Friday, May 27, 2011

Lime Raspberry Cookie Sandwiches

I took a class with Nick Malgieri a while back, and at the end of it, like a good businessman, he brought stacks of his new cookbook The Modern Baker to sell.

It's a beautiful book, with lots of pictures (I'm one of those suckers who love cookbooks with pictures--food porn!) and tantalizing recipes.  I'd never made any until I tried these lime wafers, which are buttery, tart, and delicious, and not too hard to make.

But then I thought, how can I up the ante?  Maybe by turning them into sandwiches with a raspberry filling?

These cookies are over-the-top and have been winning rave reviews from my tasters, but see for yourselves...

Lime-Raspberry Cookie Sandwiches
(adapted from Nick Malgieri's The Modern Baker)

Lime Cookie Dough
1 3/4 cup flour
7/8 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
zest from 1 large lime
1 1/2 sticks butter cut into 12 pieces
1 large egg

Lime Sugar Coating
3/4 cup green crystal sugar
zest of 1 small lime

Raspberry Filling
1 12-oz jar of your favorite raspberry jam or preserves

In the bowl of a large food processor, add flour, sugar, salt, and lime zest and pulse 10 times to combine.  Add butter and pulse until it is completely mixed with dry ingredients, but mixture remains powdery.  Add egg and pulse until dough forms a ball.

Remove dough and roll into a cylinder about 8 inches long.  In a small bowl, combine green sugar and lime zest and work together with your fingertips to release lime flavor into the sugar.  Pour sugar onto parchment paper in a wide line, about 8 inches long.  Roll dough cylinder in sugar until outside is coated completely. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 and set racks in upper and lower thirds.

Cut dough log into 1/4 inch slices and arrange on baking sheets lined with parchment about 1 inch apart. Bake cookies until firm and golden around edges, about 15 minutes.  Slide the parchment off the pans to cool cookies.

While cookies cool, bring the jam to a simmer in a small saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken.  If the jam isn't seedless, pass it through a fine-mesh sieve.

Spoon about a teaspoon of jam on the flat side of a cookie and top with a second cookie, gently pressing together. Dust with confectioners' sugar.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rhubarb Bars

photo by Anthony Palatta

I saw this recipe online a year ago, right after rhubarb season, and I've been waiting since then for rhubarb to come back into the markets.

It comes from a blog by Lara Ferroni, who lovingly photographed the rhubarb-bar making process on her lovely site.

The recipe worked perfectly, but there were a few modifications I'd make.

First, some of her ingredients were listed in grams, which I don't usually use for measuring, so I've converted those.

Next, she calls for a 5 x 9 baking pan to make the bars, which isn't a size that I have, so I changed the recipe to make in a 9 x 13 pan.  (Plus, that way you get more bars!)

Finally, as delicious as the final results were, I found I wanted a bit more flavor on the end, so I'm suggesting adding a teaspoon of vanilla to the curd.

By the way, the crust is absolutely perfect for any kind of filling:  lemon bars, lime bars, whatever you like.  The secret is pre-baking the crust BEFORE adding the semi-cooked filling. You can see more on this on Joe Pastry's website, where Lara got her crust recipe.

Dust these with powdered sugar immediately before serving.  (The sugar dissolves into the top of the bars pretty quickly.)  They're a great use of rhubarb for springtime!

Rhubarb Bars, adapted from Lara Ferroni
(Yield:  about 20 bars)

Begin by making rhubarb curd:

3/4 pound rhubarb (deep red stalks, or else add a bit of food coloring after cooking)
1/3 cup sugar (1/4 cup goes on the rhubarb immediately after chopping; reserve a tablespoon and a teaspoon for later)
6 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar  

a pinch of salt

1 teaspoon lemon zest 
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut up into 1/2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Wash and chop rhubarb into 1/2 inch chunks, trimming off the ends of the stalks. In a medium sized pot, stir the rhubarb and 1/4 cup of sugar together and let sit for about 10 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of water and transfer to the stove, cooking over low heat until you can no longer see whole pieces. Turn off the heat, blend to a smooth puree, and let cool to room temperature.

While waiting for the pureed rhubarb to cool, bake the crust.  Preheat oven to 350.  In a mixing bowl, combine:

2 sticks of room temperature butter
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt

Mix with the paddle attachment until the dough comes together into a ball.  Press into a lightly greased 9 x 13 baking pan and let rest for 15 minutes, then bake for about 20 minutes until the crust is light golden brown.

