My wonderful sister-in-law, Terry, sent me a picture of her grandmother’s recipe card for Date Bread so I could make it for my husband (her brother). My husband remembered the bread with fondness so, of course, I decided to make it. I have to admit I was skeptical – dates in desserts were NOT something I grew up with. My mother was a sworn chocoholic, and I was following in her footsteps.
But when I took my first bite of Grandma’s Date Bread, I felt like a whole new world opened up. It was absolutely, and unexpectedly, delicious! How could this these dried, brown fruit create such a tender and flavorful bread?
GRANDMA’S DATE BREAD – 1 loaf
1 T butter, softened
8 oz (230g / 1.75 cups) pitted dried dates
1 cup (250 ml) boiling water
1.5 cups (190g / 6+5/8 oz) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (140g / 5 oz) granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup (95g / 3.75 oz) pecans, lightly toasted
Set out butter to soften.
Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C).
Chop dates – I use my kitchen shears.
Place chopped dates in a bowl and pour in the boiling water. Cover with a plate to retain the heat. Let set for 30 minutes so the dates can soften.
Into a mixing bowl, beat the egg. Add in the softened butter, dates (WITH liquid), flour, sugar, vanilla, baking soda, and pecans. Blend together until the flour is just incorporated – don’t overmix or the bread can toughen.
Pour batter into a greased and floured loaf pan – I use a Pyrex glass pan.
Bake until a toothpick comes out clean and the top bounces back when lightly pushed – about 60-75 minutes. (Mine take 74 minutes.) Make sure to gently press down on the cracked portion – if it’s still mushy, keep baking. The bread will LOOK done before it IS done.
Let set in pan 20 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.
Try to resist slicing the hot loaf – it needs to firm up a bit. Give it, at least, 45 minutes if you can.
I hesitate to use the word “burger” for my Mushroom-Nut Burger because it sounds like I’m trying to pass this recipe off as an imitation hamburger – so close to the real thing, you’ll think you’re eating meat. While there are some excellent plant based (aka, fake) burgers on the market now (such as Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger) that can satisfy that craving for meat, this is not one of those.
I really should call this recipe Mushroom-Nut Burger-Alternative because, like my Black Bean Burger recipe, this is merely a patty decked out like a hamburger. It’s not meant to fool anyone….but, it IS delicious!
In developing my Mushroom-Nut Burger, I felt like Goldilocks – trying to find a blend that wasn’t so soft it collapsed, but not so dry it crumbled. I wanted one that was just right.
My greatest challenge was creating a firm patty. I hate when I bite into a veggie burger that appears to be firm because the outside is crusted over, only to find the inside is mush, oozing out the sides. It becomes a bit like eating a melty ice cream cone.
I found the solution to be chopping the firm ingredients – the mushrooms and nuts – into large pieces, so it acts like a skeleton. This prevents the outside from collapsing and the center from squishing out.
The second challenge was binding the ingredients so the patty doesn’t fall apart as you’re eating it. I found 2 eggs and 45 grams (1.5 oz) of flour to be the key. I strongly suggest you weight the flour because I tried less flour and it didn’t work as well.
MUSHROOM-NUT BURGER – makes 4 patties
59g (2oz) (1/3 cup) raw short, sticky rice
150ml (2/3 cup) water
14g (1 tbsp) butter
120g (4oz) (1 cup) onions, chopped
53g (2oz) (3/4 cup) firm mushrooms such as white common or cremini
91g (3oz) (include stem in weight) shiitake mushrooms
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1.5 tsp vegetarian Worchestershire sauce
3/4 tsp salt
1 garlic, pressed or minced
70g (2.5oz) (3/4 cup) walnuts
38g (1.25oz) (1/4 cup) salted cashews
Preheat oven to 190C° (375F°), rack in the center position.
Rinse the raw rice then, into a small saucepan, combine the rice and 150ml water. Cook, covered, until water is absorbed (about 12 minutes). SET TIMER FOR 10 MINUTES TO REMIND YOURSELF! Remove from heat and let cool.
