Several months ago I watched Dorie Greenspan make madeleines on the Martha Stewart Show. While the madeleines looked divine, what struck me most from her demonstration was her handling of the lemon zest. Rather than whisk the zest directly into the dry ingredients, she placed it in a small bowl with the sugar and massaged the two ingredients together with her fingertips until she had created a moist and fragrant citrus sugar, a technique, she says, that serves to release oils from the zest into the sugar, making the lemon flavor twice as pronounced.
I still haven’t made the madeleines, but, when I remember to, I employ this citrus-sugar technique when appropriate when I’m baking. While it’s not critical — freshly grated zest, massaged into sugar or not, always adds a nice flavor — I have found that the technique does heighten the citrus flavor, which is especially nice in cakes and muffins and cobblers. Moreover, making the citrus sugar is kind of fun. Try it. It smells so good! And it makes just about the best fresh squeezed lemonade you could ever imagine.
The most recent dish I’ve given the citrus-sugar treatment to is my mother’s blueberry crisp, one of my favorites. Like most crisps, this one takes no time to prepare, and if you have a food processor, the topping — a mixture of flour, sugar, almonds and butter — comes together in seconds. The absence of oats and brown sugar in this crisp topping makes it particularly light and allows the lemon-sugared blueberries to really shine. Have a Happy Fourth Everyone.
Lemon Blueberry Crisp
6 cups blueberries (3 pints), washed and stemmed
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon table salt (or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt)
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold, unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch cubes
vanilla ice cream for serving
1. Preheat oven to 425ºF.
2. Place blueberries in 9×13-inch baking pan. In a small bowl, rub zest and sugar together with your fingers until sugar is moist and fragrant. Spread over blueberries and toss to combine.
3. Pulse sugar, flour, almonds and salt in food processor until nuts are chopped. Add butter and pulse until mixture begins to clump. Spread over blueberries. Bake 25 minutes or until crisp topping is browned and blueberries are bubbling.
4. Serve with ice cream if desired.