While the crust is baking, you can finish the rhubarb curd.

In a double boiler, whisk 6 egg yolks, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Whisk until well combined and warm.  Add about 1 cup of the stewed rhubarb and the lemon zest.  Keep stirring until the mixture is warm again. Check for taste and add more of the pureed rhubarb until you get the desired flavor and color. Remove from heat and stir in the butter chunks and the vanilla.

If you are not using the curd immediately, let it cool to room temperature and then store refrigerated for up to a week.

Remove the crust from the oven when it's baked and top with the curd, then bake another 10 minutes, until the curd has set. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate if desired (it’s easier to slice when chilled, but not necessary). Dust with powdered sugar immediately before serving, then slice into bars.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking the Weekend Off

Hi, Sweet Spot Fans!

I'm taking this week off, while attending a literary conference in New Orleans.  Check in next weekend for more desserts...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Perfect for Spring: Strawberry-Rhubarb Tart

This tart recipe is nice and straightforward, and would go well with just about any berry topping. The secret weapon:  cream cheese!

I based this on a recipe for a rhubarb tart in Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. It starts with a cream cheese-based shell made of:

1 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
3 oz cream cheese, cold

Pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor, just to combine.  Then add the butter and pulse until you get small pea-sized crumbs.  Next, add the cream cheese, and pulse until the mixture just starts to come together when you press a handful in your palm.

Pour out the mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap and mold the dough into a ball.  Flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 1 hour, up to 1 day before using.

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out the dough into a circle, about 1/8 inch thick.  Fit dough into a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom and press it into the corners.  Trim off any excess from the top.  Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork and chill the tart shell until firm, about 20 minutes in the freezer or 40 in the fridge.  (I'd recommend freezer.)

Preheat your oven to 350.  Line chilled shell with parchment and fill with pie weights.  Bake until edges just turn golden, about 20 minutes.  Remove parchment and weights and continue baking until crush is DEEP golden brown all over about 12 minutes.  You want a nice firm, fairly brown crust or it will soften too much with your filling.  Cool completely.  (You can make this a day ahead, cover loosely and leave at room temperature.)

Now making your berry topping. Hull a pint of strawberries, slice in half, mix with 2 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp lemon juice, and let this sit at room temp for 20 minutes.  You could substitute any berry you like for the strawberries.  (You could do this a day ahead of time.)

You could also poach 1 lb of rhubarb, trimmed into 2-inch pieces.  Bring 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and 1 tbsp vanilla to a boil.  Add rhubarb, turn off the heat, cover, and let stand until rhubarb is just tender.  Check frequently as you don't want to overcook the rhubarb.  This process could take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.  Drain the rhubarb on paper towels before adding to your tart.

I did a mix of strawberry and rhubarb in the tart above.

Now for the secret that you don't see in the picture:  a fresh, lemony filling that is simply 4 oz of cream cheese at room temperature, zest of 1 lemon, 2 tbsp of sugar, and 1/4 cup sour cream.  Beat until smooth, and then spread over the cooled tart shell.  Top with your berries and serve as soon as possible, or keep chilled in the fridge up to 4 hours.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


photo by Anthony Palatta

I've been watching Martha Bakes on the Hallmark Channel, and when I saw this recipe for fudgy brownies, I thought I'd give it a try. I wasn't thrilled with the results, and I'm not sure if the problem was with me or the recipe.

My first issue:  Martha has you dust the baking pan with cocoa powder rather than flour, which prevents the white streaks that you'd get if you used flour but gives a bitter taste to the edges of your brownie.

Actually, when I make brownies, I find that buttered parchment or a buttered pan works just fine, so why use cocoa powder or flour?

Next, the brownie batter has only brown sugar, which again gives the brownies a darker, earthier taste than white sugar, which has a cleaner, sweeter flavor.

Finally, the recipe calls for an 8 x 8 pan, but when I filled mine, the batter came up the sides way higher than it did on Martha's show, resulting in thick brownies that never quite cooked through and were impossible to cut cleanly. I noticed that a reviewer left a comment on Martha's blog complaining about the same thing, but then after a website redesign, that comment was gone!

I think if I were to try this recipe again, I'd use a buttered 9 x 9 pan, and maybe do half white and half brown sugar and see how it goes.