Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

If you believe that fancy, complicated desserts are what bakeries were invented for, carry on, nothing to see here. However, if you love days-long baking projects which result in the most extraordinary of desserts, guaranteed to elicit oohs and ahs around the Thanksgiving table, continue reading, because, boy, oh boy, do I have a recipe for you!

Seriously, the making of this dessert, from Joanne Chang’s flour cookbook, falls into the “redonkulous” category. The book’s subtitle “Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café” is a completely accurate description. If you want to impress your in-laws, your boss or just plain love a challenge, this is it.

Rich and I baked this roasted pear and cranberry crostata last January during a blizzard. We figured we weren’t going anywhere and I had some extra pears lying around from a chutney project. It took an entire day to prepare. It’s basically the opposite of the idiot-proof Jacques Pepin apple gallete recipe that takes 15 seconds to prepare.

Hindsight is 20/20, and if I was to do it again, I would prep each piece of this dessert one step at a time over a three day period. It’s much more manageable that way. And don’t worry if you start on this project and soon realize you’re really not in the mood to take it all the way through. The pate brisée can be refrigerated for up to four days, and frozen for up to a month. I think the roasted pears, tossed with ginger, butter and sugar, makes a scrumptious dessert on its own. Or over ice cream – it’s up to you, really. And the frangipane, well, you can just spoon that right into your mouth if you like.

ROASTED PEAR AND CRANBERRY CROSTATA from Joanne Chang’s flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

Makes one 9-inch crostata (serves 8 to 10)

Ingredients

9 Bosc pears, peeled, halved and cored

1-inch knob fresh ginger, thinly sliced

½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

¼ cup (1/2 stick/56 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Pâte Brisée (recipe follows)

Frangipane (recipe follows)

1 cup (100 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 Tablespoons sanding sugar, pearl sugar, or granulated sugar

Directions

Position a rack in the center oven, and heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, toss together the pears, ginger, granulated sugar and butter. Roast, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the pears are soft when pierced with a knife tip and golden. Let cool completely. (The pears can be roasted for up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter and ¼ inch thick. Place the dough circle in the prepared baking sheet.

Using the back of a spoon or a small rubber spatula, spread the frangipane in the middle of the dough round in a circle about 9 inches in diameter, leaving a 3-inch border uncovered.

Place about 8 pear halves, cut-side down, in a circle in a single layer on the top of the frangipane, lining them up with the edge of the frangipane and with the stem ends pointing toward the middle. Place 1 or 2 pear halves in the center to cover the frangipane circle completely. Sprinkle ¾ cup (75 grams) of the cranberries evenly on top of the pears. Top the first layer of pears with a second layer of pears, using about 7 halves and reserving 1 pear half, arranging them in a smaller concentric circle. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup (25) grams of cranberries evenly on top of the second layer of pears.

Place the reserved pear half on a cutting board. Using a paring knife, and starting at the squat bottom end, cut four or five lengthwise slices, stopping just short of the stem end. Fan the slices, and place the pear half in the center of the second layer of pear halves. Starting at one side of the crostata, fold the 3-inch border of dough up and over the fruit, forming six to eight loose pleats around the perimeter and pressing the pleats firmly together onto the fruit. The center of the crostata will remain exposed in a 3-to 4-inch circle, showing off the fanned pear. Refrigerate the assembled crostata for at least 1 hour before baking. (At this point, the crostata can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 day before baking.)

Position the rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush the pleated pastry with the beaten egg, then sprinkle evenly with the sanding sugar. Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the pleats are golden brown. Make sure all of the folds are evenly browned, so there are no chewy underbaked bits of dough in the finished crostata. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The crostata can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

PÂTE BRISÉE

Makes about 10 ounces dough, enough for one 9-inch single-crust pie, 10-inch crostata, or 9-inch quiche

Ingredients

1 cup (140 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon (1 stick plus 1 Tablespoon/128 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 egg yolk

2 Tablespoons cold milk

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Scatter the butter over the top and mix on low speed for about 45 seconds, or until the flour is no longer bright white and holds together when you clump it and pecan-size lumps of butter are visible throughout.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and milk until blended. Add to the flour-butter mixture all at once. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the dough barely comes together. It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.

Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and gather it together into a tight mound. Using your palm and starting on one side of the mound, smear the dough bit by bit, starting at the top of the mound and then sliding your palm down the side and along the work surface, until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the dough comes together. Do this once or twice on each part of the dough, moving through the mound until the whole mess has been smeared into a cohesive dough with streaks of butter.

Gather up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and press down to flatten into a disk about 1 inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

FRANGIPANE

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

1/3 cup (50 grams) blanched whole almonds, or ½ cup (50 grams) almond flour

¼ cup (1/2 stick/56 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼ cup (50 grams) sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

Directions

If using whole almonds, grind them in a food processor as finely as possible without turning them into paste. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or hand-held mixer or wooden spoon), cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until light. Add the ground almonds or almond flour and beat on medium speed for 1 minute, or until thoroughly incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

On low speed, beat in the egg. Add the all-purpose flour, vanilla, and salt and mix until combined. You should have about 1 cup. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, then let sit for a few hours at room temperature before using. Or, freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, then thaw it in the refrigerator before using.

The Missing Piece

For nearly half a year, I’ve been searching for the disc stem for my food processor. It’s in my kitchen, somewhere. I have this vague memory of me removing the stem from the disc and the processor and saying to myself, oh, I’ll just put this right here so I won’t lose it. But now I don’t know where that place was.

My friend Mike is a neuroscientist, and he hypnotizes patients for his sleep studies. I’ve asked him to hypnotize me to that moment in time when I was last with my stem. He says he’ll do it, but there’s a 50% chance he’ll make me squawk like a chicken instead. I don’t know if I can take that risk.

I’ve opened drawers and cupboards, stood on ladders, and peered into pots. Nothing. Last week, I made my friend Ben, who towers over everyone in the room at 6’5”, search the kitchen. I figured, given his bird’s eye view of the world, he could see things I cannot. He spent 45 minutes in my kitchen. Still no luck.

I’ve gone on eBay, the Black and Decker replacement parts page, and Sears and Roebuck. It turns out my processor, purchased in 2001, is a discontinued model. “Obsolete,” is the actual wording used to describe my missing stem. I prefer the term “vintage.”

The funny thing is, I didn’t even know I was in the market for a food processor when I found out I needed one. The fall after my college graduation, my boyfriend at the time and I were given the task of making the stuffing for his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I called my mom for a recipe. “Step 1,” she said, “get out your food processor.” “But Mom,” I said, “I don’t have a food processor.” “Step  1: go to Macy’s and buy a food processor.” Off to 34th Street I went, and I have to admit, shoving two bags of celery stalks and carrots down the chute and through the grater made my life much easier.

The machine has helped me whip up countless pestos, a dead simple romesco sauce I really need to post at some point, dips, and piles of perfect bread crumbs. Heck, even Alice Waters, who abhors all sorts of things electric, has a food processor.

This summer, before I knew the predicament I was in, I made these biscuits. They were perfect.

But now we’re in November, I’ve got stuffing on my mind, and as I pointed out to Rich as I was turning over the kitchen looking for the stem yet again, I’m on a Chanukah countdown. He assures me that he will grate every potato, or onion, or parsnip, or sweet potato, or zucchini that I see fit to be fried in oil and deemed a latke, but I still want to find the missing piece.

I am relieved that although I cannot find the stem for the grater to my food processor, I can still make this apple galette recipe by Jacques Pepin. In a food processor, it takes about 15 seconds. It’s the easiest dough recipe I’ve ever used, even easier than the Dutch apple cake, and is up there as one of the most delicious things I’ve ever baked. Since it’s a Jacques Pepin recipe, you know it’s going to be perfect.

It’s such an easy recipe, in fact, that the first time I made it, I whipped up the dough and stuck it in the fridge (it’s one of those recipes where you have to put the dough in the fridge for a bit), and had Rich take it the rest of the way. He did. It was perfect. Weeks later, after I raved to someone else about the perfect galette, Rich whispered to me that he didn’t even follow the directions about decoratively arranging the apples into concentric circles. “I just kind of dumped it in the middle.” Inelegant? Yes. Perfectly delicious? Yes. Dead simple? Yes.

