Friday, January 28, 2011

Puppy Love: Homemade Dog Biscuits

Like many pet owners, my husband and I could be accused of doting on our dogs. For most of the ten years that we’ve had “the kids,” I’ve never really worried about such accusations. But now we’re at that point in our lives (mid-30s) where it’s time to decide if we’re going to stick exclusively with furry kids or introduce the human variety to the pack. Is there room in our hearts and home for a non-canine dependant?

That, I have to admit, is one of many things that really gives me pause about having a baby. I worry that a baby would take attention away from our furry kids and that they would get relegated to the sidelines. That may sound a bit odd, but I reason the dogs were here first and have loved us (mostly unconditionally) longer, so shouldn’t they only naturally get top billing? I know many blended families that have successfully incorporated human kiddos into their canine pack without major fanfare. But some dogs are easier going than others. Ours, not so much.

Harry                                         LuLu                                     Jack

LuLu, our Chocolate Lab, has ruled the household ever since she came bounding into our hearts as a chubby, adorable, exuberant puppy. She had the most enormous feet of any puppy I had ever seen. Everyone joked that if she grew into those feet, we were going to be in big trouble. Well, she did, and she’s now a solid one hundred pounds of willful, wily, unwieldiness. Despite her ginormousness, she’s also very girly and can be imperious – in short, she’s quite the princess. Consequently, she has Eric wrapped around her finger. And though she often drives me crazy, she can melt my heart in 2 seconds flat when she comes over and puts her head in my lap and gives me her best worried brow look. Those eyebrows of hers are a highly effective weapon. The brows are her ace in the hole and she well knows it. (They've gotten her out of hot water with me more than once.)

When it became apparent that she was going to be high maintenance, we decided to get LuLu a friend. We figured she needed to learn to share the spot light lest she be spoiled by our fawning adoration. Also, we hoped she would enjoy some company and that having another dog around to play with would help wear off some of her endless supply of energy. We adopted Jack, sight unseen, from a co-worker of Eric’s. The whole sight-unseen part worked to his advantage. Not that it would have changed my mind about taking him, but Jack was quite possibly the ugliest puppy I had ever seen. He gave new meaning to the old saying, “a face only a mother could love.” He was and still is a funny looking little dude. As best as we can tell, he’s part Boston Terrier, part Chinese Pug. While he may be homely, he’s usually on his best behavior (unlike the other two) and he follows me like a shadow. Wherever I go, he goes.

Harry came to us after the hurricane. (Ivan- not Katrina. There were other hurricanes, you know.) Although our home was spared any major damage, the months of living with the aftermath and debris were tough. I got in the habit of taking long walks in the ‘hood to help relieve stress. One night while out walking, a cute but goofy looking Beagle mutt toddled up to me. I stopped to give him a pet and say hello and then re-commenced my stroll. I had gone a few blocks before I realized the Beagle was following me. So I stopped again and my heart sank when I noticed he didn’t have tags and, on closer inspection, looked dirty, tired, and hungry. I decided to keep walking and see if he would continue to follow me. He did, all the way through the front door of our home and into our family. To make a long story short, Harry came to us with a bad case of heart worms and several cracked ribs. He’s very reticent, tends to cower, and can be melancholy and mopey. We’re not sure if that’s just his personality (he seems to have some Basset Hound in him) or the result of prior abuse or neglect. He’s no shrinking violet, though. He’s stubborn as a mule and will deliberately try you just to get a reaction. I call him Harry-Harry-Quite-Contrary. We’ve just learned to accommodate his idiosyncrasies and love him despite his orneriness. Some days, we even think he loves us back. *Our beloved Harry went to doggie heaven on February 21, 2012. He took a piece of our hearts with him and we miss him dearly. 

So I’m told by Moms who know that you love your human children unconditionally as well, no matter their foibles and quirks, and that there is room in your heart for all your kiddos, both canine and human. That makes sense, I guess. I just don’t know if there’s enough room in the pups’ hearts for a baby. They already have to share the couch with us and seem none too pleased. Besides, I can just see LuLu’s big ass crawling in the Pack-n-Play and smooshing it to smithereens. And Jack hates baby cries. We learned this when he tweaked out and yapped all evening when friends came over for dinner and brought their infant. That would get old in a hurry. At least Harry can be counted on to ignore the baby, just as he does everyone else.

