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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.

Apple and Toasted Oat Cookies with Penuche Frosting

26 Sep

A few years ago, we were lucky enough to be gifted a beautiful Akane apple tree. Akanes are a fantastic type of apple—sharp, only lightly sweet, and boasting a fantastic crunch. Last year we ended up giving a great deal of our tree’s apple harvest to our son’s school, but this year we will be in charge of eating these crisp little fellows on our own. I have no complaints about this. Akane apples are great when plucked from the tree and eaten straight away, but they are also superb for baking. Their less-sweet flavor lends itself well to being folded into baked goods, and their firm flesh is a champ at holding its shape and resisting the urge to melt into mush when exposed to hot temperatures.

Which makes me wonder: When did the pumpkin become the official food of autumn? It seems as though the mere mention of autumn will unleash the squash recipes with full force. Summer is barely over, and yet it is impossible to walk down the street from my house without seeing coffeehouse after coffeehouse after bakery practically screaming the virtues of pumpkin. Pumpkin bread is mighty fine, I admit, but what about the other fruits of the season? Have we forgotten about the apples and pears?

Truthfully, I think I do actually understand the tendency to learn towards pumpkins when autumn makes its first appearance. Due to the fact that one is able to make year-round purchases of apples and pears at the grocery store, the pumpkin harvest is a more notable signifier of the arrival of a new season. Pumpkins signal something, whereas apples, well, apples just mean apples.

Not that they have to. Those apples you’re getting at the market in June are nothing compared to the apples that first start showing up in September and October. June apples have been sitting in storage for months, ever since the previous year’s harvest ended, but September apples have only just barely been freed from their trees. Like warm June strawberries plucked fresh from a backyard patch, fresh September apples are a revelation in apple-eating.

However, if you’re like me and you did not manage to treat your apple tree in time to ward off spring’s deluge of codling moths (note: I treat my apple tree with an organic insecticide called Spinosad, which is unfailingly effective if you treat the tree before the moths arrive to lay their eggs, which I, unfortunately, was not able to do), sometimes you have to do a bit of slicing and dicing in order to enjoy your homegrown apples. A cookie like this, with bursts of apple and the heartiness of oats and whole wheat flour, is the perfect welcome mat for autumn’s new fruit. Drizzled with a slip of caramel-tinged penuche frosting, it tastes like the arrival of autumn, all wrapped up in a tidy cookie package.

Last Year: Balsamic-Glazed Chicken and Zucchini with Grilled Limes

Apple and Toasted Oat Cookies with Penuche Frosting Recipe

1 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)

1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼ cup milk

juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of nutmeg

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 ½ cups finely chopped, peeled apple

Penuche Frosting

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar

¼ cup milk

pinch of sea salt

1 ½ cups powdered (confectioners’) sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spread oats in a single layer on a large baking sheet, then toast in the oven until the oats are golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove oats from baking sheet and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine brown sugar and butter and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes on high speed. Add milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, egg, and vanilla, and beat until combined. Add toasted oats, all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, spices, and salt, then mix well on low speed. Stir in chopped apple.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoon-fuls, spaced about 2 inches apart, onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake cookies in center of oven until lightly golden, about 10 to 13 minutes. To ensure even baking, only bake 1 sheet of cookies at a time. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

While cookies are cooling, make penuche frosting by combining butter and dark brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, stir to combine the two, allowing mixture to come to a light boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened slightly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

After mixture has cooled for about 10 minutes, add milk and beat until smooth, then add powdered sugar and beat until mixture is smooth and combined.

Using a large spoon, drizzle cooled cookies with penuche frosting.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies, depending on how generously the tablespoon-fuls of dough were portioned out.

Coconut Lime Frozen Yogurt and Chewy Ginger Cookie Sandwiches

10 May

As tough as it was for me to find a name for these astonishingly delicious treats (that title is almost more of a mouthful than the actual cookie sandwich), the path from idea to reality was a surprisingly simple one.  As often as I have ideas about dishes and flavor combinations I think would be great, only to have them never really work out in the end, no matter my efforts (there might be an entire article I can write about this phenomenon, which I may dub “Foods that Never Were”), it is always a great boon to my cooking inclinations when I can manage to make something work itself out on the first go around.  These frozen yogurt sandwiches came into being at just the right time.

It doesn’t take much to make the people of Portland move from cold weather doldrums to sheer, unadulterated excitement over the promise of a warm, sunny day.  All I have to do is hear someone casually mention that it might not rain for a few days and my brain wanders over to thoughts of picnics, hammocks, and tall, ice-filled glasses, their sides mottled by drops of condensation.  If it seems the warm weather might take a trip north of 70 degrees, I start to hover around the cabinet where I keep the ice cream maker, waiting in earnest for a cue—any cue—that will allow me to unearth my old friend and start welcoming the cold treats we so crave on warm days.

