Lemon Bars with Sea Salt

lemon sea salt bars tastefood

Whether you are knee deep in snow or lucky enough to live where lemons grow on trees, these lemon bars will bring a ray of sunshine to your plate. Picture a zingy sweet-tart filling rippling with lemon zest, anchored to a buttery shortbread crust. A smidge of sea salt adorning the top keeps all sweetness in check, allowing the puckery citrus to shine through. These bars are thoroughly addictive and guaranteed to brighten your day. One bar will never be enough.

Lemon Bars with Sea Salt

This recipe is adapted from and inspired by many sources, including Ina Garten, Food52,  and my personal weakness for sea salt. Makes 32 (2-inch) square bars.

Shortbread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened but still cool, cut into cubes

Filling:
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Garnish:
Confectioners sugar
Sea salt flakes, such as Maldon

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking pan, then line the pan with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Combine the shortbread ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix until the dough resembles coarse lumps and just begins to come together. Dump the dough into the prepared pan and, with your fingers, evenly press the dough to cover the bottom of the pan.
3. Bake the crust until it just begins to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, but do not turn off the oven heat.
4. Whisk the filling ingredients together in a large bowl until blended, then evenly pour over the crust. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is set but not coloring, about 25 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack.
5. Cut into bars. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and lightly sprinkle with sea salt flakes before serving.

Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry and a recipe for Rugelach

practicalpantry

Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry

I met Cathy Barrow for the first time this weekend, but I’ve know her for many years. That’s the funny thing about virtual communities. We were early members of Food52 contributing recipes and competing together since its inception. When she launched Charcutepalooza with Kim Foster, a year long meat curing blog event in 2011, I gladly rolled up my sleeves, and participated in a year’s worth of charcuterie-making projects. As Cathy’s career segued into writing with a focus on preserving, I followed her articles in the New York Times and Washington Post. It came as no surprise to me that she would then tackle the topic of preserving food in a cookbook. And knowing her track record, it was also completely natural that she would approach it in an epic, vastly knowledgeable and entirely approachable format, with plenty of appealing recipes to boot. This weekend, Cathy was in San Francisco promoting her book, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry. It was hard to believe we were meeting for the first time; she felt like an old friend.

rugelach

A rustic interpretation of Cathy’s rugelach

No matter where you stand in the canning and preserving spectrum of experience (I call myself a vicarious sideliner), this is a bible worth owning. Whether you are a preserver at heart with a vast pantry stocked to the gills, or a minimalist who simply wants to extend the ample farmers market bounty in a few jars, this book has something for novices, experts and dabblers alike. It provides clear instruction, helpful tips, and easy to master techniques for preserving fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish, canning beans and soups and making cheese. All of this is provided in a a beautifully compiled tome illustrated with 150 stunning photographs by  Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton (of Canal House fame).

As Cathy says, her goal was to provide a vision of what to do with all of your jars of homemade goodness: She didn’t want to simply think about what goes inside of the jar, she wants to inspire us to put the contents of that jar to use. She entices the reader with myriad Bonus Recipes that incorporate all of the great pantry food you create with her book. Examples include a Kale and Potato Galette with Duck Fat Crust, made from home cured duck confit; Grilled Cheese with homemade Fig Marmalade; Beet Salad with Orange and Candied Pecans with home-canned beets. Or how about Hula Skirt Steak with homemade Carmen Miranda Tropical Fruit? I love it when people think outside of the jar.