Despite the medical profession’s irritating proclivity toward treating expectant Moms over 34 years of age as freaks of nature to be closely monitored as “high-risk” patients, I think we’ll wait awhile until we figure out our family dynamics.

Or maybe we'll skip the baby and just get a cat. I wonder if introducing a kitty into the pack would be harder or easier than a baby?

Homemade Dog Biscuits

My boss gave my dogs these homemade treats as a Christmas gift from her furry kids, Will and Canela. The pups loved the biscuits and since she passed along the recipe as well, I’ll be making them quite frequently. They’re super simple to make and much cheaper and more nutritious than that nasty fake dog bacon sold in stores. I used organic flour and stock and natural peanut butter. Obviously, you can use whatever you have on hand. Jiff can't possibly be as bad as the waste grade ingredients found in most store bought dog treats so you'll still be doing your pup a favor.

1 c natural peanut butter (no added sugar)
1 ½ c all-purpose, unbleached flour
¾ c organic chicken broth

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack centered in the middle. Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl to form a dough. Knead the dough to ensure all ingredients are fully combined and then roll out to ½ inch thickness.
2. Cut out biscuits with a cookie cutter and place on baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time for 20-25 minutes or until a light golden brown.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Salted Toffee Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I love it when I stumble across something that tastes so good that it consumes me until I just physically can’t stop myself from proceeding directly to the kitchen to recreate it. Such is the case with these cookies.

While out running a quick errand, I decided I needed a pick me up. It was the middle part of the day and lunch had worn off but it was still too early for dinner; I just needed a quick nibble to get me through. That was my plan for my maiden visit to The Steeping Room. The little cafe looked so inviting and a cup of tea sounded just right.

As I walked up to the counter to order tea, I couldn’t help but notice the huge case of baked goods. Of course, I couldn’t resist. I suspect I’m not the first person to succumb to its lovely offerings. In fact, I’m sure it was strategically placed right there at the counter so that no one could resist. Or at least no one with only a normal reserve of will power. I’m sure some people have super human powers of resistance and perhaps they could have walked away from Salted Toffee Chocolate Chunk cookies. I’m thankful I’m not one of them.

A sensible person would have ordered a nice herbal tea and have avoided the obscene amount of calories these cookies were sure to impart. Me? I went for the cookie and ordered a whole milk café au lait to accompany it. I figure in for a penny, in for a pound.

It's times like these that you have to remember that life is short. While I’d like to be sensible, the truth is that when given an opportunity, I’m almost always going to take the cookie. I hope you do, too, because these babies are not to be missed!

Salted Toffee Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Shortly after polishing off that divine cookie from The Steeping Room, I started Googling recipes. It didn’t take long to hit upon one from the Blue Eyed Bakers. Their original recipe called for Heath Bar Bits o’ Brickle Toffee chips but I think it’s just as easy to make the toffee at home and save a trip to the store. Also, these cookies are pretty rich so I made slightly smaller cookies than suggested (I do have a small measure of restraint). If you prefer to make a large cookie, use a 2 ounce ice cream scoop to measure out the cookies. The yield should be around 16 cookies in the larger size. I used muscovado sugar as it is more nutrient rich than other brown sugars because it retains more of the minerals found in raw sugarcane juice. I’ve read that you should slightly reduce the amount of liquid ingredients in a recipe when subbing muscovado for regular brown sugar but I didn’t bother and these cookies turned out fine.

Cookies- adapted from a Blue Eyed Bakers recipe
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup muscovado sugar (or sub regular light/dark brown sugar), packed
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Callebaut)
1 cup toffee pieces (see recipe below)
Fleur de sel

Homemade Toffee- adapted from FunkySeaMonkey’s recipe on All Recipes
1 c butter
1 c sugar
½ t salt

First, make the toffee:
1. In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the butter is melted. Allow to come to a boil, while stirring occasionally, and cook until the temperature reaches 285 degrees Fahrenheit and the mixture is a dark amber color.
2. As soon as the toffee reaches 285 degrees Fahrenheit, pour it out into a 9” x 13” Pyrex baking dish.
3. Place the toffee in the refrigerator to chill until set. Break into pieces, and store in an airtight container.
*Makes approximately 2 cups of toffee pieces.