The dough can surround either fruits or veggies; there is so little sugar in this recipe – just a little more than a teaspoon – that I often toy with the idea of making a savory filling, maybe adding a little sage to the dough. I haven’t yet tried that, so if anyone does, I’d love to hear about the results. In the meantime, I’ll use up more of my CSA apples, and do a few more go-arounds of my kitchen in search of my disc stem.

Apple Galette

Because the pastry is free-form, it can be rolled into a circle or rectangle. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly shaped; there’s a rustic quality to this dish which makes an uneven galette even more charming. Pepin suggests serving this as a buffet offering, slicing it into pizza-style slices to be eaten standing up.

Active Time: 30 Minute

Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients

Pastry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/3 cup ice water

Topping

4 Golden Delicious apples (really, any apple will do)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon honey, preferably wildflower

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

PREPARE THE PASTRY In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and process until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds; you should still be able to see small pieces of butter in it. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled. (You can also roll out the pastry and use it right away.)

PREPARE THE TOPPING Peel, halve and core the apples and slice them crosswise 1/4 inch thick. Set aside the larger center slices and coarsely chop the end slices and any broken ones; about half of the slices should be chopped. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.

Preheat the oven to 400°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a 12-by-14-inch rectangle and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet. Spread the chopped apples over the pastry to within 1 inch of the edge. Drizzle the honey over the chopped apples. Decoratively arrange the apple slices on top in concentric circles or in slightly overlapping rows. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the apples and dot with the pieces of butter. Fold the pastry edge up and over the apples to create a 1-inch border.

Bake the galette for about 1 hour, until the pastry is nicely browned and crisp and all of the apples are tender. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the galette cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make Ahead: The buttery pastry can be refrigerated overnight.

‘Tis the gift to be simple

This humble, 2”x 4” piece is all that remains of the full 12″x 16” apple cake I baked yesterday. It was, I am pleased to announce, the easiest cake I’ve ever made, and quite possibly, the most delicious apple cake I’ve ever encountered. I found the recipe in a Shaker cookbook, which makes sense. Humble, simple, perfect in its simplicity, it exemplifies Shaker cooking, which the cookbook describes as “plain, wholesome food well prepared.”

I must admit, I was doubtful at first: “Is that all I have to do?” Which was soon followed by, “How is this little bit of batter going to fill up this huge pan?” Well, it did fit, just at the bottom, after I scraped it around to fill in the gaps and made sure it was even. Be sure to scrape the cracklings – the sugary crust – off the bottom and the sides, when serving. It’s the best part.

Dutch Apple Cake from Shaker Your Plate: Of Shaker Cooks and Cooking by Sister Frances A. Carr

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

½ cup milk

2 cups flour

2 heaping teaspoons baking powder

4 apples (the recipe calls for 6 –8, although I’m stumped as to how to squeeze in that many onto the batter PLEASE NOTE: I just made the cake and could only squeeze two apples onto the batter. My advice is to go halve by halve.)

½ cup butter or margarine, melted

½ to ¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix the sugar, eggs, milk, flour and baking powder together. Pour mixture in a 12” x 16” pan. Pare and slice the apples. Lay them on the cake batter real [sic] closely together. Pour the melted butter over all and sprinkle the sugar which has been combined with the cinnamon. Bake until apples are tender. This should take about 30 – 35 minutes.

Borei Pie HaGafen

For many American Jews, the Concord grape is synonymous with our traditions and holidays; a local ice cream chain, JP Licks, even sells a Manischewitz grape sorbet during April to celebrate Passover. In fact, when Rich and I were first dating, his Nana Parr – one of the best bakers I’ve ever met; I have the sugar cookie recipe, and will post it, promise – thoughtfully gave me a bottle of the sweet wine for the holidays. Granted, my parents were never big Concord grape wine fans – they’d be much more likely to serve a newly discovered gem from the Golan or perhaps something from Napa – but the flavor reminds me of grape juice, which was always the kiddie option at our table. The irony, of course, is that this Jewish flavor is also the most American taste out there. The grape was developed only a couple of miles from where I’m writing this, about 150 years ago.

