Browsing articles in "Bars & Brownies"
May 11, 2009

Scotch-a-Roos

So if buttermilk pie is the star of the dessert buffet at a small town’s ladies luncheon, then Scotch-a-Roos are the treat that said ladies make for their daughters’ slumber parties. And how can I make such an assumption? Well, the first time I had these diabetic coma-inducing gems was with my dear friend Erin at her parents’ house (a house with a small field for a front yard, mind you) in the can’t-get-more-Midwestern-if-you-tried town of Hartford, Wisconsin.


We were probably a little old for a slumber party at the time, but it was the cap-off to Erin’s bachelorette party that involved a few bars on Hartford’s main drag outfitted with neon signs, dark wood paneling and jukeboxes blasting John Mellencamp, Foreigner and Boston. I vaguely remember bachelorette party essentials like cupcakes in questionable anatomical shapes and there may have been some karaoke as well, but the one thing I’m sure of is that there were Scotch-a-Roos at the afterparty.

At first glance, the Scotch-a-Roo looks somewhat familiar–a golden-hued Rice Krispy treat dressed up with a slick of chocolate over the top. But the first bite reveals something else altogether–an unexpected punch of peanut butter and butterscotch taking the whole thing to the next awesome, chewy level. But I should warn you: if you’ve never had them, it’s probably better to just try one and fall in love with them before you ask how they’re made. Because any recipe that starts with a cup of corn syrup and a cup of sugar makes your molars hurt just hearing about it. But if you think about it, that’s pretty much what marshmallows are minus their incorporated air plus! there is a cup of peanut butter involved as well, so hello, protein! Nevertheless, I usually halve the recipe to curb the extent of their damage–this way my Scotch-a-roo benders can only be a couple days long because my supply runs out faster.

And once you figure out other ways to justify eating half a pan of them in a weekend, you will be oh-so-pleased to learn how delightfully simple they are to create and how quickly they come together. Just bang a few ingredients (ahem, sugar and more sugar) together in a saucepan until bubbly, stir in the PB, toss with the cereal to coat, and while you’re waiting for the sugar to bubble, throw the topping chips into the micro to melt. And then chain yourself to a large piece of furniture in the other room while you wait for the bars to set up in the fridge for a few minutes.

Risking a few cavities never tasted so good. Enjoy!

Scotch-a-Roos

Makes 16 bars

Lining the pan with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper (sprayed with a bit more cooking spray) will allow for easy removal of the Scotch-a-Roo slab and make for neat, even cutting of the bars. This recipe doubles easily–just use a 9×13 inch pan instead.

2 1/2 cups crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (not a time for natural peanut butter, people)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Spray an 8×8 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper if desired (see recipe note).

Pour the cereal into a large mixing bowl.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar into the corn syrup and bring to a bubble, stirring often.

Meanwhile, place the chocolate and butterscotch chips into a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes, stopping to stir every 30 seconds or so, until the chips are melted and smooth. Set aside.

When the sugar has started to bubble, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until melted. Pour the syrup over the cereal and stir until evently coated. Press the mixture into the prepared pan. Spread the melted chocolate in an even layer over the bars. Refrigerate until cool and the chocolate is set, about 20 minutes, before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Apr 4, 2008

Lemon Shortbread

So before my last post, you probably noticed that it had been, um, a

while

since I last visited with you. And some false starts before that. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I just straight up lost my baking mojo, people. But happily, it’s all coming back to me now and everything is getting okay. I’ve been so

glad

to be back in kitchen, holed up with a great cookbook or a promising idea, my steadfast and true KitchenAid mixer purring along, not even once giving me grief for being away for so long. We just don’t speak about it.

In this case, the great cookbook that got the mojo working once again was, but of course, the Tartine cookbook. I am lucky to live a healthy walk away from Tartine (healthy enough to offset any guilt, anyway), and every time I glance in the windows while passing by, I just want to hurry home and caress the gorgeous photography and read through the intricate recipes in the cookbook. Like I’ve said before, many of the recipes have so many steps it will just blow your mind, like the Three Day Cake, but there are a few simple beauties in the book that come together more quickly than that favorite cookie recipe you can bake by heart.


