugar (The best I could do here with the time window I had, was packaged organic, but suspect processing large-grained unrefined sugar of my choice in the food processor might net good results.)
2 T. butter (Organic is great, salted/unsalted-your choice, raw is out-of-this-world good. You could sub. coconut oil here if you like. Remember, centrifuge extract, unrefined is best...Try Tropical Traditions or Wilderness Family Naturals for top of the line choices in purity.)
1 T. milk
1 tsp.vanilla (Paste gives extraordinary flavor!)
Melt butter in pan on stove top. Whisk together milk and sugar, adding melted butter then vanilla. Mix until smooth, adding extra milk, teaspoon by teaspoon, as needed to bring to consistency that drips nicely off spoon.
There are as many adaptations for this as there are "Carter's Little Liver Pills"...Here's one that adds a bit of adult taste:
Substitute 1/2 or all of the milk with peach brandy. If you sub all brandy, however, it will lose it's creaminess, however. If you add the brandy to the butter and whisk a minute or so, you will retain the flavor while the alcohol evaporates off. If you prefer to keep the alcohol, don't mix in with butter on stove-top, but add to mix after the butter instead.
~For flair, you may want to sprinkle the top with a large granulated sugar, In this case, raw is a good choice due to it's large size, but the choice to do or not to do and what type of sugar to use is completely yours.
~You can re-roll leftover crust and hand-cut or use tiny cookie cutters to make shapes complimentary to the occasion. To adhere shapes to the top crust, brush each with water and place where you desire.
~To give your crust a golden shine, whip up an egg white and brush it on the crust about 5 mins. before baking time is done. Sprinkle a bit of sugar over this.
It's a flexible recipe...Flour, sweetener, oil and fruit choices are really up to the cook. And if you've stumbled upon this page, and have no desire to eat the healthier version as given here, feel free to use conventional ingredients. It's your body. Your health.
The way my husband's mom explained the construction of the pastry:
(I tried it, but when I rolled it long enough to do this way, it didn't want to un-adhere to the counter. I will follow my own advice and use the pastry cloth or board next time around...with plenty more flour to keep it from sticking. I have always been taught that where pastries, breads and biscuits are concerned, less (flour) is more...so I tend to be over-chintzy with it.)
...So, instead of rolling 2 separate pieces, roll one extra long piece. Put it in the pan, trying to keep even amounts of 'overage' at each end of the pan. If you're lucky, or not geometrically challenged, as I am, the extra will be enough to pull together over the filling, pinching together in the middle. You can then make slits if desired. They aren't necessary because steam will escape around outer side edges, but they add to the presentation. IF your pastry doesn't meet in the middle, fear not. Jim's mom says it doesn't matter and I believe her.
I hope you try this variation to the blackberry pie or cobbler. I think you'll find it simple, slightly rustic and surely pleasant to the taste-buds!