Miss Berry 2008

If there was a berry pageant and I was the judge, blueberries would take the top prize hands down.

These blue babies have talent in spades. Ranked #1 among berries for their antioxidant levels, they lower cholesterol, strengthen the immune system's resistance to flu and viruses and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Oh, and did I mention their anti-aging properties? Better yet, you can pop them in your mouth without fear of stem, seed or stain.

But are they beautiful, you ask? The swimwear component strips the berries to their core, leaving little to chance or imagination. With their smooth, taut skin, it's clear they've been hitting the gym and eating right. The silvery sheen of their unblemished violet complexion positively glows in the spotlight.

The eveningwear event is where they really shine though. Classic and elegant, these no-fuss berries need little in the way of preparation and dressing after a quick rinse in the shower. Fitted in streusel crumbs, arm-in-arm with lemon, blueberries are the star of the evening.

(cue the roses, crown, sash and tears)

Blueberry Streusel Bars with Lemon Cream Ribbons
1 cup butter, softened
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats, old-fashioned
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg, separated
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 1/2 cups blueberries, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9" x 13" pan with parchment paper, leaving a 1" overhang at either end.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, sugar, salt and baking powder. Use your fingers to blend the butter into the mixture. Set aside 2 cups of these streusel crumbs for the topping.

To the remaining crumbs, add the egg white. Mix until distributed evenly. Press these crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan to form a level crust. Bake the crust until it begins to dry on top (10-12 minutes).

While the crust is baking, prepare the lemon cream. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and egg yolk. Set aside for 5 minutes to thicken.

Remove the crust from the oven and sprinkle the blueberries evenly on top. Drop spoonfuls of the thickened lemon cream over the blueberries. Use a spatula to carefully spread the mixture, taking care not to crush the berries in the process. Return the pan to the oven and bake just until the lemon mixture begins to develop a shiny skin on top (7-8 minutes).

Sprinkle the reserved streusel crumbs evenly on top. Bake until the filling is bubbling at the edges and the topping is golden brown (25-30 minutes).

Let cool in the pan for about 1 hour before carefully moving to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in the fridge.

Yields 24 pieces.

Notes: Given the surfeit of blueberries from 2007 in my parents' freezer, I used frozen blueberries (defrosted and drained).

Source: Fine Cooking magazine, July 2008.