brown sugar honey madeleines

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My poor madeleine pan doesn’t get a lot of use. I love it; I got it for Christmas years ago, and seeing it in the cabinet has always made me happy. But I seldom bake with it.

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There’s no good reason for this, because I love madeleines. They’re miniature handheld cakes. The batter is easy to mix up. They look fancy with no extra effort on my part. There are endless variations to experiment with. I think I just convinced myself to like madeleines more than cupcakes.

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It’s possible that it’s just this recipe I love so much, with its brown sugar caramel notes. I wouldn’t know, since my only experience with traditional madeleines was years ago and a very qualified success at best. Clearly I need to try that recipe for madeleines again – and many more.

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Di chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. It’s originally designed for a mini madeleine pan, but considering how rarely I use my regular madeleine pan, I think a mini version is the last thing I need. I just added a couple minutes to the baking time recommended for minis. I had a difficult time prying the cakes out of the pan, even though it’s nonstick and I sprayed it with cooking spray. Next time I’ll give it a more thorough spritz of floury baking spray.

One year ago: Cranberry Shortbread Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake
Three years ago: Kugelhopf

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ginger-jazzed brownies

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I wasn’t confident in the ginger / chocolate combo, so rather than make a full batch of potentially less-than-perfect brownies to share at work, I made a just a small portion of the recipe and kept them for myself. Granted, my coworkers will eventually eat nearly anything sugary that finds its way into our kitchen (the same day that I brought in dulce de leche cupcakes, someone put a basket of Twinkies out; the cupcakes went faster, but the Twinkies went), but I have my standards, you know.

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I needn’t have worried. The ginger flavor was so subtle as to be essentially invisible. I might have been disappointed by that, but I was so pleased to have a mini-batch of deep chocolately and meltingly tender brownies all to myself that I had no reason to complain.

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Clivia, who chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted. Except for making only a third of it, I followed it exactly. It resulted in a very good regular brownie. However, if you want your brownies to have any ginger kick, you’ll want to increase the ginger; I would double both the ground and fresh ginger.

One year ago: Caramel Pumpkin Pie
Two years ago: Allspice Crumb Muffins
Three years ago: Pumpkin Muffins

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chewy brownies

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I’m going to put this right out there: I didn’t absolutely love these brownies. The whole goal of this recipe is to mimic the chewiness of boxed brownies, and…eh. I don’t need that texture. I don’t mind it; I just won’t sacrifice flavor for it. Plus I think that the fudgy-cakey balance of my favorite brownie recipe is perfect.

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The problem, and it’s one that just keeps getting more frustrating, is the availability of ingredients in my small town. My favorite brownie recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, and the only brand available within a hundred miles of where I live is Baker’s. I’ve noticed that the flavor of brownies baked with Baker’s chocolate is muted.

So, I needed a recipe that wasn’t based entirely on unsweetened chocolate. (I did have a few ounces leftover from my last trip to a big city.) This one uses a combination of unsweetened chocolate, cocoa, and bittersweet chocolate.

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The trick to getting that boxed brownie chew is substituting oil for some of the butter called for in most brownie recipes. These brownies, though, were intensely gooey. Not bad, by any means; my coworkers raved. But my coworkers have never had my favorite brownie recipe, which has a more intense chocolate flavor and isn’t so weighed down by oil. I guess I need to stock up on unsweetened chocolate next time I visit the big city.

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One year ago: Palmiers
Two years ago: Bran Muffins
Three years ago: Pain Ordinaire

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chewy Brownies (from Cooks Illustrated)

Makes 24 brownies

⅓ cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1½ teaspoons instant espresso (optional)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2½ cups (17.5 ounces) sugar
1¾ cups (8.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into ½-inch pieces

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with foil, leaving about a one-inch overhang on all sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Whisk the cocoa, espresso powder, and boiling water together in large bowl until smooth. Add the unsweetened chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the melted butter and oil. (The mixture may look curdled.) Add the eggs, yolks, and vanilla and continue to whisk until smooth and homogeneous. Whisk in the sugar until fully incorporated. Add the flour and salt and mix with a rubber spatula until combined. Fold in the bittersweet chocolate pieces.

3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted halfway between the edge and the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool 1½ hours.

4. Using the foil overhang, lift the brownies from the pan. Return the brownies to a wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve. The brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

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chocolate allspice cookies

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September is an ambiguous time. School and football, two signs of fall, have started. Labor Day is over. It might not be meltingly hot out every single day. On the other hand, that all important sign of autumn, fire-colored leaves, hasn’t started except in the most extreme of climates. And besides, tomatoes are still in season. Everyone knows that tomatoes belong to summer.

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When I lived in upstate New York, where summer was disappointingly short, I refused to acknowledge fall until October 1st. I wouldn’t make anything with pumpkin or apples, and I wouldn’t buy candy corn for Dave. (I’m mean.)

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But come October 1st, I was all about fall. I love it for all the reasons everyone loves fall – the colors, the chill, the apple cider. We don’t get any of those things in southern New Mexico, so I welcome what little there is here that feels like fall, no matter when it happens.

Dave thinks anything with ginger or allspice or cloves tastes like Christmas. I say it tastes like fall. And even in early September, I’m not complaining.

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Jessica, who chose these cookies for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted. I doubled the spice, plus I freshly ground my allspice berries in a coffee grinder just before mixing the dough. I also increased the salt.  I had ground almonds to use up, so I made the dough in the mixer instead of the food processor.

One year ago: Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
Two years ago: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies
Three years ago: Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops

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chocolate friands

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These are hard to describe. They resemble brownies, but are so far on the fudgy end of the brownie spectrum that they’re almost candy. They’re served in candy cups if you can find them, but the alternative option is mini muffin cups, which makes the friands resemble cake. These don’t fall neatly into any category.

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They’re made similarly to brownies too, with a few interesting variations. One is that, instead of melting the butter and chocolate in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water like most brownie recipes, hot melted butter was poured over chopped chocolate, and the residual heat of the butter melted the chocolate. It provides the same effect as a double boiler, but it’s simpler.

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The other difference I noted is that the eggs are stirred in last. Usually flour is the last thing added to batters and doughs, because the more flour is worked (stirred or kneaded), the chewier and less tender the resultant baked good becomes. Plus, eggs are mostly water and they don’t easily mix into the fatty mixture of butter and chocolate, so seeing that worrisome “do not overmix” warning right after the eggs are added at the end was extra stressful.

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And lastly, and I believe most importantly, there is no leavener – no baking powder or soda, no whipped eggs. This is what makes the confections so rich that they’re almost more candy than brownie. And that is what makes them so hard to figure out.

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Apparently they’re hard to pronounce too, as I had multiple coworkers come by my office to thank me for the ‘chocolate friends’ that I brought in to share. It’s an appropriate name for a treat I chose to make for Josie’s virtual baby shower. Josie is in the no-dessert-is-too-rich club, like me, so I definitely consider her a chocolate friend. Congratulations Josie! I wish you and your family the best.

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One year ago: Banana Peanut Butter Muffins
Two years ago: Vegetable Curry
Three years ago: Country Egg Scramble

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chocolate Friands (from Tartine)

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
16 tablespoons (1 cup) unsalted butter
1½ cups + 1 tablespoon (11 ounces) sugar
¾ cups (3.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅔ cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line up 48 1½-by-½ inch candy cups on 2 baking sheets, or butter and flour 24 mini-muffin-tin wells, knocking out the excess flour.

2. To make the batter, place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until very hot. Pour the butter over the chocolate and whisk or stir until smooth. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt and mix well. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture in 3 batches, whisking well after each addition. Add 2 of the eggs and whisk until combined, and then add the remaining 2 eggs and whisk just until incorporated. Be careful not to overmix the batter.

3. Transfer the batter to a liquid measuring cup for pouring, and fill the cups three-fourths full. Bake until the cakes just start to crack on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, and then unmold them if you have baked them in the muffin tins and let cool completely. If you have baked them in the paper cups, just let them cool in the cups.

3. To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to just under a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for a minute or two. Stir gently with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

4. Make sure the friands are cool before dipping them into the ganache. Holding each friand by its sides, dip the top into the ganache and then shake gently to let the excess run off the side. Return the friand to the rack and let the ganache set up in a cool place for about 1 hour.

5. Don’t put the friands in the refrigerator to set up if your kitchen is hot because condensation will form on the tops when you take them out, ruining the smooth look of the ganache. The only way to avoid the condensation is to place them in an airtight container before putting them in the refrigerator adn then to leave them in the refrigerator and then leave them in the container when you remove them from the refrigerator until they come to room temperature, or to serve them right away.

6. Serve the friands within a day of making, or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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cocoa almond meringues

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Sometimes I ignore the rules of baking, and other times I over-follow them. For example, when I see DO NOT OVERMIX in big bold capital letters, I will overcompensate, undermix, and bake clumps of raw flour into my genoise cake. On the other hand, if it’s raining and I decide I want to make meringues, I will make meringues, despite knowing that you’re not supposed to make meringues when it’s humid.

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That first meringue cookies I made, years ago, while it was raining, were sticky and heavy and not good at all. Now I live in the desert in the middle of a drought. Humidity isn’t so much an issue.

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Because this was only my second attempt at meringue cookies and the first was a bust, I’m not sure how they’re supposed to be. The outside of the cookies is crisp and light and shatters into tiny pieces when you bite into it. The inside was chewy. Is this because I didn’t follow the rules and opened the oven halfway through baking? Or did I, heaven forbid, OVERMIX? Or is this how they’re supposed to be?

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Either way, it turns out that I like meringue cookies, especially meringue cookies that have cocoa and chocolate chips in them. And other than cracking open the oven door to sneak in the crème brulee I made with the egg yolk leftover after making meringues, I made the exact recipe – which can be found on Mike’s blog, as he chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie.

One year ago: Gingered Carrot Cookies
Two years ago: Banana Bundt Cake
Three years ago: Black and White Banana Loaf

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sour cream chocolate cake cookies

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Chocolate cake without frosting is just sad; likewise, chocolate cake cookies without frosting are clearly missing something important. Cream cheese frosting is important. Sprinkles are important.

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The cookies were soft and tender, as cake should be. Despite a full container of sour cream, they weren’t overly rich, and their chocolate flavor was more than subtle, less than overpowering.  (I like overpowering.)  They might seem plain and homely on their own, but that’s nothing that a dollop of frosting can’t fix.

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Spike chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the full recipe posted. I chilled the dough for about an hour before baking to reduce spreading. I also left out the raisins and spices so that the cookies would mimic a classic chocolate cake.

Two years ago: Perfect Party Cake (compared to 2 other white cake recipes)
Three years ago: Apple Cheddar Scones

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chocolate hazelnut biscotti

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I went through a phase a couple years ago, when I was unemployed and had plenty of free time to bake, where I made a lot of biscotti for Dave. He doesn’t usually like to bring treats to work to share with coworkers, but he got in the habit of bringing a couple extra biscotti every day to give to his boss.

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His boss was impressed with the almond biscotti. Then a week later, I made the same recipe, substituting hazelnuts and dried cherries for the almonds. But I was experimenting with different methods for the second bake, and they didn’t get as crunchy.

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Dave’s boss said: “Too much egg, I think. Last week’s was better, almost perfect; this week’s needs work.”

Huh? Too much egg? He might be an expert in contaminant migration, but he doesn’t know squat about biscotti.

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I made these shortly after the batch with “too much egg.” Mindful of recent complaints about biscotti that was too soft in the middle, I erred on the crunchy side and left the biscotti in the oven, with the heat turned off and the door propped open, for half an hour after the recommended baking time.

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There were no complaints this time, although I did think they were a little crumbly and difficult to roll into logs (maybe they needed more egg?). Not only were the biscotti hard enough to dip into coffee, but the rich chocolate flavors were brought out by the dark espresso overtones. Jacque chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted.

One year ago: Dressy Chocolate Cake
Two years ago: Honey Peach Ice Cream
Three years ago: Cappuccino Cream Puff Rings

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lemon bar comparison

front to back: Cooks Illustrated, Lebovitz

I don’t make lemon bars often, despite how much I love them. They feel so light and refreshing that I can’t convince my brain that these are, in fact, full of butter. So I end up eating a lot of them.  But if I don’t get to make them often, when I do get a chance to, they need to be perfect. I need the best recipe. And how do I know which is best without a side-by-side comparison?

I started with Cooks Illustrated as a trustworthy source of straightforward results. I chose Tartine’s lemon bars on brown butter shortbread because it was one of the first recipes in the book that caught my eye and is typical of their talent for taking a classic recipe up a notch. I also made David Lebovitz’s lemon bar recipe, which uses the whole lemon, pith and all.

Cooks Illustrated: As promised, this is a typical lemon bar recipe with no tricks up its sleeve. The crust is a combination of flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, salt, and butter, which is combined in the food processor, pressed into a pan, and chilled before baking. The topping is eggs, sugar, flour, milk, salt, and lemon zest and juice. The topping is poured onto the hot crust and baked until firm.

Tartine: The browned butter shortbread in this recipe’s title is a misnomer, as it turns out that the crust is mixed like any other lemon bar crust, with no browning of the butter beforehand. Instead, the crust just browned in the oven, making it more of a butter crust that is browned instead of a crust that includes browned butter.  The filling is similar to Cooks Illustrated’s, except it contains no milk.

Lebovitz: David Lebovitz’s crust uses granulated instead of powdered sugar and melted butter instead of solid. Like the other recipes, this topping is based on sugar, eggs, and lemon, but instead of a small amount of flour, it incorporates cornstarch, as well as melted butter, which is not present in the other recipes. And most importantly, this recipe includes the entire lemon, pith in addition to juice and zest.

Comparing the lemon bars made me realize how important the crust is. I’d always focused on the filling before, wanting it as lemony and sour as I could stand, and I thought the crust was nothing more than a vehicle to hold up the filling. Now the crust seems like an important contrast to the tart filling. In fact, in many ways, the crust was the deciding factor in choosing preferences. The fillings were similar, but the crusts varied widely.

Cooks Illustrated: The all-important crust factor was the downfall of this recipe. The crust was dry and didn’t brown. I’m blaming this on the cornstarch. It’s probably important for structure, but it didn’t do the flavor any favors. The filling, on the other hand, was creamy and tart and wonderful. The top photo spotlights the CI bars in front, and you can clearly see their pale crust and luscious filling.

Tartine: This crust was substantial enough to hold up the filling and had just a bit of snap to it. It did, indeed, brown well, which gave it a nice flavor. The filling was lemony and smooth, although it  cratered when it was removed from the oven, resulting in a sunken middle.  I surprised myself by wanting a higher ratio of crust to filling.

Lebovitz: The granulated sugar lent this crust a great flavor, but it was crumbly and sometimes broke under the weight of the filling. The filling itself contained far too many chunks of lemon, although this might be a result of using a food processor instead of a blender to puree the lemon.  The topping was pockmarked like the moon (scroll down to see a picture of the tops of the three recipes).

I enjoyed the lemon squares from all three recipes, but I believe the one perfect bar would be made from Tartine’s crust and Cooks Illustrated’s filling.

left to right: Lebovitz, Tartine, Cooks Illustrated

One year ago: Stuffed Butterflied Leg of Lamb
Two years ago: Fresh Strawberry Scones
Three years ago: Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Cannellini Beans and Balsamic Vinegar

Printer Friendly Recipe
Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread (from Tartine)

For the crust:
½ cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1½ cups (7.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (2 ounces) pine nuts (optional)

For the filling:
½ cup (2½ ounces) all-purpose flour
2¼ cups (16 ounces) sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
lemon zest, grated from 1 small lemon
6 large whole eggs
1 large egg yolk
pinch salt
confectioners’ sugar for topping (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

2. To make the crust: Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir in the flour. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms.

3. Press the dough evenly into the pan and allow it to come up about a ½ inch up the sides of the pan. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake the crust until it is a deep golden brown, about 25-35 minutes.

4. To make the filling: While the crust is baking, sift the flour into a mixing bowl and whisk in the sugar until blended. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk with the salt. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.

5. Once the crust is ready, pour the filling directly into the pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake just until the center of the custard is set, about 30 to 40 minutes.

6. Let cool completely on a wire rock, then cover and chill well before cutting. Cut into squares and dust the top with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

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Perfect Lemon Bars (from Cooks Illustrated)

For the crust
1¾ cups (8.75 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
⅔ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus extra to decorate finished bars
¼ cup cornstarch
¾ teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), at very cool room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

Lemon filling
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1⅓ cups (9.33 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest from 2 large lemons
⅔ cup lemon juice from 3 to 4 large lemons, strained
⅓ cup whole milk
⅛ teaspoon table salt

1. For the crust: Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and line with one sheet parchment or wax paper. Dot the paper with butter, then lay a second sheet crosswise over it.

2. Pulse the flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and salt in the food processor workbowl fitted with the steel blade. Add the butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then pulse until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second bursts. (To do this by hand, mix flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl. Freeze the butter and grate it on the large holes of a box grater into the flour mixture. Toss the butter pieces to coat. Rub pieces between your fingers for a minute, until the flour turns pale yellow and coarse.) Sprinkle the mixture into the lined pan and press firmly with fingers into an even, ¼-inch layer over the entire pan bottom and about ½-inch up the sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until the crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes.

3. For the filling: Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, sugar, and flour in a medium bowl, then stir in the lemon zest, juice, milk, and salt to blend well.

4. To finish the bars: Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir the filling mixture to reblend; pour into the warm crust. Bake until the filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, fold the paper down, and cut into serving-size bars, wiping knife or pizza cutter clean between cuts, as necessary. Sieve confectioners’ sugar over bars, if desired.

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Whole Lemon Bars (reformatted slightly but not actually changed from David Lebovitz)

I needed 2 lemons to make 6 ounces of lemon. I trim off the knobby ends when making whole lemon desserts.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) melted unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon topping:
1 lemon (about 6 ounces), organic or unsprayed
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 large eggs, room temperature
4 teaspoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
Optional: powdered sugar, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line an 8-inch square with foil.

2. For the crust: In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and vanilla, stirring just until smooth. Press the batter into the bottom of the pan, using your hands or a small offset spatula to get it as level as possible. Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until it’s deep-golden brown.

3. For the topping: While the crust is cooking, cut the lemon in half, remove the seeds, and cut it into chunks. Put the chunks of lemon in a food processor or blender along with the sugar and lemon juice, and let it run until the lemon is completely broken up. Add the eggs, cornstarch, melted butter, and blend until almost smooth. (A few tiny bits of lemon pieces are normal and encouraged.)

4. When the crust comes out of the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 300ºF (150ºC). Pour the lemon filling over the hot crust and bake for 25 minutes or just until the filling stops jiggling and is barely set.

5. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once cool, carefully lift out the bars grasping the foil. Cut the bars into squares or rectangles. Sift powdered sugar over the top just before serving, if desired.

Storage: The bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature up to three days. You can freeze the lemon bars as well for up to one month, letting them come to room temperature before serving.

left to right: Cooks Illustrated, Tartine, Lebovitz

cornmeal shortbread cookies

I had some major Murphy’s Law action going on in my kitchen last week. The first few days of it were subtle, but when my cupcakes exploded all over the pan and then sunk back into themselves like collapsed calderas, it got me thinking. I remembered the bagels I’d forgotten about and left out overnight to harden around the edges, and the crockpot full of red lentil stew that turned into red lentil soup when I accidentally added an extra cup of water. Then there was the leftover lentil soup that I burned. You know you’re having a bad week in the kitchen when you burn leftover soup.

These cookies, made from dough hastily pulled from the freezer after the cupcake debacle, came out wonderfully. I loved their square edges and straight sides. I enjoyed their crisp sandiness with a touch of grit from the cornmeal.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. When the cookies were in the oven, I assumed they’d spread too much. When they didn’t, I assumed I’d over or underbake them. When I didn’t, I assumed I’d drop them. It wasn’t until they were safely in the hands of my coworkers that I breathed a sigh of relief.

In the end, I got more comments on these cookies than any treat I’ve brought to work in months. Most people said that were interesting, but everyone said they were good. If you’d like to try these interesting good cookies that I made for Tuesdays with Dorie, Valerie has the recipe posted.

One year ago: Chockablock Cookies
Two years ago: Chocolate Cream Tart
Three years ago: Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake