Friday, July 20, 2012

Lavender Lemon Bars

Let me tell you a little story.
A story about one fateful day when I bought a three dollar "homemade" lemon bar and immediately regretted it as soon as I took the first bite...
Sugar. Oh, the sugar. Cloyingly sweet, artificial, and eggy filling over an underbaked crust held together by cold fat and flour. Oh, man it was bad and three dollars too...what a chump. I could have spent that three dollars a number of places and I will never get it back because I traded it for a tummy ache.

I always say if I want a good dessert, I have to make it myself. I was in a mood for a lemon bar and I thought I could get by without actually having to make one. But like that coconut cream pie that I had to make myself because the one at the diner I got it from tasted like tanning oil, or the bread pudding that tasted like a wet sponge, or like any cupcake I eat anywhere, ever, it fell so short of my expectations that I am forced to make it myself.

But that's ok because these are so, so, soososo, good. Light and floral and tart!

My classic Shortbread crust with lavender and the lemon bar filling adapted from the Tartine cookbook.

Lavender Shortbread Lemon Bars
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces
1/2 tablespoon dried lavender

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbsp lemon juice
lemon zest, grated from 1 small lemon
6 large whole eggs
1 large egg yolk
salt pinch
Powdered sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 and line an 8x8 inch pan with foil or parchment paper, leaving two sides longer than the edge of the pan.
Finely chop the dried lavender with a knife or in a spice grinder and set aside.
Whisk the flour and powdered sugar until combined and add the chunks of cold butter. With a pastry blender, two forks or working quickly with your hands cut the butter into the flour until you make coarse crumbs. Midway through, when the butter is almost completely incorporated, add the lavender. Press the dough into the pan and bake until golden brown on top about 15-18 minutes.

While the crust is baking, make the filling: Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until blended, Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk with the salt. (This will allow you to completely beat the eggs and incorporate them easier into the lemon sugar mixture without beating in too much air in the process). Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.

Pour the lemon mixture onto the hot crust and reduce the temperature to 300. Bake another 20-26 minutes or until the filling no longer jiggles.

Cool completely and chill well before cutting. Lift the bars out of the pan by pulling on the extra foil and cut into bars, squares or triangles and dust with powdered sugar.


Monday, July 2, 2012

My first cookbook came with a doll my mother bought me when I was about 6.
I had recipes for ants on a log (raisins on a peanut butter filled celery stick), "fun-dough", a mixture of flour water, salt and food coloring I used to make a model of a giraffe for my 3rd grade animal project that landed me a pretty sweet "A". None of these recipes required cooking but that was ok. I sat up on my stool with the recipes, ingredients, plastic measuring spoons that I think my mother still has and I loved it.
When I was about 19 I became obsessed with baking (I see not much has changed) and I bought myself a copy of Good Housekeeping's Baking at a second hand store for 3 dollars. I baked and baked and baked and I fell in love with reading book after book on baking. Now I have about 40 cookbooks and am currently writing my own.
My most recent purchase was Ripe by Cheryl Sternman Rule, a Silicon Valley blogger I have been following for years. Oh my, it is gorgeous and written just the way I eat: simple, seasonal and colorful. The first recipe I made was the Rhubarb Cherry Mini Crisp but I changed it a bit...I added strawberries to the rhubarb cherry mixture and almond meal to the streusel topping and I piled everything in a large dish to serve family-style to my parents and fiance.
The book is separated by color and a single recipe per fresh, ripe ingredient is accompanied by a lovely picture of the finished product. Since the farmer's market is my absolute favorite place to be in the summertime I will be making quite a few of these dishes. Next up, Peach Mascarpone Flatbreads with fresh onions, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
I was involved in a conversation recently inspired by an article I read by L.V Anderson on how cookbooks are out of style and will become obsolete.
False. Curse whoever thinks that the printed word will be replaced by digital formats! People have died for books, protested for and against books. Civilizations have been built on words written in books. I learned how to make fun-dough...from a book! Our lives, with each book we read shapes who we are and technology will enhance it but certainly not replace it. This book is unlike any of the books currently on my shelf and I will be cooking from it for a very long time.