Scrupulously wash mushrooms. Remove and discard the stems from the shiitakes only (they’re too woody to eat). Coarsely chop all the mushrooms – check the measuring tape in the photo for size. The mushrooms will shrink some when cooked.
Coarsely chop walnuts and cashews – check the measuring tape in photo below. Like the mushrooms, these will support the patty. That being said, if you have any nut crumbs on the cutting board, use them – I hate waste! Lightly toast nuts.
Into a skillet melt the butter over medium flame. Add in the onions and saute 2-3 minutes.
Into the onions add the mushrooms, thyme, sage, marjoram, Worchestershire sauce, salt, and garlic. Saute 6 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Into a large bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the cooked rice, nuts, and cooled mushroom saute. Sprinkle in the flour and blend well.
Form 4 patties about 9cm (3.5″) in diameter and place on an oiled baking sheet.
Bake in the preheated 190C° (375F°) and bake for 15 minutes. Flip patties and bake another 15 minutes. Serve.
Holidays in my house were always spent with my Armenian father’s side of the family. As it so often is with immigrant gatherings, food played a major role. The main meal was served in the early afternoon. Then came the clean-up, followed by a second round of the main meal. Armenians love to eat!
Dolma (stuffed grape leaves) was a favorite and always plentiful. My grandmother’s recipe was the absolute best! (My Lebanese friend, Deborah, claims her grandmother’s is the best…but we’ll have to agree to disagree.)
Of course, once I became a vegetarian, my grandmother’s beef and lamb filled dolmas became a happy memory, testing my willpower at holiday dinners. Oh, yes, I made many attempts at a vegetarian version, but they never came close.
Finally, food technology caught up. Imitation meats were getting better and better. When Impossible Burger became available at my local market, I decided to substitute it in for the beef and lamb (there doesn’t seem to be any imitation lamb yet). I added in a few shiitake mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce for the umani flavor, plus some flour to bind the filling logs so they don’t fall apart. After much tweaking of my recipe, I’m now prepared to serve them to my dolma-loving brother.
Note: I’m recommending Impossible Burger brand for this recipe. (No, they’re not paying me!) This product forms a firmer log so it mimics the filling made with beef and lamb.
Note: While you can grow and brine your own grape leaves, it’s much easier to buy them. Most supermarkets carry them, but you have to search. They’re usually in with the olives, and packaged in glass jars. You may not have much choice in brands. Be aware that they can be very difficult to remove from the jar – quite often I end up tearing a third of them, which makes them unusable. A brand with a wide mouth is best. To remove the leaves, you have to grasp a roll, then gently pull up while twisting. It’s very maddening.
Queen of Freeze note: Unused leaves can be stacked, rolled, and frozen for future use.
VEGETARIAN DOLMA – makes about 26-31, depending on leaf size
340g / 12 oz / 3/4 lb Impossible Burger
3 T parsley, chopped
62 g / 2 oz shiitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
50 g / 1/3 cup / 1.75 oz uncooked Chinese-style rice (or any white rice)
100 g / 3.5 oz onions, chopped
286 g / 10 oz canned tomatoes plus their juice
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
1 T vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
30 g / 4 T all-purpose flour
at least 40 grape leaves (you won’t use them all, but it’s good to have extra)
To get 286 g (10 oz) of the canned tomatoes plus juice, you’re going to have to buy a larger can and weigh out the amount. (Using the entire 15 oz can is too much for this recipe.) Pour the juice into a 4qt (4 litre) or larger cooking pot. Remove and discard the stem area of the tomatoes, and any skin or defects. Chop into small pieces.
Thoroughly wash mushrooms, discarding the stem (it’s too woody). Chop cap into 1cm (3/8″) sized pieces.
Into a large bowl, put the tomatoes, Impossible Burger, parsley, mushrooms, rice, onions, pepper, salt, and Worcestershire sauce. (You’ll add the flour later.)
Stir mixture to blend.
Before adding in the flour, prepare the grape leaves. Depending on the brand, it can be very tricky to remove them from the jar without tearing many. Torn leaves are pretty useless. So, do your best. You’ll need between 20-40 intact leaves. (The number is dependent on the size of the leaves and how generous you are with the filling.)
After removing the grape leaves from the jar, unroll them and cut off the stems to the nub. Some people rinse off the brine, but I don’t – I like the salty flavor.
Depending on how much room you have, lay out several leaves, vein-side up, to work in an assembly-line manner.
Add the flour to the filling and mix in. (I like to wait until the last minute to add in the flour.) Spoon out some filling and form a tight log. The amount will depend on the size of the leaf. If you over-stuff, the roll will come apart in the cooking – you need plenty of leaf to fold and roll as you can see from the photo below.
Wrap one of the lower flaps around the filling, tucking in the flap. (Don’t wrap too tightly – the rice will expand with cooking and you don’t want them to burst.)
Wrap the other lower flap around filling as before.
Wrap one of the side flaps toward the center (this seals in the side of the filling).
Fold in the other side flap.
Finally, roll up the dolma starting at the filling end. (Again, don’t roll too tightly.)
Place rolled dolmas in the pot with the tomato juice.
Line them up as you go, creating a second layer, as needed.
Once all the dolmas are wrapped and placed in the pot, cover with water. Place an upturned plate on top to weigh down the dolmas – otherwise, they’ll float.
Bring to a boil, cover pot, and reduce heat to just maintain a simmer. Cook 1 hour. Remove plate and let dolma cool about 15 minutes or more before serving. In my family we eat them plain. You might prefer a dipping sauce, such as tzatziki.
As you might imagine, between the Great British Bake-Off, America’s Test Kitchen, and the internet, there is no shortage of recipes for me to try. But, every now and then, I pull out my old recipe box (yes, there was a time when we had recipe cards) and thumb through it. I came across a recipe for Fudgy Shortbread Bars and decided to almond it up by altering the plain shortbread to an almond shortbread, adding a drop of almond extract to the fudge, and topping it with toasted almonds.
If you’re a purist, you can leave out all traces of the almonds, exchanging vanilla for the almond extract. Or, use walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts – it’s up to you.
Note: This recipe can be doubled and made in a 9″x13″ (or 23cm x 33cm) pan.
Queen of Freeze Note: As the self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t point out that these bars can be sliced and frozen for future use.
Second Queen of Freeze Note: This recipe calls for half of a can of sweetened condensed milk. The remaining half can be frozen.
190g (150ml) (6.75oz) sweetened condensed milk (this is half a standard can)
1/4 tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C)
Make the shortbread: Pulse the almonds in the food processor 5-6 times – until they’re coarsely chopped. Remove 1/4 cup of the pieces and set aside – these will be sprinkled on top of the bars. Pulse remaining almonds to finely chopped.
Cut the butter into at least 12 slices and add to the almonds in the processor, along with the sugar and almond extract. Whirl to blend.
Add the flour to the mixture and pulse until blended, scraping the sides and corners now and then.
Scatter shortbread dough evenly (do your best) around an approximately 153 square cm (60 square inch) pan- such as a 20cm x 20cm (8″ x 8″). Press down the dough firmly, trying to maintain a level top.
Bake in preheated 325°F (163°C) oven for 25 minutes – until edges are starting to brown. Remove from oven.
Prepare the topping: In a small saucepan, melt together the chocolate chips and condensed milk over low flame. Once the chips are nearly all melted, remove from heat and stir in the almond extract. Stir off-heat until all chips are completely melted. Pour over hot shortbread, spreading evenly.
Sprinkle on reserved toasted almonds. Lightly press into the fudge so they stick. Let cool, then refrigerate to firm up. They can be stored covered in either the fridge or on the counter.