The Tartine shortbread recipe is so easy you might wonder if you’ve suddenly taken a wrong page turn into another cookbook. But that’s just the kind of baby step I needed to get back into the kitchen. The simple ingredient list and method yields a shortbread cookie so tender and buttery, it’s practically restorative. Well, it was for me, anyway, because it got me back to tying my apron strings after a long hiatus, and even sparked some extra creative energy, like adding a small pile of finely grated lemon zest to the dough for a little extra somethin’.

Lemon Shortbread
Adapted from Tartine

Makes about 40 cookies

The butter should be so soft that it has the look and consistency of mayonnaise or thick whipped cream; this can be quickly achieved by putting the cold butter into a saucepan, melting about a third of it, and then stirring all the butter together to create a very soft result. Create superfine sugar for dusting the shortbread by taking granulated sugar for a spin in your food processor, blender or clean coffee grinder.

1 cup plus two tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (2-3 lemons’ worth)
1/4 cup superfine sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and set a rack to the middle position. Butter a 9×13-inch glass baking dish.

Place the butter in a mixing bowl–it must be very soft, think the look and consistency of mayonnaise or whipped cream. Stir the salt into the butter. Sift together the flour and cornstarch. Using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, stir the sugar into the butter and then stir in the flour and lemon zest until a smooth dough forms, using your hands towards the end if necessary (run your hands under cold water first to keep from making the dough too warm). Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges and bottom of the shortbread begin to turn golden. Cool on a wire rack until just warm to the touch.

While the shortbread is still warm, sprinkle the surface with superfine sugar, tilting the pan to coat the shortbread evenly with sugar. Tap out any excess that doesn’t cling to the surface. Use a very thin, sharp knife to cut the shortbread into 40 equal cookies. Chill completely in the pan before attempting to remove the cookies with a small offset spatula–the first cookie will be hard to remove, but the rest should come out cleanly.

Nov 28, 2007

Lemon Bars

Remember the other day when I told you about the pumpkin tart I brought for Thanksgiving dinner? Well, you didn’t really think that I would only bring ONE dessert, did you? Of course not. That would be like leaving an arm at home or something. Ludicrous!

After being in league with a bountiful table of meat and more meat, vegetables glistening with butter and seven types of starchy carbohydrates, Thanksgiving desserts should probably be an exercise in balance. Then again, holidays like these are really the only time that one can legitimately have dessert with their dessert. But something lighter, cleansing, after the first dessert course. A “side dessert”, if you will. Pumpkin pie is a must in most circles, but even the most delicious wedge topped with a bulb of whipped cream can seem one-dimensional after consuming so many different flavors during the main part of the meal. Since I volunteered for dessert duty this Thanksgiving, I opted to serve my pumpkin pie with a side of lemon bar.


Lemon bars are one of those great all-American desserts that one can find a mind-boggling amount of recipes for with a single Google search. But nearly every recipe starts with a simple, parbaked shortbread crust that is covered with a lemon curd mixture and baked until set. And please don’t forget the snowy blanket of confectioners’ sugar.

I’ve been using the lemon bar recipe from Williams-Sonoma’s Dessert cookbook ever since receiving it as a wedding gift five years ago with fine results, but there were a few things about those bars that I always wanted to tweak. Since the lemon curd layer went into the oven as a an uncooked liquid, the crust lost its snap by the time the bars were baked and completely set. And no matter how gently I whisked the aforementioned lemony liquid, there were always a series of unsightly bubbles that appeared on the surface of the baked curd. Sure, I could cover it with confectioners’ sugar, but it just wasn’t as pretty. And good lemon bars are all about the pretty–delicate, a bright, taut surface, fresh and sweet-tart. This Thanksgiving’s lemon bars deserved better.

I found a recipe that looked promising in my trusty Baking Illustrated. Although it was a bit more time consuming than the recipe I had been using, I was prepared for it. America’s Test Kitchen always promises us the best results, but rarely the fastest way to get there. Anyway, this recipe calls for a cooked curd to be poured onto the baked crust, which allows for a much shorter final baking time and less time for the curd to make the crust soggy in the oven. And when set, the cooled lemon filling is much shinier, smoother and more sturdy than the Williams-Sonoma recipe. Hooray!

Just between us, I discovered a little trick for giving even better flavor to lemon bars. Normally, I like to use Meyer lemons in lemon desserts for their sweeter, almost floral quality. But since I shopped for groceries the day before Thanksgiving and the zoo that was the grocery store didn’t have Meyer lemons and I was not about to make a special trip to a store across town in search of them, I replaced a bit of the lemon juice with freshly squeezed orange juice. This small tweak gave the curd the hint of sweetness and slightly golden color that Meyer lemons would have given this recipe, without the time spent in traffic to get them and the additional expense. This just might have to become a permanent tweak.

Lemon Bars
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

Serves 12-16

For the crust:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1-inch pieces

For the filling:
7 large egg yolks
2 large whole eggs
1 cup plus two tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup finely grated lemon zest
Pinch salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and set an oven rack to the middle position. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with two 9-inch wide strips of parchment paper, placed perpendicular in the pan and nestled into the corners and up the sides of the pan to create parchment “handles” that will make the bars easy to remove from the pan later. Grease the parchment as well.

In a food processor or by kneading with your fingertips, combine the flour, confectioners’ sugar, salt and butter pieces until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle the crust mixture into the prepared pan and press it firmly and evenly over the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Bake the chilled crust for about 20 minutes, or until it is golden brown.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling: Whisk together the yolks, whole eggs until combined, then slowly rain in the sugar, whisking until just combined. Whisk in the lemon and orange juices, lemon zest and salt until well-blended. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, add the butter pieces and cook the curd, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When the curd reaches 170 degrees on a candy or instant-read thermometer (it will have thickened to a sauce consistency).

Immediately pour the curd through a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl, encouraging it through by stirring slowly with your wooden spoon. When all the curd is strained, stir in the heavy cream and immediately pour the curd into the warm crust. Bake the lemon bars at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until the filling is shiny, opaque, and only jiggles slightly in the center few inches of the pan. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about one hour. Remove the bars from the pan using the parchment “handles” and cut into 12 or 16 bars using a large chef’s knife, wiping the blade between cuts for perfectly clean edges. Generously dust the bars with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

Aug 31, 2007

Chewy, Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

This post is a tough one to write. I must have begun typing it at least a dozen times. I’m used to feeling a surge of energy when I start a post, thrilled and wholly alive to be indulging my passions and recording them for all the world to see. Lately, life has taken quite a turn for my family and me, making those kinds of feelings seem a world away. As I try to shake the muffled sensation of just wading through the days, I am beginning to understand that it is a great personal triumph in hard times to do the small things that bring us joy in our everyday lives. These are gentle reminders of who we are, especially when it feels like we just aren’t sure anymore. It is tempting to dismiss things like keeping this blog and buzzing busily in the kitchen as being too small to count for anything, but I am trying to remember that keeping on with these simple activities is a celebration of the time I’ve been given. Tiny delights like these are crucial in a complex life.

Most of my cooking and baking is quite inspired–by articles, photos, after-dinner cravings–but this time the goal was to just do something that felt, well, normal. Without much of an appetite and very few items on hand, this attempt was about creating something simple, familiar and soothing. Something that could be done by hand, with minimal equipment and few dirty dishes. Brownies sounded like just the thing.

Most would agree that the best brownie is thick and chewy, big on chocolate flavor without being cloyingly sweet (salt is a brownie’s best friend). A thin, crackled, papery crust covering about an inch and a half of dense, rich fudginess. Corner pieces edged with crispy integrity and mellow, luscious squares in the center of the pan. Nothing cakey, please. And I’m a purist, so that means no nuts, flavored chips, marshmallows or other nonsense. A cold glass of milk is the only company a serious brownie will ever need.

I used a recipe from one of my favorite books, and got to work. My advice? Take the thousands you might spend on therapy, buy eggs, butter, sugar and flour in bulk, and get into the kitchen. It does small wonders for the soul.

Chewy, Fudgy Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 inch baking pan with foil or parchment and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring ocassionally until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder and set aside to cool.

3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, then stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a rubber spatula to push the batter into the corners evenly (the batter will be rather thick, yum). Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick comes out with clingy, fudgy crumbs, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours. If you can wait overnight (yeah, right), they will taste even better the next day.

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