Raspberry Almond Rugelach
Reprinted with permission from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry

Dough:
4 ounces homemade or store bought cream cheese
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Filling:
1/4 cup toasted nuts (I used almonds), finely chopped
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons soft fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup preserves (I used raspberry)

1 egg yolk, beaten

1. To make the dough, cut the butter and cream cheese into 1-inch cubes. Place the butter, cream cheese, flour, and salt in a metal bowl and freeze for 30 minutes.
2. Transfer the chilled ingredients to a food processor and pulse until the dough forms a shaggy ball, about 20 pulses. Alternatively, cut the butter and cream cheese into the flour with a pastry cutter or two table knives to combine. Scrape the moist, sticky dough onto a floured countertop and form into a 6-inch disk. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment. In a small bowl mix together the nuts, sugar, and bread crumbs.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 9-inch circle. Spread the jam across the surface of the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle the nut mixture over the jam.
5. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the disk into 16 wedges. Starting from the wide end of the long triangle, roll each segment up and press on the pointy end to seal. Place seam side down on the baking sheet and place the pan in the freezer for at least 2 hours.
6. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the egg yolk gently on the tops of the cookies. Place another baking sheet under the cookie-filled sheet (this will keep the rugelach from burning on the bottom). Bake for 22 to 25 minutes. The nuts and jam will have squished out a little and be a little messy; that’s okay. The bottoms of the rugelach should be caramelized, not burned. Transfer to a rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.
7. Store between layers of wax paper in a tightly covered container for up to 3 weeks.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

oatmeal raisin tastefood.jpg
This recipe is the closest I have come to my idea of a perfect oatmeal raisin cookie. It’s packed with oats and raisins with just a little flour to bind it all together, along with a blast of wheat germ for nutty crunch. The result is a crisp and chewy cookie that’s wholesome and rich at once. There is no white sugar in this recipe – only brown sugar which creates a deep caramel sweetness which dissolves in the mouth with every bite.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Refrigerating the cookies before baking will ensure a thicker, chewier cookie. Makes about 30 (2-inch) cookies.

1 3/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 1/2 cups raisins

Whisk the sugar, butter, egg and vanilla together in a large bowl until smooth. Mix the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl. Stir the flour into the butter and sugar and thoroughly combine. Stir in the oats and wheat germ. Add the raisins. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Drop rounded tablespoons of the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Bake until the cookies are set in the middle and golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

coconut macaron tastefood

~ Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons ~

The bane of my childhood candy experience was a Mounds Bar. I just didn’t get it. I would bite into the promising chocolate nugget, which would immediately give way to a chewy, shredded, nutty interior, that in, my opinion, had no rightful place in a chocolate bar. It was clearly the texture that I did not like. I was mystified by my friends who bought super-sized packages of Almond Joys to scarf down when we were at the movies. Every halloween when my brothers and I would pile our loot in the middle of the kitchen table, gloating and eyeing trade-ups, my chocolate covered coconut bars were the first to offer up with no regrets. Sadly, my brothers were not so keen on coconut either, so the negotiating could get ugly.

As a parent, it baffled me that my children loved coconut. But as chief cookie baker, I stepped up to the plate and used coconut more and more freely in bars, cakes, and cookies. And, you know what? I, too, developed a fondness for this tropical “nut”, appreciating its flaky fresh and nutty interruption in a sea of sugar. I guess you could say I grew up.

I eat coconut now, unforced, and prefer it paired with dark chocolate. Sometimes I make macaroons, a jumble of coconut bound together with egg white and condensed milk. Yes, the milk is icky-sweet, but it seems to yield the best  juicy soft interior, which is what prevents dryness and distinguishes a great macaroon. I’ve followed a recipe from Ina Garten from time to time, but switch out some of the sweetened coconut with unsweetened, which I find reduces excessiveness cloyness. Oh, and I always dunk them in dark chocolate, of course – which has a magnificent grounding effect on, well, everything.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Makes about 24

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
8 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
6 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 ounces dark (70%) chocolate, melted

Heat the oven to 350°F (180° C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the milk, coconut, and vanilla in a large bowl and stir to blend.
Beat the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form and then fold into the coconut.

