Betcha didn’t know we grow blueberries in Hawai‘i. OK, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, maybe you did. Kula Country Farms in Upcountry Maui is now growing blueberries—and they are sweet and delicious! When we visited the Maui AgFest, I wanted to make sure we picked up a box of blueberries. And while we were at their booth, I saw they had their yummy Kula strawberries—a whole pound for just $3! A steal!
“You got a plan for those?” asked Shake.
“They were THREE DOLLARS!!”
“You got a plan for those?”
OK. I had no plan. But THREE DOLLARS, folks! I am a farmers’ market vendor’s dream come true. Show me some reasonably priced produce that’s all dewy and pretty, and I’ll buy it. Don’t know what I’ll make with it, but I’ll figure it out.
On the other end of the bargain spectrum, we also paid a visit to the Maui Preserved booth. They make some really cool pickled products that Shake loves (more on those in a future post), as well as other items, such as this Vanilla Powder I found fascinating. I love vanilla. I am even the kind of girl who will occasionally wear vanilla perfume. (And then I think about cookies all day.)
The Maui Preserved Vanilla Powder is made by dehydrating and grinding vanilla beans, the outer pod as well as the seeds. It smells amazing and tastes like Lucky Charms marshmallows—like the ideal of toasted marshmallows. It’s not cheap ($15 for a 1 oz. jar at the AgFest; $16 online), but vanilla’s the second most expensive spice (after saffron) in the world, so it’s not surprising. With the Vanilla Powder, you don’t have to use as much as you would with an extract or seeds from a pod (although that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s cheaper). I do wish I’d consulted their website before I cooked, though, because it states that it’s a ¼ ratio, whereas the woman at the booth told me I could use 1/12. (I didn’t listen to her, anyway, and ended up using about the ¼ ratio that the site suggests. How’s that for intuition?)
I’m embarrassed to say that I treated these beautiful berries atrociously. With one thing and another going on, I couldn’t get to making anything until the weekend, and the berries languished in our refrigerator. The upside of buying ultra-fresh, just-picked produce from a farmers’ market, though, is that it lasts so much longer than the stuff that was flown 3,000+ miles from the mainland. My poor berries were a wee bit wrinkly and getting very soft—but, aside from some slight smooshing to the ones at the bottom of the containers, intact.
I originally envisioned making a pretty berry tart, but since they weren’t looking as pretty as they had been, I started to rethink that idea. The woman at the Maui Preserved booth had mentioned that she liked to roast vegetables sprinkled with the Vanilla Powder, and that idea stuck with me. But I wanted something creamy, too.
Yay, internet search! I stumbled into Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Vanilla Custards with Roasted Blueberries. Perfect!
Except she noted that it made only “five tiny [serving] cups” worth. More custard necessary. In my world, anyway. So I doubled it and also made a few other adaptations to make this a showcase for a variety of Maui-grown/made items. I also realized later that it was nearly 100% local; the only things that hadn’t originated here were the flour (unavoidable), white sugar (though it was C&H, and therefore theoretically some may have come from Maui!) and butter (I only had Garlic Herb flavored Naked Cow Dairy butter).
The custard is extremely light—it’s called “custard” but it’s really the sort of pastry cream that goes into éclairs and cream puffs. Mmmmm…cream puffs… It’s not overly sweet, nor rich—there’s no cream, just milk, and I went with the mid-range amount of butter suggested by Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman. I don’t agree with her “less is more” approach to vanilla, though. It is, after all, as the Barenaked Ladies point out, the finest of the flavors.
I could eat this entire bowl. Which would be 10 Smitten Kitchen servings. Oink.
I roasted the berries, sprinkled with Maui “Raw” (turbinado) cane sugar, with some Ali‘i Kula Lavender Farm culinary lavender. (You obviously don’t have to use Maui lavender, but make sure what you’re using is culinary grade and meant to be consumed.) A lot of people don’t like lavender-flavored foods, saying it “tastes like soap.” I get that. It’s an intense herb.
I didn’t want an overwhelming lavender taste either, so I kept it in a small glass bowl and roasted it with the fruit so there would be a very subtle taste. It worked out very nicely—the berries pick up a light floral note, but it’s not “soapy” at all. Resist the temptation to open the oven door during this process because you’ll let all the aromatic vapor out.
