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Strawberry Pecan Bread

31 May

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In some parts of the country, it’s strawberry season. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it is almost strawberry season, which is sort of like saying it is almost Christmas or almost baseball season, meaning that we’re in that odd limbo period wherein one can start to feel sort of excited about what is to come, but there is still a rather hazy period of waiting that needs to pass before the real excitement kicks in. At least, this is how one feels if strawberries are the type of thing that qualify as excitement-worthy. As you can probably ascertain, this is how I feel.

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While the strawberries in my own garden still require a week or so of warm weather before they are properly ripened (in other news: it needs to stop raining and being 60 degrees, because 1) I loathe that weather, and 2) the strawberries, they need to ripen), there are local berries (grown in greenhouses, I can only assume) popping up at various markets around the city. When the local strawberries begin to appear, you know that summer is not far behind.

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While I’ll never tire of simply eating strawberries as they are, deeply crimson and perfectly sweet, it’s pretty much impossible for me to eat something while not thinking about the various ways I could incorporate or transform it into something different. Strawberry desserts, not surprisingly, are always top on my list of strawberry favorites, but a light strawberry snack should never be ignored. This bread falls somewhere in between a dessert and a snack, although, with only ¼ cup of added sugar to sweeten the whole loaf, I would argue that the scale tips more towards the latter. With hints of cinnamon and lemon zest, little bits of crunchy pecans, and mellow pockets of juicy strawberries, this welcoming bread would make a great picnic staple, but it’s also a welcome companion to a hot cup of coffee in the morning or afternoon. If you’re looking for a way to dress this fellow up, top a slice with a scoop of ice cream and call it dessert. Thus far, I’ve found no inappropriate way to enjoy this almost-summertime treat.

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Last Year: Ginger Cardamom Cake with Lemon Glaze, Stuffed Picnic Sandwich with Olive Tapenade, and Strawberry Lemon Cream Puffs

Strawberry Pecan Bread

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup vegetable oil

¼ cup light brown sugar

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 ½ cups sliced fresh strawberries

½ cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease and flour the inside of a 9”x5” loaf pan.

In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, brown sugar, and applesauce. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients, and stir lightly until just combined. Add the strawberries and pecans, and gently stir and fold to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top of the batter, then bake in the center of the oven for 75 to 90 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle of the loaf emerges mostly clean, with just a crumb or two attached.

Allow bread to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. Turn loaf right side up, then allow to cool almost completely before slicing and eating.

Raspberry Squares, Plus Baking with Kids

6 Dec

In what I can only refer to as a double-punch instance of sheer luck, it just so happens that my son is not only a fan of reading, but he is also a fan of reading about food. More specifically, he is a fan of reading about food making food, which I discovered when my son took a rather intense liking to the book Bake Sale, by Sara Varon. I can’t blame my son for falling in love with this book—it’s simply lovely. Sara Varon is the author and illustrator behind the Chicken and Cat books, two titles that rate very high in our home’s list of fine children’s literature, so it should not have come as any surprise to me that Bake Sale would be another spectacular work.

Bake Sale is the story of two friends, an eggplant and a cupcake, who work together to fund a dream trip to Turkey (which I just now realized is also the name of a food, which is a detail, intended or not, I now find totally hilarious). Cupcake owns and runs a small bakery, and while he is renowned amongst a small local following for his fantastic cakes and pastries, he is not exactly swimming in enough cash to fund his Turkish vacation. Through months of hard work and clever baking ideas, Cupcake eventually saves up enough money to accompany Eggplant on his trip. Cupcake’s fundraising bake sales are presented in lively detail, with one afternoon taking him to the Westminster Dog Show to sell homemade dog biscuits, and another to a farmers market to peddle his sweet offerings of vegetable-based baked goods.

At the end of the book lies a delightful treat: A ten-page spread of recipes based on the treats showcased in the story. Peppermint brownies, vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting, the aforementioned homemade dog biscuits—they’re all in there, and I can speak from experience when I say that some of the recipes are incredibly delicious (I can’t speak for the dog biscuits, but the vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting were a delight).

For months my son had been clamoring to make the raspberry squares featured in the book, so when we found ourselves with an open afternoon a few weeks ago, we open the book and dove right into the recipe. We had a great time working together as a family, my husband and son tackling the recipe itself while I stood back and took some photos. My son really wanted this project to be his, so I spent a fair amount of time out of the kitchen, purposefully keeping my prying mitts off of his work. When the dessert emerged from the oven, so beautifully golden and scented of butter, we could hardly stand to wait until the squares were cool enough to cut and eat.

And then something completely unforeseen happened. The raspberry squares were terrible. I mean, they were just awful. The base was loose, greasy, and tasted of raw flour. The crunchy topping was so sweet, it almost made my teeth dance. You couldn’t cut a square without it melting into a pile of slick, separated ingredients. What a disappointment. We tried to pretend that the squares were at least somewhat salvageable, but, in the end, we had to toss them out. It was a total disappointment.