Drop heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of coconut on the baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack. Dip one half of each macaroon in the melted chocolate and transfer to a board or platter lined with parchment. Refrigerate until set.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

almond choc chip tastefood

~ Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies ~

This is no ordinary chocolate chip cookie. It has all of the delectable aspects of a traditional tollhouse-style cookie, but then ups the ante with the addition of almond butter and sea salt. Almond butter does wondrous things to the dough. It’s not as pronounced in flavor as peanut butter which can overwhelm a cookie. Almond butter is mellower with notes of deeply roasted nuts, adding a subtle, golden background to the dough. A dusting of sea salt is an extra flourish – optional but highly recommended. A little salt makes everything taste better, even sweets – especially when chocolate is involved.

(Please accept my apologies if this messes with your New Year’s diet resolutions…)

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 36 cookies

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsalted creamy almond butter (not raw)
1 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl; set aside. Cream the butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Mix well. Mix in the almond butter until smooth. Add the flour and mix to combine, then stir in the chocolate. Refrigerate the batter for at least one hour. (Batter may be refrigerated for up to 24 hours – if you can wait that long).
Heat oven to 350 F. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough on baking sheets lined with parchment. Bake until light golden, about 14 minutes.

Optional: Sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on the cookies before baking.

Speculoos: Ginger Spice and Everything Nice Cookies

And one more cookie for the New Year:

speculaas

~ Speculoos: Spiced Holiday Cookies ~

Speculoos (or Speculaas) cookies are a Belgian and Dutch cookie. They are very spiced, but more fragrant than a gingersnap. What distinguishes a speculoos cookie is 2 things. The first is that they require a spice blend that reads like a laundry list of Asian and East Indian spices. The second is that Speculoos are traditionally prepared in a springerle mold, which produces picture-perfect cookies stamped with quaint images such as windmills, St. Nicholas, angels and cottages. The spice blend is easily prepared with commonly used spices, and you can make a large batch to keep on hand for extra cookies or seasoning breads and cakes. If you don’t have a springerle mold, no worries. The dough may be rolled and shaped with cookie cutters, or simple flattened into disks, as I have done in this recipe. While rolling and flattening may appear a tad less decorative and more homemade, once you take a bite of these spiced cookies you won’t mind one bit – happy new year!

Speculoos Cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies

Spice blend:
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Cookies:
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons speculoos spice blend
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sliced almonds as garnish, optional
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
2. Mix all of the spice blend ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Prepare the cookies: Cream the brown sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the flour, the spice blend, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Add to the sugar and mix until combined without over-mixing.
4. Roll the dough into one-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a water glass to a 1 1/2-inch disk, approximately 1/8-inch thick. Press a few almonds into the top of each cookie and sprinkle with a pinch of Turbinado sugar. Bake until light golden and firm, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Salted Caramel Blondie Bars

Salted Caramel Blondie Bars

You might call these “everything but the kitchen sink bars” but Salted Caramel Blondie Bars (with chocolate and oats) pretty much sums up these rich and chewy nuggets. What prompted this recipe was my discovery of a forgotten jar of homemade salted caramel sauce in the back of the refrigerator. I know: You are thinking, how could anyone forget caramel? Good question, and I admit I’m not proud. To rectify my oversight, I quickly whipped up these blondies today to satisfy a sweet craving, and to start building our sugar tolerance in the lead up to Halloween at the end of the month. To balance out all of the sweet ingredients, a sprinkling of sea salt over the top of the bars helps to tame the excess – which (naturally) enables us to eat more.

Salted Caramel Blondie Bars with Chocolate and Oats

The addition of oats is optional. If oats are omitted, then increase the amount of flour to 2 cups. Makes 36 small squares.

1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, lightly packed
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
3.5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup salted caramel sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking pan. Line with parchment and butter the parchment. Whisk the brown sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla until smooth. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl and whisk to blend. Add to the sugar and butter, stirring to incorporate. Stir in the oats and chocolate. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Drop spoonfuls of the caramel over the batter. Using a sharp knife, swirl the caramel through the batter to evenly distribute. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bake in oven until top begins to turn golden brown and bars are set, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack.