It started out simply enough: his big beautiful butterscotch eyes widened in amazement, popping those thick, mile-long eyelashes up to the sky as he asked in a six-year old’s innocence:”Ooooh! What are those?”We weren’t brushing through thick, quiet forests on a peaceful summer’s Vermont afternoon like we should have been, like the way my sister and I did when we first asked that same question thirty years ago, so I felt a pang of guilt at cheating my son of the experience, but he knew no better. No, we were in the middle of an artificially-lit and climate-controlled sterilized supermarket in a South Florida strip mall, our shopping cart haphazardly parked between wilted bags of age-defying iceberg and a shocked pile of leftover peaches claiming to be from Georgia (but any good Georgian peach would have scoffed at the suggestion.) It was there that I held the tiny Canadian plastic box bursting with blackberries and my son, ever the fruit zealot, beamed at the steroid-sized bubbles of blackness.”These are blackberries”, I forced myself to say in the calmest and most believable voice. I could still sense Champ, my favorite horse, pulling at the bit, eagerly wanting to jump the next log (we weren’t allowed to jump on trails, but Champ and I were both little daredevils when paired together) and the only time I’d hold him back was when we’d encounter those thick bushes speckled with tiny, tart blackberries, one fourth the size of these ones, but most certainly packed with double the flavor. Still, that was thirty years ago and I wasn’t going to spoil it for my son, no matter how sweet my memory or how shocking the size of these babies.It didn’t take much for him to love them, and love them instantly. He didn’t even need a horse, or the story of one (I tried, he seemed bored). And so, we began buying blackberries. Lots of blackberries. Dollars and dollars worth of blackberries (they can become rather expensive coming from Chile, or New Zealand, or anywhere but the mountains of Vermont, where they are a well-kept secret.) It became his fruit of choice, his FOOD of choice, which isn’t hard for a self-proclaimed fruit eater as he is. Stacks of tiny plastic crates filled my fridge and for weeks I found myself running back to that tiny, neon-lit, refrigerated corner of the supermarket for more.My son is a no-thrills kind of guy and would eat them straight up, stalling only for the mandatory rinse I insisted on giving them. But that was it. I, on the other hand, become restless enjoying fruit in its naked sense. I must do something with it to celebrate it. Eating it straight up is too quick a commemoration. So, my mind began to wander and inevitably led me back to the mountains of Vermont. I recall my mother making amazing blackberry pies during those long summer days spent in the Green Mountain state, but I didn’t want to compete with that memory so I went for the next best thing: blackberry muffins with chocolate ganache.My son seemed a bit irritated by such manipulation. He is only six but already has mastered the curled lip to a frightening perfection. “Why are you messing with excellence?” he seemed to wonder when he realized the baked goods where created from his refrigerated stacks of plastic goodness. But then again, he is only six and it usually doesn’t take much beyond the word “chocolate” to bring him around. This time seemed no exception. He was perfectly content enjoying my muffins as long as they were served with a side of fresh blackberries.
Chocolate Berry Cupcakes(adapted from Beverley Glock, 500 Cupcakes)
1/2 cup fresh blackberries
3 tablespoons water
1 cup superfine sugar
1 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup soft butter
1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
FOR THE GANACHE:
3/4 cups (5 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, broken
1/2 cup (about 2 scoops) melted vanilla ice cream (Hagen Daaz)
12 blackberries (if they are huge, slice them in half)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line 12-cup mini muffin pan with paper baking cups (if you don't have mini muffin cups you can just coat with oil and dust with flour.)Combine the blackberries, water, and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the fruit starts to release its juices. Smash fruit with the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.Combine the rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pale and creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon the batter into the cups. Spoon a little of the fruit on top. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pan and cool for 5 minutes. Then remove the cupcakes and cool on a rack.To make the ganache, melt the chocolate (microwave or double boiler) and slowly whisk in the melted ice cream until glossy and smooth. Spread the ganache onto each cooled cupcake and top with blackberry. Refrigerate until set.
Makes 1 dozen small cupcakes.