This is a nice way to use up berries that might be sliding past their prime toward mushy oblivion—no one will ever notice that they don’t look very nice anymore, and they’re supposed to be squishy!
I made a sauce from the berry juice and a little bit of Maui dark rum. If you have a real sweet tooth, you could add a bit of white sugar while the juice is still hot. My three-person tasting panel (Shake and two of our neighbors) all agreed that the sweetness was perfect. The two men on the panel felt that there could be more of an acid bite. So, optionally, zest a bit of lemon over the top before serving. (Be sure to do the zesting over the dish so you don’t lose those great citrus oils that spray off as you zest.)
I’m looking forward to trying this recipe out with other roasted fruits. Mangoes, oranges or pineapples would be nice.
Hawaiian Vanilla Custard with Lavender Roasted Berries and Rum Sauce
This is an adaptation of Smitten Kitchen’s Vanilla Custards with Roasted Blueberries recipe. It’s simple to prepare, and can be made up to four days ahead. You may want to keep the fruit and custard separate if you’re not serving soon. Serve in a giant bowl, individual small bowls or cups or in cute shot glasses.
For the Custard
Prepare at least a few hours ahead of the berries so you can serve chilled custard and warm berries together.
- 2 cups whole milk
- ¾ teaspoon Maui Preserved Vanilla Powder (or seeds from 1 vanilla bean; see the Smitten Kitchen original recipe if you must use extract)
- 6 large egg yolks
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into large chunks
In a deep saucepan, combine milk and vanilla powder. Heat the mixture until it is just warm. (Do not boil.) Transfer to a large container, such as a four-cup measuring cup, with a pour spout and set aside. Keep the saucepan handy.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk egg yolks and sugar together. (You can also use a regular electric hand mixer, or if you’re ambitious or in need of a workout, do it by hand.) Whisk in the flour until fully incorporated.
With the mixer running—see why I suggested a stand mixer?— slowly add the warm vanilla-milk a few small splashes at a time. Once you’ve added about a quarter of the milk, the temperature should be stabilized and you can add the rest in a steady, thin stream.
Transfer the milk-egg mix back to the original saucepan and heat over medium-high, whisking constantly. When you begin to see small bubbles, whisk 1 to 2 minutes longer—it should be thickening up—then remove it from heat. Immediately stir in butter until combined. Once butter has been combined, strain into a bowl using a fine-mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Don’t press too hard as you strain, or you’ll just force tiny lumps through, defeating the whole point of the process.
Cover custard with plastic wrap, being sure to lay the wrap directly touching the surface of the custard so you don’t get “pudding skin.” Refrigerate for two hours (until cool) or up to four days.
For the Berry Topping
If you want a warm berry topping, prepare this just before serving. It also tastes quite nice chilled, so if you want dessert out of your way, prepare it at the same time you make the custard.
- 6 ounces blueberries
- 1 pound strawberries
- 2 tablespoons Maui “Raw” (turbinado) sugar
- 1 tablespoon culinary lavender
- Optional: 1 lemon for zest
Pre-heat oven to 450˚. Wash and gently dry the berries on a paper towel. Hull and quarter the strawberries. Center a small glass bowl containing the lavender in a glass 9×13 baking dish. Add berries to the dish, spreading them out as much as possible. Sprinkle with sugar. Roast for 15 minutes.
Remove berries from dish, leaving the juices, and set aside.
For the Rum Sauce
- 1 to 2 teaspoons Maui dark rum (or your favorite dark rum; I like Kōloa the best)
Add rum to the hot berry juices and stir together.
If you don’t plan to serve the berries hot, pour sauce over the berries and refrigerate, covered, together.
Spoon chilled custard into serving dishes—you can go any number of ways here: a single large bowl, several small bowls or cups (you can get 6 decent dessert size portions out of this recipe, or twice as many dainty-eater portions), or even shot glasses (you’ll easily get 18 to 24 servings or more).
Top with berries and rum sauce. If you need your dessert prepared in advance, it’s perfectly fine to plate these up and store in the fridge. They’ll last several days, though as time passes, the brilliant red sauce will begin to seep down along the sides of the glass. If you’re portioning out only the custard in advance, you’ll need to make sure to touch the plastic wrap to the custard surface to prevent “pudding skin.”
If using, zest lemon directly over the fruit topping before serving.