Saturday, January 15, 2011

Salt tooth?

I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I'd take a plate of fresh-cut, salty french fries over a slice of cake any day. I would make out with fleur de sel if my body didn't respond so negatively to sodium. (Omnomnom!) My roommate for life however, won't turn down a sweet treat. In fact, he may eat the rest of it's family too. Since I enjoy making things and my ectomorph husband enjoys eating things, this works out perfectly.

I eased myself into baking by making French butter cookies:

Aren't they adorable? They're like cute, edible buttons. These are super easy to make, spend so little time in the oven, and are unfortunately, even easier to eat. I made these for my husband's trip up to Victoria to see some friends, but he nearly unwittingly ate half of them.

French Butter Cookies:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup turbinado, (unrefined) or granulated sugar
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and light-brown sugar; beat on high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, and mix to combine. Add flour and salt, and mix on low speed until flour is incorporated.
  2. Roll dough into three 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.
  3. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. Roll cookie log in sugar, coating it evenly, and slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Place cookies on baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Using a cake tester or toothpick, make four decorative holes in each cookie. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool completely on wire racks.
And then, I got gutsy! I decided to make a chocolate tart AND lemon meringue bars in one afternoon. I made both crusts from scratch, which scared the living daylights out of me cause I've never done that before, and there are all sorts of baking horror stories about making crust for the first time. (shrinking and bubbling and cracking) Then there was the little matter of not owning a rolling pin, so I had to improvise and use a chilled bottle of wine from the fridge. Everything turned out just fine. For pie weights, I used rice and pennies on a sheet of foil, believe it or not, and I didn't get a single bubble!

Chocolate tart

And then it was time for the lemon meringue bars. The most labour-intensive part of this recipe was grating the lemon rinds and juicing the lemons, the rest of the work was done by the mixer and oven really. Adding lemon zest to the crust really makes a wonderfully flavourful difference that I highly recommend. I sort of combined three different recipes, one for the shortbread crust, one for the lemon curd filling, and one for the meringue. Turned out pretty mouth-watering!

The lemony shortbread crust

Baked lemon curd filling
Sugar and egg whites

Hurrah! It's meringue!

Going into the oven for some browning.

Soooooooo delicious!

The best compliment for me was when my husband told me it tasted like his great grandmother, Nonna Yolanda's lemon filling. As it turns out, the recipes are very similar! Everytime we eat something lemon flavoured at a restaurant, he always shakes his head cause it's nowhere near as good as the dessert he remembered growing up. I would make this again for a party, you end up with a giant tray of bars that two people alone cannot healthily consume. I gave half of them to our neighbours. They must love me by now!

Lemon Meringue Bars:

2 sticks of softened unsalted butter (1 cup)
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp of flour
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp of confectioners sugar
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp of freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp of coarse salt
6 eggs plus 4 egg whites
2 1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 3 tbsp of fresh lemon juice (basically I used two giant lemons)

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Make your crust:

Put the flour, butter, confectioners sugar and 2 tsp of lemon zest, and salt in your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix it until it's doughy and well blended.

Press the batter/dough into a 9x13" pan, and chill it in the freezer for 10 min. Then bake it for 20 minutes or until it's golden brown. Set it aside to cool completely on a wire rack.

Make your filling:

Whisk together the 6 whole eggs, 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp of granulated sugar, lemon juice, and 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp of lemon zest. Pour it over the crust and bake it for 18 - 20 minutes. Let it cool completely.

Make your meringue topping:

Make sure your mixer bowl is clean and dry, and has the whisk attachment on. Put your egg whites and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in and mix on medium-high speed until it's stiffer and makes peaks.

Next, spread the meringue over the cooled filling, and make soft peaks. Bake it in the oven for 10 minutes or until you've browned the meringue to your liking. Let it cool completely before cutting.

You can store in in tupperware in the fridge for a couple of days and it's tasty cold!

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