I love hand-pies, be they piroshkis, beureg, empanadas, potstickers, or pasties. They’re perfect for an on-the-go nosh and picnics, as well as at-home eating.
Yes, they’re a little bit of work since you have to roll out individual dough circles, fill them, and fold them. But prepare them in an assembly-line fashion and/or get a helper or two, and you’ll have them done in no time.
I prefer a hot-water crust for my pasties, but if you have a crust you like better, use that.
You may notice that I don’t refer to my pasties as CORNISH pasties. They take their pasties very seriously in Cornwall and have a list of rules that must be followed in order to use the term, ‘Cornish’. Two of the rules that I will never be able to follow are that they be prepared in Cornwall, and they are made with meat. Oh, well! A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And my Potato-Mushroom Pasties are delicious!!!
POTATO-MUSHROOM PASTY – makes 6
140 g (4.75 oz) shiitake mushrooms
190 g (6.5 oz) onions
260 g (10.25 oz) waxy potatoes (such as Yukon gold)
1.25 tsp vegetarian Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp salt
75 g (2.5 oz) sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
Dough – makes 6 discs, 20cm/8in diameter
400 g (14 oz) (3 cups) bread flour
1 tsp salt
173 g (12 T) butter, cold & cut into 12 or more slices
166 ml (2/3 cup + 1 T) very hot water
Egg Wash: beat 1 egg with 1 T water
Make the filling first: Chop the shiitakes and onions into 2.5 cm/1/2″ pieces. Cut the potatoes into .25 cm/1/8 in thick slices, then chop these up into small pieces. Mix the shiitakes, onions, potatoes, Worchestershire sauce, salt, and cheese in a bowl. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 200° C/400° F.
Prepare the hot water crust once the oven is preheating and the filling is mixed: Into your food processor put the flour and salt. Pulse 1 or 2 times. Scatter the butter into the flour and pulse until you don’t see any large blobs of butter – about 8 pulses.
Pour in the hot water all at once. Pulse to incorporate the water. You should be able to form a soft, pliable ball. Add a tsp at a time of water if the dough seems too dry. Don’t worry if it’s too wet – you’ll be adding flour when you roll out the circles.
Lightly flour a flat surface and empty dough onto it. Knead the dough 3 or 4 times to bring it together. Cut into 6 equal pieces and roll into balls. Keep them covered until you roll them. One at a time, roll a ball into about a 14 cm/5.5″ circle.
You’re going to roll the dough into a final 20 cm/8″ circle, but rather than placing the rolling pin on the center and rolling outward, place it a little closer to the side it’s going toward and roll. (This keeps the center of the circle from getting too thin, which can allow leakage in the oven.) Try to make them as circular as you can, but don’t stress too much (you’ll be folding up the edges which will hide small imperfections.) You can use a 20cm/8″ template (such as a plate) and cut around it, if you like, but I can’t be bothered.
Keep the dough circles covered after you roll them out to prevent them from drying.
Divide the filling equally between the 6 circles. Place the filling mostly on one side of the circle, leaving a border of 2 cm/.75 in. Cover the dough circles you’re not working with with a tea towel so they don’t dry out. Working with one pasty at a time, dip your finger or a pastry brush in the egg wash and wet the border. (This will act as a glue to seal the sides together.)
Carefully fold the dough in half, making sure the filling stays 2 cm/.75″ from the edge. Firmly press the border together so it’s completely sealed. Fold both corners in.
With your non-dominant hand, hold down the folded corner with your index finger. With your dominant hand, grasp the dough next to the fold and fold that in, pressing down. Continue along the entire border. The idea is to form a ropelike crimp. I’ve never managed to get that look, but I’m happy with my version. Find your own way, if you like. The point is to seal in the filling.
Lay the folded and crimped pasties on a parchment lined or greased baking sheet.
Once all the pasties are formed, paint the exposed surfaces generously with the egg wash.
Using a knife, make 2 slits in the top near the fold to allow steam to escape.
Place in the preheated 200° C/400° F oven on the middle rack. Bake until well-browned – 30-35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly before eating.
My friend, Lynne, was telling me about the food served at a recent gathering. Somewhere in the middle of her list she mentioned ‘warm bok choy salad’. I, actually, didn’t hear anything else after that – my mind became focused on this intriguing-sounding dish. Warm salad? Bok choy? Hmmm.
Like a detective interrogating a prime suspect, I grilled her for details. What was in it? Anything else? How did she make it? My friend was becoming increasingly nervous – possibly fearing I would soon be reading her Miranda Rights. So, I let it go… and googled it.
As one would expect, there were multiple Warm Bok Choy Salad recipes. I read several, and came up with my own version. Feel free to change my recipe to suit yourself.
WARM BOK CHOY SALAD – serves 2
12 oz / 340g bok choy
3 tsp rice wine vinegar
3 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey
3/4 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup carrots, shredded
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1.5 oz / 43g Feta cheese, crumbled
3 oz / 85g Mandarin oranges
1 tsp sesame seeds
Slice off and discard bottom of bok choy. Wash stems and chop into bite-sized pieces.
Heat together the vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and honey. (You can use the serving bowl, if it’s microwave-proof.)
Place bok choy in a steamer basket but don’t put basket in the pan yet. Add about 1/2″ (2 cm) to the pan and bring to boil. Then place the steamer basket in pan, cover with a lid, and steam for about 1-2 minutes. (If you place the basket in before the water is boiling, you run the risk of over-steaming.)
Immediately remove basket from pan and empty bok choy into bowl with dressing. Stir in remaining ingredients and serve.
Tofu Noodle Satay is one of those fast and easy meals that even picky kids like. Use this recipe as a base, but go ahead and substitute as you prefer. Add a red pepper or asparagus, make it chunky peanut butter – the sky’s the limit. You can even sneak in some finely chopped spinach! (The kids will never know.)
Queen of Freeze Note: The satay sauce freezes well so, if you like it, next time double or more the recipe. Then, go ahead and freeze the extra in portion sized containers for future use.
1/3 cup (40 g) roasted peanuts (I prefer spicy lime flavored)
Sandwich the tofu between between two plates to squeeze out excess water. To speed up the process, set something weighty (such as a can) on top to add pressure. Pour off drained water from time to time.
Into a blender, combine the peanut butter, water, soy sauce, lime juice, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes. Whirl on low until blended. Pour into a small saucepan and heat over medium/low, just to boil. Turn off heat, and let sauce set while preparing the rest of the recipe.
Turn on oven to 200° F (93° C) – so the cooked tofu will be able to stay warm until ready to use.
Steam the broccoli pieces for 3 minutes only. They will go from a dark green to a bright green. Immediately remove the steamer basket from the pot to stop the cooking. (You don’t want mushy broccoli.)
Bring about 2 quarts of water to cook the pasta to a full boil in a Dutch oven while you prepare the tofu.
Slice the drained tofu into 5/8″ (1.5 cm) slabs. Cut these into smaller pieces – I prefer 1.5″ x 1.5″ (3.5 cm x 3.5cm).
Heat vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet over medium/high heat. When oil is shimmering, add as many tofu pieces as will fit. If you have a splatter guard, use it! As soon as the bottoms are browned, flip and cook the other side. Don’t overcook or the tofu will become rubbery.
Place the cooked tofu pieces on a paper towel lined baking sheet and put in the 200° F (93° C) oven to keep warm.
When the water in the Dutch oven is at a full boil, add in the spaghetti noodles and cook until done. Drain in a sieve, but don’t rinse or shake.
Into to now empty Dutch oven, pour in the satay sauce and heat over low. When warmed, add in the broccoli, peanuts, and pasta. Stir to mix. Then add in the tofu and gently combine (the tofu will break apart if you’re over-zealous. Serve.
Sometimes all it takes for a recipe to go from ‘meh’ to marvelous is one thing. This is usually an ingredient. But, every now and then, it’s a technique. With my Orange Tofu Balls: it was both.
In developing a new recipe, I generally start with a recipe that catches my eye. I make the recipe as written, then tweak it to suit my taste. In this case, I started with Moosewood Cookbook’s Buddha’s Jewels – Asian style tofu balls.
The recipe instructed to drain the tofu by sandwiching it between 2 plates and pressing out as much liquid as would come. After chopping the drained tofu and mixing it with the remaining ingredients, I formed golf-ball sized balls and baked. However, the uncooked balls were never really firm and had to be dealt with gingerly or they’d fall apart. During the baking process they sank into a mound rather than remain in a tight ball.
It finally came to my attention that there was too much moisture in the tofu. The plate pressing was not enough – I had to squeeze chopped tofu in a tea towel to properly extract the water. Then, I added some flour for good measure. Success!
ORANGE TOFU BALLS – makes about 15
397 g (14 oz) extra firm tofu
2 T peanut butter (I use creamy)
2 T soy sauce
2 scallions, white and green part, sliced thin
60 g (1/2 cup) red pepper, chopped fine
111 g (4 oz) mushrooms (I’ve used shiitakes & white common – both worked)
61 g (1/2 cup) water chestnuts, chopped fine
33 g (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
1 T cornstarch
1 T water
200 ml (3/4 cup) orange juice
2 T pure maple syrup
50 ml (1/4 cup) rice wine vinegar
2 T soy sauce
1 garlic, pressed or minced
Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit (190° Celsius).
The first thing to do is extract as much water as you can from the tofu. You can either begin by sandwiching the tofu block between two plates to get it started (you can use this time to chop the remaining ingredients), or go straight to squeezing it in a tea towel. Either way works.
Chop the tofu block (drained or not) into very small pieces. Spoon a fistful onto a clean tea towel.
Wrap the towel around the tofu, forming a sack, and twist to extract as much liquid as you can. (Do this in small batches – if there’s too much, it’s harder to twist out the water.) Empty tofu onto a bread board. Continue until all tofu has been squeezed.
Use a potato masher to smash the drained tofu.
In an empty mixing bowl, add the peanut butter, soy sauce, scallions, red pepper, water chestnuts, mushrooms, and flour – blend well.
Add in the mashed tofu and blend well.
Oil a rimmed cookie sheet with a very light coating of oil. Form about 14-15 compact balls with the tofu mixture and place on sheet spaced well apart to get good heat circulation. (A 3-T scoop, packed tightly, forms just the right size.)
Bake in preheated 375° F (190° C) oven for 45 minutes.
As the tofu balls are baking, prepare the orange sauce: In a small bowl combine the 1 T cornstarch with 1 T water to form a slurry. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice, maple syrup, rice wine vinegar, 2 T soy sauce, and garlic. Bring to a boil.
When the liquid begins to boil, drizzle in the slurry – stirring as you pour. Continue to stir until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat.
When the Tofu Balls are darkened, serve immediately with the warmed orange sauce. I like to serve it over rice.
Cheese Crusted Spinach Pie is a tasty quiche-like pie that incorporates cheese into the crust rather than the filling. It’s quick and easy to put together (unless you’re like me and insist on washing EVERY spinach leaf thoroughly), but do allow an hour from the time it goes into the oven to when it can be served.
CHEESE CRUSTED SPINACH PIE
173 g (1.5 cups; 6 oz) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
97 g (3/4 cup; 3.5 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dry mustard
99 g (7 T; 3.5 oz) butter, melted
1 cup milk (I use 1% or 2%)
14 g (1 T; 1/2 oz) butter
66 g (1/2 cup; 2.25 oz) onion, chopped
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
227 g (8 oz) fresh spinach, stems discarded, coarsely chopped
4 eggs, beaten
12 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit (200° Celsius).
In a mixing bowl, combine cheese, flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and dry mustard.
Using a fork, mix in the 99 g melted butter – dough will be clumpy. Pour into a 9″ pie plate, spreading evenly.
Using your fingers, press dough firmly into the bottom and sides, pushing tightly into the corners (this will allow more surface area for the filling).
Into a large pot (when you add the spinach, you’ll understand why you need a large pot), add the milk, 14 g butter, onion, nutmeg, and 1 tsp salt. Bring mixture to a simmer. Turn off heat but leave pot on burner to keep the liquid warm as the spinach wilts.
Add in spinach, occasionally stirring until spinach wilts.
Place the pie plate on a rimmed cookie sheet to catch any spills. Mix beaten eggs into the spinach mixture, then pour into the crust to just below the brim. Arrange cherry tomatoes around top, cut side up.
CAREFULLY place in preheated oven – trying your best not to spill. (You can also place the unfilled crust on a cookie in the oven and then pour in the filling, if you prefer.)
Bake pie at 400° F (200° C) for 20 minutes – SET TIMER! Then decrease oven temperature to 350° F (175° C) and continue cooking pie until filling is set – about 15-20 minutes. (This is is bold to remind you!) Remove from oven and let gel for, at least, 15 minutes before serving.
a crisp crust (but not rock hard) that allows the cookie to be safely held
the cookie should be 1/3 crust and 2/3 filling
the filling should be firm enough that it doesn’t ooze, but not Jello-like
the filling should be tart
no stove-top cooking of the filling – oven bake only
whole eggs only rather than yolks, if possible
Is that too much to ask? It took MANY attempts but, as it turns out – no, it’s not.
As far as the crust goes, the keys were to use granulated sugar (rather than the often used confectioner’s sugar), and melted butter (rather than soft). Also, freezing the patted out dough for 5-10 minutes, followed by docking it (piercing it with a fork) before par-baking, kept the crust flat.
For the filling, remember – tartness comes from the lemon zest. Adding extra lemon juice only dilutes the curd. Pack the zest when measuring – don’t worry about the zest marring the creaminess, you’ll strain it out before baking. When I got down to the best number of eggs, I could either go with 2 whole eggs plus 2 yolks, or 3 whole eggs. Because the fillings were equal in consistency and flavor (although the ones with yolks were yellower), I went with 3 whole eggs since it was easier.
I started my Lemon Bars journey using a glass 8″ x 8″ pan. In my research, someone wrote metal pans lead to a crispier crust. I happened to have a metal 8″ x 8″, so I switched over. Of course, there were other variables I was doing to the dough, so I’m not sure how important the metal vs glass is. Use what you’ve got before buying something new.
The final piece of the Lemon Bar puzzle was removing them from the pan. I had a heck of a time. I watched tons of videos and they always seemed to just pop out – Ina Garten didn’t even use parchment! – so it may just be me. My problem may have been that I didn’t grease the pan before placing the parchment slings, nor did I grease the parchment itself. When I did grease the pan and the parchment, I was able to pry them out.
I, also, concocted a method of using one large piece of parchment to limit leakage (and using slightly less parchment!). I’ve fine-tuned my folding method since I did my last bake. Pictures and instructions of my latest fold method are at the end of this post, following the recipe. If you have a better method, by all means, use that.
Note: I put measurements in grams, cups, and ounces – use what you like.
115 g (1 cup / 4 oz) all-purpose flour
3 g (3 T / 1 oz) granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt
85 g (6 T / 3 oz) butter, melted
287 g (1½ cups / 10 oz) granulated sugar
19 g (3 T / ½ oz) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1½ T lemon zest – packed (don’t be stingy)
4½ T lemon juice (bottled or fresh)
3 eggs, beaten in a small bowl
1/4 tsp baking powder
confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit / 177º Celsius
Grease an 8″ x 8″ pan (I prefer metal). Line pan with parchment and grease the parchment. You can use the folded 1-sheet insert method (instructions below after the recipe), the 2-sheet sling method in which you have a parchment strip going north-south, and the other going east-west, or any other method you choose.
Start by combining the filling in order to draw out the lemon flavor from the zest: In a bowl, stir together the 287g sugar, 19g flour, 1/4 tsp salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, and beaten eggs. Set aside while you make the crust. The baking powder will be added just before pouring into the crust.
To make the crust, stir together the 115g flour, 3g sugar, and 1/8 tsp salt, then pour in the melted butter. Using a fork, stir just until all the flour is incorporated. Sprinkle small clumps of dough evenly over bottom of prepared pan, then press dough to evenly cover bottom. Smooth it as best you can to lessen finger indentations. Freeze 5-10 minutes to firm up.
When oven is heated to 350 F/ 177 C, remove crust from the freezer and liberally dock the crust (pierce it with a fork) to prevent it from rising.
Bake until well-browned – about 19-22 minutes (it needs 21 minutes in my oven). Remove from oven.
When the crust comes out of the oven, stir the baking powder into the filling, then pour through a strainer into a clean container. Stir the filling in the sieve with a spoon to help the filling flow. Don’t forget to scrap off the filling clinging to the underside of the sieve! (Waste not, want not!)
Discard the bits of zest and egg that remain in the sieve. Yuck!
Pour filling onto the hot crust.
Bake at 350 F / 177 C until the very center of filling still has a slight wobble – 19-21 minutes. (Keep an eye out – the filling cooks quickly at the end). Remove from oven and let rest in the pan for 10-15 minutes.
Run a dull knife between the pan and parchment – the filling tends to leak before it solidifies and needs to be gently dislodged. Gently (notice I use this word again – the crust is still very soft and you don’t want to break it), begin to lift up the bars out of the pan. You’ll probably have to work your way around the parchment ears, lifting….gently. Once it breaks free, place the bars on a wire rack, then peel down the sides of the parchment and let cool completely. Yes, the sides look raggety, but you can cut those away later (or not).
Once the bars are completely cool (and I mean completely!), flip them over by sandwiching them between another wire rack or flat plate. Peel away the parchment and flip them back to right side up.
Slide them onto a flat surface and cover (I have a square Tupperware, or you can use the baking pan.) Refrigerate at least 24 hours. (I know that sounds like a long time to wait, but they need that time to come into their own.) Sprinkle liberally with confectioners sugar and slice away the ratty-looking edges (you can still eat them).
For appearances sake, it’s best to slice the bars with a non-serrated long knife, cutting straight down, using a rocking motion when you get down to the crust. Some people wipe the knife clean after each slice, but I’m not that particular.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR FOLDING A PARCHMENT INSERT
I’m using wrapping paper for this demonstration so you can see which side of the paper goes where. The final product will look like this:
To line an 8″ x 8″ pan, cut out a 14″ x 14″ square (8″ for the pan, plus 3″ for each border. Draw an 8″ x 8″ square in the center of the paper (you don’t have to write the numbers). This will become the bottom of the insert – you don’t want food touching the pencil or ink marks.
2. Fold each border in so the edge meets the ink mark. This fold will be 1.5″ for an 8″ x 8″ pan. There’s no special order to the folding.
3. Flip the paper and fold in each side border, creasing at the ink line. The side border will be 1.5″ tall, double folded. You will now have an 8″ x 8″ square.
4. Unfold the fold you made in Step 3. In each corner you’ll notice a 1.5″ square created by 2 outside edges and 2 creases. Cut one of the 2 creases in each of the 4 corner squares to the corner point (see the neon green lines in the photo below). It doesn’t matter which of the 2 creases you cut in each square, but only cut 1 crease per square.
5. Unfold the paper from each corner flap.
6. Fold each corner flap underneath the side border next to it.
7. Unfold the side border and nestle the flap inside the side border so it fits snuggly.