All this is to explain why I choose to forgo bringing last year’s perfect plum cake to my parents’ for Rosh Hashana this year, and why I instead brought this Concord grape pie, made with the white grapes from my CSA. Deborah Madison writes, “This pie is truly America’s own, made from our native Concords in the northeast and Midwest, or Muscadines in the south.”

Before you scroll down to the recipe and say, “No thank you, that looks like way too much effort,” hear me out. This recipe doesn’t need to be made all at once. In fact, you’re better off doing it in separate steps. I made the ridiculously simple crust, which requires refrigeration, on Monday night, and then made the pie on Tuesday. And that part about separating the grape skins? Rich came and helped me with that step, and we were done in less than 10 minutes. And the food mill, which I know I’ve made the case for in the past, once again serves its purpose in getting rid of those pesky seeds.

We ate this pie for dessert on the second night of Rosh Hashana, after enjoying a dairy meal which was washed down with our pomegranate cocktails. My mom had the great idea to serve it with a scoop of ice cream and sprinkle berries on top. I doubt our purchase of Friendly’s granola and honey frozen yogurt is going to save the company from bankruptcy, but the flavor worked perfectly for this dish. This pie, as my friend Audrey exclaimed while enjoying the final slice, tastes like the good parts of Passover. Obviously, this recipe won’t work Pesach, let alone you’d be hard pressed to find ripe Concord grapes in April, but you can certainly make this for Succot later this month.

Concord Grape Pie from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table

Makes one 9-inch double crust pie; serves 6 to 8

Pie Crust

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

12 Tablespoons ( ¾ cup ) unsalted chilled butter, cut into small pieces

6 to 7 Tablespoons ice water

Filling

2 ½ pounds purple or white Concord grapes

½ to ¾ cup sugar

4 to 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, or 1 Tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 to 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste

1 egg, beaten with 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Directions

To make the pie crust, stir together the flour and salt in a bowl. If you have a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Without a pastry blender, using two knives or your fingers, cut the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Using a fork, stir in the water one tablespoon at a time, adding only enough for the pastry to hold together when pressed. Gather the dough into a ball and divide into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To make the filling, pluck the grapes off their stems. You should have about four cups. Pinch them out of their skins, putting the insides into a saucepan and the skins into a bowl. Put the pan over medium heat, add ½ cup sugar, and cook until the grapes turn white, about three minutes. Pass them through a food mill placed over a bowl to rid them of their seeds, then add the skins to the pulp. Taste and, if it seems sour, add the remaining sugar while the pulp is still hot. Whisk in the flour or tapioca (use the larger amount of flour if the grapes were watery) and add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Let the mixture stand while you roll out the pie.

Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F. On a lightly floured board, roll the larger piece of dough into an 11-inch round. Ease it into a 9-inch pie pan and press it gently against the sides. Add the filling and brush the edges with water. Roll the second piece into a 9-inch round, set it over the filling, and crimp the edges. Make two slashes on the top for vents, and brush with the egg mixture.

Set the pie on a baking sheet in the center of the oven. After 10 minutes, lower the heat to 350 degrees F and bake until the crust is nicely browned, about 25 minutes. Remove to a rack and cool. Serve warm.

The Great (E)scape

In the past week, I have found myself in no fewer than four conversations with people scratching their heads as to what to do with some of the contents of their weekly CSAs. Things like strawberries and arugula are pretty much no-brainers – in fact, a salad of just those two things is quite lovely – but alien-looking kohlrabi and twisty garlic scapes seem to stump most folks, myself included.

I have yet to receive kohlrabi in my own box, but two weeks in a row I’ve gotten bunches of scapes, the green shoots that grow out from the heads of some types of garlic. Otherwise known as green garlic,  baby garlic, or garlic flowers, among other aliases, they’re much milder than garlic cloves.

Based on my conversations, the default blueprint for garlic-scaping is a pesto recipe, via a Washington Post blog. I’m here to report, first and foremost, that said recipe is very tasty indeed. Tossed with pasta, it makes a very nice dinner and a very portable lunch. But when Scapes: Round Two arrived in the CSA box, I felt the need to branch out. I am happy to report a new development in scape-ology, and I owe it all to Rich.

No, he didn’t come up with the recipe, but he offered up the inspiration. When I told him that we were having yet another dinner featuring red leaf lettuce salad, he asked if we could pick up garlic bread at the supermarket. (We were actually headed over there later that day, to meet with a financial adviser from our bank. Yes, our bank is in our supermarket, which is not so much convenient as depressing. Think strip mall instead of Le Corbusier.) What Rich had in mind were those supermarket bakery loaves, impregnated with garlic and butter and sold in foil bags so that they can go straight into the oven. And that’s when it hit me: garlic-scape bread.

The recipe I’ve come up with is so painfully obvious, I’m embarrassed that it has taken me until now to come up with it. It’s basically the same formula as the pesto: scape-paste incorporated with fat (butter instead of oil), served with starch (bread instead of pasta).

An added bonus: the compounded butter turns a wonderful shade of pea green. Rich asked what, if anything, had I added to achieve its springtime hue. Not a thing. Call me a garlic-scape bread purist.

Incidentally, our meeting with the financial adviser was remarkably pain free. We ran some life insurance quotes and discovered, actuarially speaking, that I’m a safer bet than Rich. “Women eat more vegetables than men,” the adviser observed by way of explanation. True, but I don’t think he had this recipe in mind…

Don't be fooled by the green. That's mostly butter in there.

Garlic-Scape Bread

Ingredients

One bunch of garlic scapes, approximately 10 shoots

One stick of unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Pinch of salt

One loaf of bread — French or Ciabatta, whatever your preference; we grabbed a day-old, discounted baguette which did the job just fine.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Roughly chop the scapes on a cutting board. Add to the bowl of a food processor and process about 15 seconds. Add butter and salt and process for another 15 seconds or so, until the butter and scapes form a paste.

There are two ways to tackle the assemblage: Either slice the loaf length-wise and shmear or cut a dozen or so horizontal slits across the top and apply the butter inside each. Or cut the loaf in half and try both. Wrap the loaf in foil and toss in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and enjoy.

Campaign Cookies: Why I started baking.

Cookies for volunteers.

I never considered myself much of a baker. But when I captained a phone bank in last year’s special election (don’t get me started), I thought the least I could do for my volunteers was to reward them with some good cookies. I came across this recipe and took a liking to it.

After mastering this simple recipe, I realized there was nothing stopping me from baking all sorts of things, from lemon bars to macarons to challah to apple cake.  But today, I found myself wanting to bake these cookies again.

This is a pantry recipe. It involves butter, which should just live in your freezer, so you’ll always have it at hand. You should have eggs in the fridge, and everything else you’d have on hand in your pantry. Chocolate chips and dried fruit? In your pantry. Or, you might have to store chips in your freezer if your pantry gets too warm in the summer.

I actually had a bit of trouble with some of my batches of cookies today. The recipe wasn’t off. My oven was. So the cookies in the pics you have here are not my best work. But I promise you it makes a good cookie. If you’re into chewy with lots of good bits of stuff, this recipe is for you. Side note: I actually like the way these cookies taste the next day more than a few hours out of the oven.

The recipe I like to use is from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which has the same ingredients as Toll House, but in different measurements.  They also differ on greasing the pans: Fanny is pro and Toll House is con.

The cookies in these pictures are a mixture of the newly invented Cherry Garcia, chocolate and peanut butter chips, chocolate chip and heath crunch. (I intentionally leave nuts out of my cookies when I don’t know who I’m baking for; it’s just safer that way. But if you know who you’re baking for, have fun with the nuts.)

The amount you want to pay attention to is 1 cup of chips to half a cup something else, say dried fruit or nuts. Make sure to chop up whatever that is, be it dried fruit, or nuts, or both. The Cherry Garcia cookies, for instance, were 1 cup of chips to half a cup chopped dried cherries — which Ocean State Job Lot always has on hand. The Heath Bar Chip? A cup of chips to a half cup Heath Bar bits; the Heath English Toffee Bits, “Bits O’ Brickle Toffee Bits” were actually a pantry addition by Rich and Mike.