Then make the cookies:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. Slowly add flour mixture and blend until completely incorporated. Stir in chocolate and toffee. Place the dough in the refrigerator to rest for 24 hours.
3. When ready to bake, bring the dough out of the refrigerator and allow it to warm up just a bit so that it will be easy to scoop. Using a tablespoon, drop heaping mounds of cookie dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat and use your fingers to flatten the mounds slightly. Sprinkle each cookie with a generous pinch of fleur de sel. Bake until cookies just start to brown, 13-15 minutes, and rotate the pans halfway through baking to ensure even cooking. Allow to cool on the pan for a few minutes and then transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely.
*Recipe makes approximately 30 cookies.
I linked this post to Sweet As Sugar Cookies: Sweets for a Saturday.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Peace Through Pie: Tangerine Cream Tart

I learned about the Peace Through Pie movement from my boss. She knew that I’d jump at the chance to bake for a good cause so she passed along a message regarding a pie social.

Right she was.

In fact, I was delighted to participate in Peace Through Pie’s 3rd annual Dream Pie Social to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event was held at Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church, a historic landmark founded by freed slaves in the Clarksville neighborhood in Austin, TX. The Pie Social featured a service with music from the fabulous Bells of Joy, a pie contest, silent pie auction, and a pie tasting. All proceeds from the event went to the church’s restoration fund.

What better way to celebrate Dr. King’s teachings on unity, equality, love, and non-violence than to share pie with others?

Pie + Love = Peace

The kiddos at Matthews Elementary provided artwork for the event with their hopes and dreams.

Tangerine Cream Tart
adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”

I swear “Does not follow instructions well” should be my epitaph. Admittedly, a tart is not technically a pie but they are closely related. Often, they share the same chapter in a cookbook, which is exactly how I came to make a tart instead of a pie. I was dutifully searching for a pie recipe to utilize some lovely Carrizo Springs tangerines I picked up at the market when I happened upon Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for this orange cream tart in Baking: From My Home to Yours. I knew it would be the perfect way to highlight the tangerines so I just couldn’t pass it up.

This tart dough is challenging to work with and so I added a few steps to the recipe that I think would be helpful. I found chilling the dough well before working with it greatly helps with handling. Much like shortbread, this dough is a pâte sablée and is “sandy” meaning it will feel dry and crumbly. Dorie’s instructions call for pressing the crumbly dough into the tart mold but you must not overwork the dough by pressing too much or too heavily or you’ll lose the crumbly shortbread texture. Even though I added an additional ½ egg yolk, I still found the dough too dry and had to work it more than I liked to line the tart mold. Consequently, the crust stuck to the bottom of the mold and was tougher than I liked. I had placed the second round that I reserved for making the star cookies to top the tart in the refrigerator over night and it rolled out very easily and was a breeze to work with. So I adjusted the recipe instructions to chill the dough so that it can be rolled out and fitted into the mold instead of pressed in. I also recommend re-chilling the tart well before serving, as the filling will loosen up when whisking it to fill the tart shell. Re-chilling will allow it to set up again so it won’t be runny when serving.

The cookie topping on this tart is optional but is a cute touch. Dorie’s instructions call for using any cutter shape as long as the cookie is less than 2” in diameter. Since I’m in Texas, I used a star cookie cutter. When I first moved to Texas, my old co-worker, Ellen (a displaced yankee) and I spent much time discussing the peculiarities of Texans. She gave me some very sage advice regarding a PowerPoint design that I  find widely applicable in many other arenas. She told me, “Put a star on it- they’ll love it!” Since then, whenever possible, I heed her advice.

Orange Filling
1 c sugar
Grated zest of 3 tangerines
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 large eggs
Scant 3/4 c fresh tangerine (or orange) juice
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 t unflavored gelatin
1 T cold water
2 3/4 sticks (11 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at cool room temperature

Sweet Tart Dough- makes two 9” rounds
3 c all-purpose flour
1 c confectioner’s sugar
1/2 t salt
2 sticks plus 2 T (18 T) frozen, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2-3 large egg yolks