Striking the perfect balance of cool and creamy against chewy and crunchy, I can’t think of a better invitation to celebrate summer than having a batch of these ice cream sandwiches sitting in your freezer, waiting for the perfect moment to accompany you in a lounge chair or on a picnic blanket.  The tropical notes of the lime and coconut yogurt make fast friends with the wonderful ginger bite of the cookies that envelop it, making this an ice cream sandwich for the ages.  As an added bonus, and as any fellow fan of the frozen sandwich will hear and, no doubt, applaud, the wonderfully chewy ginger cookies that hold this sandwich together are sturdy enough to keep their shape throughout the entire life of the sandwich, but never do they impede one’s efforts to bite through the sandwich.  Crisp, yet with gentle give, they are the perfect bookends to an equally perfect treat.

Last Year: New Potato and Caramelized Leek Tart in an Olive Oil Crust

Coconut Lime Frozen Yogurt and Chewy Ginger Cookie Sandwiches Recipe

Some of you may remember these ginger cookies from a post a few months ago.  That’s how I remembered them, and that’s how I came to conclude that, with their fantastic chewiness and great ginger flavor, they’d be the perfect match for this ice cream treat.  The recipe for the cookies is the same here, only the size of each cookie is obviously larger, and the baking time adjusted accordingly.

A note on the yogurt choice: you’ve got to go Greek yogurt on this one.  The creaminess and texture of Greek yogurt are unparalleled here, and really make the frozen yogurt that much more luxurious.  If you’re afraid of the fat content in Greek yogurt (which is fine, it’s a perfectly reasonable concern), I’ll have you know that I accidentally ended up with non-fat Greek yogurt when I was making this (did you even know that there was such a thing as non-fat Greek yogurt? I had no idea), and I never even suspected it was fat-free until I was pitching the yogurt cups in the recycling bin later on in the day and noticed the designation on the label.  The taste gave nothing away.  So, Greek yogurt is a must, and full or non-fat are both fine.

Coconut Lime Frozen Yogurt

18 ounces (just a tad north of 2 cups) plain Greek yogurt

1 heaping tablespoon finely grated fresh lime zest

½ cup unsweetened coconut milk

2/3 cup granulated sugar

In a large bowl, or in a large measuring cup, combine all ingredients.  Whisk vigorously together for 1 minute, thoroughly combining.  Allow the mixture to rest for about 5 minutes to really let the sugar dissolve, then vigorously whisk once more for at least a minute, making sure that everything is fully incorporated.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.  When yogurt has frozen, remove from ice cream maker and pack into a freezer-safe tub.  Place frozen yogurt in freezer for at least an hour to allow it to firm up just a bit more before assembling ice cream sandwiches.

Chewy Ginger Thin Cookies

¾ cup unsalted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 beaten egg

¼ cup molasses (dark or light are both fine)

1 ½ cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground powdered ginger

pinch nutmeg

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, egg, and molasses.  Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, powdered ginger, and nutmeg, and sift together directly onto the butter mixture.  Stir until smooth.  Add the fresh ginger, then mix to combine.

Using a pastry bag or a Ziploc bag with a bottom corner cut off (the dough is extremely sticky, so trying to portion it out with a spoon won’t work well at all), pipe or squeeze out cookies into circles roughly 3 inches across onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Place each cookie about 1 inch apart, lest they stick together as they spread during baking.

Bake cookies on the center rack of the oven for 8 to 9 minutes, until the edges of the cookies have just begun to appear slightly darkened and dry.  While the cookies are baking, pipe another batch of cookies onto your second prepared baking sheet.

Cool baked cookies on their parchment sheet placed on a wire rack.  When cookies have cooled on a rack for about 5 minutes are and no longer gooey, you can slip the cookies right off of the parchment and reuse the parchment for another batch of cookies.

The desired consistency for these cookies is super chewy but ever-so-slightly firm (they will be very bendy when they come out of the oven, and will become soft-firm when cooled).  If you find your cookies are persistently floppy even after having sufficiently cooled, increase the baking time of subsequent batches by 1 minute.

To Assemble and Wrap Frozen Yogurt Sandwiches:

Allow cookies to cool completely.  Place a cookie on a piece of plastic wrap.  Scoop desired amount of frozen yogurt on top of cookie, leaving a bit of open space around the edges of each cookie to allow for settling.  Place another cookie on top of the frozen yogurt, and gently press down until the frozen yogurt settles a bit and the top cookie starts to adhere.  Wrap the plastic wrap around the sandwich and place in the freezer to allow to firm up a bit, ideally for a couple of hours.  There is, of course, nothing stopping you from eating a frozen yogurt sandwich as soon as you assemble it, but allowing the sandwiches to rest in the freezer for a bit really does help them keep their shape while you eat them.

Assemble all sandwiches until yogurt is gone.  You will have cookies left over, but this is a good thing.

Makes 12-15 sandwiches, depending on how much yogurt you desire to put in between the cookies.

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