I couldn’t let things end that way. This was a recipe from Bake Sale, one of my son’s favorite books! We couldn’t let the recipe fail us like that. Determined to start anew, I took a look at the original recipe, located a number of red flags, made a number of intuitive changes, and rewrote a plan of baking action that was sure to provide a better result. Ever the trooper, my son agreed to give things another go. The second time, we knocked those raspberry squares out of the park. With a crisp, flaky crust, a crumbly, lightly sweetened topping, and a good balance of toothsome crunch and fruit filling, the raspberry bars were given a new, completely delicious life. Bake Sale will forever remain one of our most treasured books, and now, revised and edited, these raspberry squares just might make the cut as one of our favorite treats.

Last Year: Dutch Apple Pie, Gifts for People Who Like Food and Cooking, and Chocolate-Dipped Lime Shortbread

Raspberry Squares Recipe

Very heavily adapted from Bake Sale, by Sara Varon

Crust:

1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

½ cup unpacked light brown sugar

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

Filling:

1 cup low or reduced sugar raspberry preserves

Topping:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup unpacked light brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature and cut into 1-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

To make the crust, combine butter, brown sugar, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Stir together with a sturdy spoon until the ingredients are incorporated with one another and no streaks of butter show through. Spread dough evenly into a 9’ by 13’ baking dish. Press down on the dough so it forms a flat and even layer of crust (you can use a piece of wax paper or the wrapper from a stick of butter to do this). Bake crust in center of oven for 17-20 minutes, until the edges are just starting to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

While the crust cools, prepare the topping. In a large bowl (you can even use the same bowl you used to mix the crust—I promise I won’t tell anyone), mix together the flour, brown sugar, and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the top of the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter pieces into the flour mixture until the mixture takes on the appearance of coarse crumbs.

When the crust has cooled, spread the raspberry preserves over the crust, leaving a ¼-inch border around the edges of the crust (if the preserves touch the side of the pan, they will burn during baking). Scatter the crumbly topping evenly over the preserves.

Bake in center of oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until topping is light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool significantly (at least 30 minutes, but preferably 1 hour) before cutting into squares.

Depending on how large you make your squares, you can get anywhere from 20 to 32 (or more) squares.

Lemon Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

17 Sep

How many pancake recipes does one person really need to have? If I were to nail things down to their very basic elements, maybe my answer would be that a person only needs one single pancake recipe, that recipe being this one, which never fails to produce the most perfect pancakes every single time. Then again, if you’re in the mood for a slightly more health-conscious pancake, a pancake fortified with multiple grains, no refined sugar, and no saturated fat, perhaps you’d prefer to only have on hand a recipe like this one, a multi-grain blueberry pancake that never fails to please. Would that be all? Does anyone really need anything else in the way of pancakes?

Having just made these unbelievably wonderful lemon pancakes, my answer would definitely have to be a resounding yes. Dear lord, yes. Intensely lemony, perfectly light, and punched up with the brightest blueberry sauce you can imagine, these pancakes are giving my previous standbys a run for their money.

Of course, these pancakes satisfy a different element of pancake worthiness. Whereas the pancakes I usually favor are a simple affair that are comprised of standard pantry and refrigerator staples, these pancakes are a slightly fancier endeavor. Loads of lemon zest, a good dose of yogurt, and fluffy egg whites make these pancakes a special treat, something with the taste characteristics of a lemony muffin, but with a heavenly lightness. Their front and center lemon flavor just begs to be paired with a fresh dose of berries, so I complied by topping everything off with a dead-simple berry sauce that brings out all the right notes of what just might be my new Saturday morning breakfast treat. These are pancakes, stepped up, and you definitely don’t want to miss out.

Last Year: Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits

Lemon Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce Recipe

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup plain yogurt

1/3 cup milk

finely grated zest of 2 lemons

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted then cooled slightly

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 large egg, separated

1 large egg white

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, lemon zest, lemon juice, melted butter,  vanilla, and 1 egg yolk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and gently whisk together until just barely combined.

Now would be a good time to start heating a cast iron skillet or nonstick skillet over low heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk the 2 egg whites together until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter, mixing until just combined.

In a skillet that has been preheated over low heat (if you have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, you should not have to oil it prior to cooking the pancakes, but if your skillet tends to allow food to stick, very lightly oil the skillet with a tiny bit of vegetable oil), drop batter ¼-cup at a time, onto the skillet. Cook pancakes on one side until they have risen a bit and appear somewhat dry at the edges, with numerous deflating bubbles on the surface (this can take anywhere from 2-5 minutes for the first batch of pancakes). Flip pancakes over and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove cooked pancakes to individual plates to be covered with berry sauce and eaten immediately, or place pancakes on a wire rack set on a baking sheet, then keep pancakes warm in a 200-degree oven until you are ready to serve them. In any case, eat the pancakes as soon as possible, for maximum deliciousness.

Blueberry Sauce

3 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen are both fine

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and place over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the fruit just softens, roughly five minutes. Transfer mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until about half of the mixture is blended into a liquid and the other half remains slightly chunky.  If you are not a fan of textured sauce, feel free to puree the sauce until it is completely smooth, or until your desired texture has been reached. I wanted a super textured sauce, so I hardly pureed this batch at all.

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