1. In a food processor, add the flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt to the processor bowl and combine by pulsing a couple of times. Scatter the butter pieces in the bowl and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. In a small bowl, stir the egg yolks to break it up and then add it to the processor bowl a little at a time and pulse after each addition. When all ingredients have been added, pulse the mixture in 10 seconds intervals until the dough forms clumps. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and lightly knead the dough to incorporate any remaining dry ingredients. Divide the dough in two and work each portion into a loose disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill for approximately 1 hour.
2. Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll one of the dough rounds out between two pieces of wax paper and then wrap over the rolling pin to transfer to the tart pan. Use the pin to lay the dough round over the top of the tart pan and, using your hands, gently and evenly work it into the bottom and sides of the pan. ***Reserve a small amount of dough and place it in the refrigerator for use in case the crust cracks while baking. Place the tart pan in the freezer to allow the crust to freeze for at least 30 minutes (longer is better- I placed mine in the freezer over night) before baking.
3. While the tart shell is freezing, roll out the second dough round to approximately 1/8” thickness and use any cookie cutter with less than a 2” diameter to cut out cookie shapes for topping the tart. Brush the cookies with egg wash (beat an egg with a tablespoon or two of water) and sprinkle with decorating sugar. Bake the cookies at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 - 13 minutes and watch them closely so that they don’t color too much. Turn halfway through baking and take out of the oven when done but still pale. Place on a rack to cool.
4. For this recipe, you will fully bake the crust before filling it. With the rack centered in the oven, preheat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and wrap the buttered side of the foil tightly against the crust. Pie weights won’t be needed since the crust is frozen. With the tart pan placed on a baking sheet, bake the crust for 25 minutes and then remove the foil. If puffy, use the back of a spoon to press it down gently.
5. Bake the crust for another 8 minutes or so until golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a rack to cool the crust to room temperature before filling.
***Dorie’s note on patching the crust: If there are any cracks, patch with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice of a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. Bake for another 2 minutes to take the rawness off the patch.
6. To make the filling, have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender or food processor on hand. In a saucepan large enough to sit a mixing bowl over, add a few inches of water and bring to a simmer.
7. In a large heatproof bowl of a size that will fit over the saucepan, rub the sugar and lemon and orange zests together between your fingertips until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs and then the orange and lemon juice. Set the bowl over the sauce pan of simmering water and start whisking as soon as the mixture feels slightly warm to the touch. The cream must be cooked until it reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit while whisking constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling. As the cream gets close to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, you will feel it begin to thicken. When the cream is thick enough that the whisk leaves tracks, it’s almost ready. Note: this process can take as long as 10 minutes. As soon as the cream comes up to temperature, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor) to remove the bits of zest.
8. Soften the gelatin in the cold water, then microwave for 15 seconds to dissolve it. Add the gelatin to the filling and pulse once to blend, then let the filling cool to for about 10 minutes. With the processor going, add the butter a few pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides as you add to ensure all butter is incorporated. Once the butter has been added, continue to process the cream for another 3 minutes. If the machine starts to get hot, work in 1-minute intervals, to allow it to rest between beats.
9. Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. 10. When you are ready to assemble the tart, whisk the cream until it has loosened and then pour the cream evenly into the crust and use an offset spatula to smooth. Place the tart into the refrigerator to allow the filling to set up again, at least 1 hour before serving. When ready to serve, remove the tart from the refrigerator and top with the cookies.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chocolate, Grapefruit, and Star Anise Cookies with White Chocolate Ganache Filling

I stand corrected. I do like grapefruit. Or maybe I just like any flavor when combined with chocolate. Whatever. These cookies are awesome!

Chocolate, Grapefruit, and Star Anise Cookies with White Chocolate Ganache Filling

In my previous post on the citrus booty I brought back from my Christmas visit to my hometown, Pensacola, FL, I mentioned that I don't care for grapefruit and wasn't sure what to do with the specimens I brought back. Well, I now have to eat those words and boy, am I glad! I found this recipe for chocolate cookies while searching Epicurious for desserts with grapefruit as an ingredient. I knew a chocolate cookie with a hint of grapefruit zest was a safe bet because almost any citrus flavor complements chocolate well. I also really liked that this recipe added a bit of complexity to the cookie flavor with the addition of star anise. I decided to amp up the complexity just a bit more by sprinkling fleur de sel on the tops of the cookies. 

