Does anyone here have a single favorite cookbook? This is something I think about often. Most likely because, when asked the question myself, I tend to freeze up and stammer about categories of cookbooks, eras of cookbooks, and whether or not “favorite” can mean the same thing as “most utilized,” etc. It’s not that I have commitment issues with my cookbooks, it’s just that, when the word favorite is used, I never really know how to distill all the elements of a great cookbook into one choice. Maybe there’s an algorithm somewhere that can help me figure this one out. Something like number of recipes I’ve made more than once from a certain cookbook, divided by number of changes I’ve had to make in each recipe to make it work, plus number of food splatter stains adorning each page, multiplied by number of times I have had actual dreams about certain foods in each cookbook. Surely someone can figure this one out for me.
I’ll go ahead and submit a cookbook for mathematical consideration: Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. This cookbook contains several recipes I’ve visited more than once, nearly all of which I have tinkered with in order to really make them noteworthy, and is patterned with numerous stains and splatters. I have yet to have any actual dreams about the desserts in this book, but, worry not, there is still time.
My only complaint about this cookbook lies with element number two of the equation. Most of the recipes in this book sound absolutely delicious, but lack the sort of punch they need to really make them shine. The problem, of course, could be entirely mine, considering the fact that this cookbook was obviously not made to please my personal palette alone, but I still find myself adding and subtracting from each recipe whenever I endeavor to make something from the book. These lime pecan bars, in particular, have been a sticking point for me. The recipe printed in the book, though passable, has never been what I might consider to be a solid, go-to recipe. I’ve worked my way with it over the years, but no matter what I did, the final texture of the bars always seemed a little off—a tad too gummy for my tastes, and never as tart as I think a citrus bar should be.
However, I am proud to say that, after a few years of off-and-on experimentation, I think I have finally cracked the code of this treat. I upped the lime juice quotient by almost 30%, changed the ratio of eggs to flour, reduced the sugar percentage accordingly, pinched in some sea salt, and tinkered with the baking time. It only took me a half dozen batches or so over the course of a few years (two batches in this week alone), but I think I have done it. A creamy custard baked atop a crisp and slightly nutty base, it is a dessert both pleasingly tart and satisfyingly sweet, without falling too much in the category of either. It is very nearly perfect, and I can say with certainly that this recipe, at least, is now one I can call a favorite.
Last Year: Nectarine and Raspberry Galette in a Cornmeal Crust, and Roasted Asparagus and Lemon Chèvre Galette . What can I say? I like a nice galette.
Lime Pecan Bars Recipe
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts
½ cup pecans
¼ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
pinch of fine grain sea salt
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon very finely grated or chopped lime zest
pinch of fine grain sea salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of an 8” by 8” square baking pan.
In the bowl of a food processor, or by hand, finely chop the pecans. Add the sugar, flour, melted butter, and sea salt, and process or blend with a fork to form a crumbly mixture. Press the crust into the buttered pan, coaxing the crust about ¼ of an inch up the sides and pressing it into place. Bake the crust in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until it is golden brown.
While the crust is baking, prepare the filling by whisking together the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar. Whisk in the flour, lime juice, lime zest, and salt. As soon as the crust is done baking, remove it from the oven, pour in the lime mixture, and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, until the center is no longer wobbly and the top of the bars are only slightly firm to the touch (a finger touched in the center of the bars should leave only a slight indentation.
Remove the bars from the oven and cool at room temperature for 1 hour.
Bars can be cut into 12 medium-sized rectangles, or 16 smaller squares.