Tag Archives: bars

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.

Lime Pecan Bars

12 Jul

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

Base:

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

Topping:

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.

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