After making these cookies, it occurred to me that they would be even better with a filling to sandwich between them. I had left over white chocolate from the Baked Sunday Mornings challenge I participated in so I made the same white chocolate ganache from the Almond Joy Tart. I really like that ganache- the richness of the cream tempers some of the sweetness of the white chocolate. I added a bit grapefruit zest to the ganache to really make it pop. The combination of dark and white chocolate with the bright citrus flavor and the nuances of the spices worked out even better than I had hoped. I had to bring these cookies in to work so I didn’t gobble them all up!
Cookies- adapted from an Epicurious recipe
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 c (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1 t plus 1/4 c sugar
3 whole star anise
1/4 c all purpose flour
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 t coarse kosher salt
1/4 t baking powder
2 large eggs
2 T honey
2 t finely grated grapefruit peel
Fleur de sel, for sprinkling on tops of cookies

White Chocolate Ganache Filling- adapted from Baked Explorations
8 ounces good quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 c heavy cream
1 T grapefruit zest

1. Combine chocolate and butter in medium heatproof bowl and melt over a double boiler. Or put the bowl of chocolate in the microwave and heat in 10-second intervals until the chocolate is almost melted then remove and stir until completely melted and smooth. In spice mill or coffee grinder, grind 1 teaspoon sugar and the 3 whole star anise to a fine consistency. Transfer to small bowl; whisk in flour, cocoa, coarse salt, and baking powder.
2. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or by hand in large bowl, beat remaining 1/4 cup sugar, eggs, honey, and grapefruit peel until thick and smooth. Fold in chocolate, then fold in dry ingredients. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill batter until cold and firm, at least 45 minutes and up to 1 day.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F. While the oven is heating, make the ganache. Place the white chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, heat the cream just to a boil. Pour the cream over the white chocolate and let it stand for 30 seconds. Slowly, starting in the center of the bowl, whisk the cream and white chocolate until smooth. Cover and refrigerate the ganache for 4 hours or overnight before proceeding.
4. When the oven is up to temperature, line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls approximately 2 inches apart onto the prepared sheets.
5. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for approximately 6 minutes, then sprinkle fleur de sel on tops of cookies and rotate pan. Continue to cook for another 4-6 minutes, until the cookies look dry. The cookies will need to bake about 10-12 minutes in total. Cool on the baking sheet for approximately 3 minutes, then transfer the cookies to racks and cool completely.
6. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the white chocolate ganache at medium speed until soft peaks form. Do not over whip! Gently fold in the grapefruit zest.
7. Match cookies up by size and shape. Using an offset spatula, spread icing on one cookie and sandwich with another.
P.S. I was so happy that I got to use the Tupelo honey I brought back from home in this recipe. I’m a little weird about honey (I get that from my Mom) and almost never fail to pick up a jar wherever I travel. Some people like to sample regional craft beers to get a flavor for a place. Me, I’m all about the honey.

While I was home I went shopping at my old co-op, Ever’man Natural Foods, and was thrilled to see that they had Tupelo honey. Tupelo is lighter and sweeter than many other honey varieties and has an almost delicate taste. It's made from the blossoms of the tupelo gum tree which grows in flooded forest areas. Northwest Florida is well known for its exquisitely flavored Tupelo honey due to the abundant growth of the white tupelo in the region. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lemon Lust Bars

My parents’ friend, Tommy, brought over a bag of citrus fruit while I was home for the holidays. Tommy’s yard is full of citrus trees and he had a banner crop this year. I quickly swooped in and claimed the bag of Meyer lemons and grapefruit as my own. Mom protested a bit but I didn’t take no for an answer. I figure she has easy access (he lives in the neighborhood) and can always stop by and pick more fruit so I didn’t feel too bad.

With extra large, beautiful Meyer lemons on my hands, the hardest part was figuring out what to make with them. I had a number of ideas but finally settled on lemon bars and preserved lemons to ensure maximum usage and no waste. I’m still reveling in Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café and Joanne’s recipe for Lemon Lust Bars jumped out at me- in no small part because I love any and all lemony desserts and I’m a sucker for marketing. Adding “lust” to the title was a brilliant move on her part. Of course I had to make them just to see if, indeed, they were lust worthy.

People, they are!

Now that I’ve put the Meyers to good use, I’m searching for recipes in which to use the grapefruit. I never took to grapefruit and don’t usually eat them, however, I don’t want Tommy’s hard work and such beautiful specimens to go to waste. If you have a dessert recipe you like that uses grapefruit, shoot it my way. In the meantime, I’m still digging…

Lemon Lust Bars
adapted from Joanne Chang’s recipe in Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café

Because I had to ration my Meyers, I made a smaller pan of bars than Joann’s recipe calls for. I used an 8 x 8 inch pan and halved the ingredient quantities, which worked fine. I’ve included the quantities here per the original recipe because these babies are so good, you’ll want all you can get! The shortbread crust is rich and buttery and the sweetness of the Meyer lemons mellows the tangyness just a bit but not too much. These bars are still pucker worthy- so much so, you'll want to kiss Joanne for her delicous recipe.