Whatever “side” your on, if you want to help out on a campaign but feel weird about talking to strangers, you can pitch in by baking a batch of cookies for the volunteers.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

As you can see, the recipe doubles easily

1/4 pound butter

1/2 dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup and two tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup chopped nuts or chopped dried fruit, or both

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (1 cup)

Preheat oven to 375 and grease some cookie sheets. Cream the butter, then gradually add the two sugars, beating until light and smooth. Beat in the egg and the vanilla. Mix the flour, salt and  baking soda and add it to the first mixture blending well. Stir in the nuts/dried fruit and the chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls* onto the cookie sheets about 1 inch apart and bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

*Please read below for more on this cookie scoop.

Both recipes say you can make an average of 55 cookies with this recipe. It’s more like 2 dozen.

*I don’t usually complain about products, but feel I must in this case. Two weeks ago I had attempted to make cookies for the campaign, but my cookie scoop lost one of its rivets that held the sweeper in place. I couldn’t bring those to the campaign; what if someone bit on that rivet? I brought it back to Crate and Barrel, and they replaced it immediately. This is what happened during today’s baking.

This product is garbage.


“Sometimes you eat the bar…”

Making lemon curd used to scare me until this recipe.

I grew up in a very conservative town, and my nose ring, pink hair and green Doc Martens cast me as a bit of an outsider. But, that doesn’t mean I was alone. I developed some wonderful friendships in high school, and still carry on those friendships to today.

One terrific friend in particular was Caitlyn Webster. I haven’t seen Caitlyn in years — she’s spent the past five years living in Thailand as a web designer. Thailand is pretty darn far away from Western Mass. where we’re from, so whenever Caitlyn would feel homesick, she’d bake all sorts of wonderful things that she used to bake with her grandmother growing up. Her baking became so popular that she ended up writing a book “American Baking by Cee!” — in both Thai and English on facing pages. It’s full of her adventures baking American treats like chocolate chip cookies and the WORLD’S BEST LEMON BARS.

I guess Caitlyn goes by Cee now.

If you’re interested in getting hold of Caitlyn’s wonderful cookbook, please feel free to contact me. In the meantime, check out her gorgeouswebsite about Thai cooking.

Caitlyn will be moving back stateside in the next year to settle down in Portland, Oregon. I’m really looking forward to having a visit with my dear friend from high school, and do things like, as she said this week, “ride our bicycles, go to farmers’ markets, and hear live music.”  I can’t wait, but in the meantime, I have her lemon bars, and now you can, too.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it’s all stuff you should have in your pantry, and even the perishables are things you should keep on hand in your fridge. Lemons are always at least two for a dollar, anywhere. Eggs are always a good thing to have on hand, except these. I have no preference on a brand of butter. For me, the cheapest works just fine. If you see butter on sale, buy a few boxes and store them in the freezer. It will always thaw beautifully and be good to go for baking things, shmearing things, or frying things in a jiffy.

Lemon Bars

From American Baking by Cee!

Makes 12-16 pieces (one 8×8 pan)

Don’t fret if you don’t have a stand mixer. In fact, Caitlyn uses no machines at all in her entire book. All her baking can be and is done by hand.

Ingredients

Crust

Looks like I'm gonna need more flour after tonight.

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ cup powdered sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

Curd

3 eggs

1 ½ cups white sugar

1 tablespoon lemon zest

½ cup fresh lemon juice [I use a whole lemon — MP]

½ cup all purpose flour

Directions

  1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350.
  2. To make the crust: cream the butter and sugar until soft. Add the flour and salt and mix. Press evenly into an ungreased pan and cook for 12 – 15 minutes until lightly browned.

This is my most absolute favoritist dough to work with.

While the crust is cooking, whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and flour in a bowl. Pour this over the finished hot crust and continue baking for another 23 – 25 minutes, until set.

Remove from the heat and let cool completely before cutting.Top with sifted powdered sugar just before serving.