Although I realize I may still be “young” in the grand scheme of things (I am, right? RIGHT?!), lately I’ve become increasingly more satisfied with my Old Lady Tendencies. Soup for dinner? Love it. A cup of tea and an 8:30 bedtime? The stuff of dreams. I’ve even invested in a brand-new pair of glasses that are decidedly more statement-making than any pair I’ve ever owned, and have made good on my commitment to better my ocular health by getting my contacts out as close to sunset as possible. I also think more about things like “ocular health”, and am now somehow old enough to be the parent of a very clever first-grader, who upon being asked for her opinion about my new glasses immediately responded with, Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find the non-fiction section? Kids these days, I tell ya.
But sometimes, when trying to make myself feel a little better about the years passing so quickly, I remind myself that I’ve always been a bit of an old soul in my preferences. Like my lifelong love of sitting with cookbooks and reading them like novels. I remember paging through my grandfather’s heavy, peeling copy of The Frugal Gourmet, and another old volume on Italian cooking from his shelf, the title of which escapes me at the moment. I didn’t exactly know the reason why I loved these cookbooks and their recipes so much, only that I greatly preferred them over my mother’s red-checked copy of Better Homes and Gardens and the white plastic file box encasing McCall’s Great American Recipe Card Collection, which was always shoved into a kitchen cabinet (maybe the oh-so-natural 1970s food styling of delicious things such as “Versatile Chicken in Aspic” and “Hot Egg and Tuna Buns” was a turn-off?).
Of course, all these years later, now I know why certain cookbooks drew me in as much as Beverly Clearly books, if not more. What I loved so much about certain cookbooks was the personality of the book itself–the headnotes, the writing voice, the ability of these cookbook authors to transport me into their worlds and philosophies with their recipes and the text that appeared between them. Personality is still something I look for (now in a much more conscious way) when adding cookbooks to my collection, and a quality I’m always hoping to capture when writing my own cookbooks. The way I see it, you can get perfectly useful recipes from 1 zillion sources on the internet, and most of them don’t give you a clue as to who developed and wrote them. That’s fine in many cases. But when I spend money on a cookbook, and make room for it in my already-stuffed collection, it’s because I love the whole vibe of the book, and the unique point of view of the person who wrote it. I like lots of vibrant words in my books, people. Lots.
Many times, the cookbooks I like best are written by people whose culinary points of view are nothing like mine, and often they deliver the kinds of recipes and advice that provide awesome, Oprah-esque “A-HA!” moments as I flip through the pages. Even when those “A-HA!” moments are admittedly so off my everyday radar that I find myself going “People really DO that?!” along with my “AH-A!”s. I like a little aspiration with my inspiration, what can I say?
I recently got my hot little hands on a book called Brown Eggs and Jam Jars that fits this very description, and after a couple weeks of stroking the pages and swooning over the photography and “A-HA!”-ing, finally got to bake from it this past weekend. You probably know Aimee Wimbush-Bourque from her widely popular blog Simple Bites. You may also know her from her outstanding ability to flawlessly Instagram her picturesque Canadian life, whilst doing fabulous things like making her own yogurt and tapping her own maple syrup, and HELLO, SHE HAS THREE SMALL CHILDREN. Talk about inspiring. I can’t even deal with all her Urban Homesteading Realness. Glorious!
When you’re not swooning over the photos of an outdoorsy, flushed-cheeked, French-Canadian life fueled by insanely delicious things like Coconut Cream Baked Oatmeal, Smoked Salmon and Arugula Gougeres, Cheeseburgers with Smoky Onions, and Brussels Sprouts with Honey and Hazelnuts, you’ll find tons of great information and soulful story in this book’s pages. I’m especially loving Aimee’s approach to batch cooking and her ability to stock a mean pantry, both of which make abundant eating in a busy life possible, even when you’ve got tiny people running around. If anyone’s going to make that seem within reach, it’s Aimee. For now, I’ll start with one of her irresistible dessert recipes, because that’s how I roll. Baby steps to homemade yogurt-making. Baby steps.
Cinnamon Shortbread Bars with Dark Chocolate Ganache
From Aimee Wimbush-Bourque’s Brown Eggs and Jam Jars
It may seem like cutting an 8×8-inch pan of anything into 36 squares would make for too-teeny portions, but with the richness of the ganache and sweet-salty shortbread with a hint of warm spice, one little square goes a long way. When it comes to ingredients here, there’s not many of them, so use the good stuff–organic butter and cream, raw cane sugar (sometimes labeled “organic sugar” or evaporated cane juice), Vietnamese cinnamon, and chocolate with at least 60% cacao content.
Makes 36 small squares
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks/6 ounces/170 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces/100 grams) raw cane sugar (see note)
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces/192 grams) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
4 ounces (113 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup (5 5/8 ounces/160 grams) heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, and allow paper or foil to overhang on 2 opposite sides.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar on medium to medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Add flour, cinnamon and pinch of salt and mix on low until combined (the dough may look crumbly).
Press shortbread into the prepared pan using your fingertips, and then follow up with a flat-bottomed glass or measuring cup to make sure the dough is firmly pressed into the entire pan. Bake for until edges begin to turn golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack.
In a small saucepan, warm cream with a pinch of salt over medium heat until it just begins to boil. Remove the pan from heat and add in chocolate, stirring vigorously with a spatula until chocolate is melted and smooth. Let ganache cool and thicken for 10 minutes. Pour the ganache over the cooled shortbread and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Chill for at least 4 hours or until the ganache is set.
Loosen the sides of the shortbread with a sharp knife. Using the parchment or foil “handles”, remove slab of bars from the pan to a cutting board. Use a large, sharp knife to cut the slab into 36 squares. Store leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
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