1 c (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
6 T (75 grams) granulated sugar
2 T confectioners’ sugar
1 egg yolk
1 t vanilla extract
1 c (140 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 c (120 grams) cake flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t kosher salt

Lemon Curd
2 c plus 2 T (500 grams) fresh lemon juice (I used 4 extra large Meyer lemons)
1/2 c (1 stick/114 grams) unsalted butter
1/4 c (60 grams) heavy cream
8 eggs
4 egg yolks
2 c (400 grams) sugar
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t vanilla extract

confectioners sugar for dusting, if desired

1. Line a 9 x 11 inch baking pan with two pieces of parchment paper, cut to fit and overlapping the sides of the pan. To make the shortbread, cream together butter, granulated sugar, and confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy (approx. 5 min) in a stand mixer using a paddle attachment. Scrape the paddle and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure all ingredients are mixed in. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes until combined. Again, scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. After all flour has been added, continue to mix briefly to ensure that the dough is evenly mixed. Don't forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Remove the dough from the bowl, form into a disk approximately 1 inch thick, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes until chilled. The dough should be firm but still somewhat pliable before working with it (dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month).
4. While the dough is chilling, make the lemon curd. In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the lemon juice, butter, and cream and heat to just below boiling over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks and then slowly whisk in the sugar until combined.
5. Remove the lemon juice mixture from the heat and begin gradually whisking it into the sugar-egg mixture, a little at a time, until all of it has been incorporated.
6. When finished, return the mixture to the saucepan, and place over medium heat. While stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook for 5 to 8 minutes until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon. When cooking, be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan frequently to prevent the eggs from scrambling. To test to see if the curd is done, draw your finger along the back of the spoon; you should be able to see your finger mark for a second or two before it fills in.
7. Take the curd off of the heat and, over a heatproof bowl, pour through a fine-mesh sieve to strain. Whisk in the salt and vanilla. (Curd may be prepared up to 4 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. If using chilled curd, add 5 to 6 minutes to the baking time.)
8. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the rack positioned in the center. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to approximately the size of the parchment lined baking pan. When the dough is the desired size, roll it over the pin to transfer to the pan. Use your fingers to press the dough into the corners of the pan, if needed. The dough should be approximately the same thickness all around.
9. Bake the shortbread until light brown, approximately 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and pour the lemon curd on top. If needed, smooth the curd with a spatula.
10. Return the pan to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the curd has set and is firm when jiggled. Allow the pan to cool on a wire rack, then place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to overnight to ensure that the curd is fully set. Place plastic wrap over the top so that the lemon bars don’t take on any refrigerator smells.
11. To cut the bars, lift up the overhanging pieces of the parchment paper to loosen the shortbread from the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Remove the parchment paper. For a cleaner look, trim off the edges. Cut into 9 bars. Dust with confectioners sugar, if desired. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
* To make the preserved lemons, I used Elise's recipe from Simply Recipes

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Almond Joy Tart

When I saw the Almond Joy tart on the list for BAKED Sunday Mornings, I knew I’d make it while home for Christmas because my Father loves the candy bar. I wound up making it as a dessert for our Christmas dinner and it was so good, I decided to make it again on my return home.

BAKED Sunday Mornings is an online baking group who are baking through Baked Explorations: New Frontiers in Baking. I’ve missed quite a few of the recipes the group has done but I’ve enjoyed following along and seeing everyone else’s creations. Now that the rush of the holiday baking season is over, I’m going to be joining in more and I’m looking forward to it.

You can join in too if you like- check out the web page for BAKED Sunday Mornings.

Almond Joy Tart

If you’re interested in the recipe for the tart, it’s posted on the BAKED Sunday Mornings site. This is a pretty simple tart to prepare but the dough can be tricky to work with because it’s quite sticky. Make sure it is well chilled and work quickly! The recipe as written in the book calls for making individual mini tarts but I don’t have that kind of time, gear, or patience. I think it worked well as a full sized tart- I used a 9” pan and the ingredient quantities as written were sufficient.