Monday, September 26, 2011

Lemon Lime Bars

Hi everyone, please welcome my friend, philologist, bassoon player, fellow baker and latest Cupcake Avenger guest blogger Molly Miller and her lemon lime bars!

I felt the urge to bake something summery for a get-together I was having later that night, to help me on my quest to convince my brain that my summer isn't quite over yet.  I originally intended to make some coconut lime sugar cookies, but I realized at the last minute that I didn't want to spend my entire day in the kitchen.  It was 100 degrees outside on the day I was baking, and my kitchen is far far away from my questionable AC unit, so I began to consider other options.  I wanted to toss some stuff in a pan and bake it instead of having to shape dough into balls, make multiple batches, and hang out by the oven all afternoon.  It may have been September, but the temperature told me I should be doing the minimum amount of work possible to make something delicious, and then relax and have a cold drink.

So, I decided to make theseI had more limes than I knew what to do with, and I was excited to try a new type of recipe, having never attempted lemon squares before.  I did not follow instructions, so I will go ahead and rewrite them to show my process.  Feel free to follow the original recipe without my commentary to distract you.

Get a 13x9 inch pan and line it with something.  I was told to use foil, but I somehow ended up with 3 boxes of parchment paper in my drawer, so I decided to use some of it up and they came out of the pan just fine.  Sometimes, it seems like people are using foil and parchment paper because they just want to reduce the amount of cleanup or be extra careful, but I think you do need to line the pan here if you want to remove the bars without cracking the crust.  Do it.

Crust ingredients:
2/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
2 cups all purpose flour (I used white whole wheat flour, and it was delicious.)
Zest of 1 large lemon (or three small limes, if that's what you have.)

Cream together the butter and the sugar and the zest, and then add the flour.  It will end up crumbly, so you can smash it into your pan for your crust.  I've never tried to do that before, so my crust wasn't as pretty as it could have been, but it held together nicely. 

"Bake 20 minutes at 350, or until center is set."  (I overbaked mine.  20 minutes seems insane.  Remember that the crust will get baked AGAIN, and you don't want your edges to get too dark like mine did.)

At first I was a little annoyed that I would have to make a crust AND a filling, but then I realized that there was absolutely no reason to wash my mixing bowl and beaters between the crust and the filling.  Yay less work! 

My recipe told me to hang out and wait while the crust is baking, but really, you should get started on zesting and juicing those lemons and limes.  I did not have any lemons, so these are going to mainly be lime bars.  Instead of a quarter cup of lemon juice and a quarter cup of lime juice, I juiced between 1/3 and 1/2 cup of lime juice and filled the rest of the 1/2 cup with bottled lemon juice from my fridge and a splash of lemon extract for good measure.  I zested a bunch of limes until it looked like I had at least a teaspoon (there's a picture of how much I used) and ignored the bit about the lemon zest.  My bars taste like lime and are delicious, but if you like lemon too, go ahead and adjust lemon/lime proportions as you like.

Filling ingredients:
6 large eggs
2 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour (I used white whole wheat.)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup lime juice (or some combination thereof)
zest of 1 large lemon (unless you don't have any)
1 teaspoon lime zest
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

My recipe encouraged me to add a drop or two of food coloring to make them pretty, but I just plain forgot.  I'm content with the color I ended up with, but go ahead and throw some extra coloring in if you want them to look a little more cheerful.

(Side note: Cooking with The Spatula of Love will make your food delicious and give you the right to brag that you put so much love into your baking that you had to use a special spatula to control it.)

After 20 minutes, the filling had a crust over the top, but the contents were still sloshing around beneath it.  I realized my oven thermometer was reading 300 instead of 350, so I adjusted things and popped them back in.  After 5 minutes, I didn't exactly know how to tell whether they were done or not.  Is the center set?  Well, my toothpick came out clean and nothing was sloshy, so it might be done, right?  But, I hate cutting into something after it has cooled only to realize that I have undercooked it, so I turned off the oven and stuck it in for a few more minutes.  After letting them cool a bit on the counter, you should cover them and let them chill in the fridge for 2 hours.  Then, sprinkle with powdered sugar (and more zest, if you're not sick of zesting yet.  I was.)

At some point, I scooped a bit of something weird looking (undermixed egg?) off the top of the bars and left a small hole behind, as you can see in the pictures.  The powdered sugar covered it, so no worries.  I've included a picture of the uglier edge pieces as a warning against making the crust climb too high and then baking it for longer than you might need to.

I stored my leftovers in the fridge and they were still delicious a week later, though you might have to refresh the powdered sugar if you want them to look pretty after sitting in the fridge for a few days.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Billy's Bakery NYC

On my last trip to the Big Apple, I was somewhat overwhelmed as I only had a few hours to check out what the city had to offer in terms of cupcakes.  No simple task in the town that can largely be credited with starting the cupcake craze for the entire East Coast.  After much deliberation I settled on kingpin Magnolia Bakery as well as the quirky Kyotofu and had really hoped to squeeze in one more shop but didn't have time on my short daytrip. 

As soon as I got back to DC, everyone wanted to know if I'd made it to a bakery called Billy's.  Even the next time I went back to Ohio I ran into a former Billy's employee at Columbus' Bakery Gingham.  Clearly this was a sign.

This time around I made a beeline for Billy's Bakery and instantly saw what all the fuss was about.  In addition to some awesome baked goods, this place has atmosphere for days.  An old-timey respite in the middle of the big city, it was nice to walk in and feel like you'd taken a step back in time, where life was a little bit slower, and you could just have a slice of pie and watch the world go by.  I sampled the banana and carrot cupcakes, as well as the key lime cheesecake and they were all delicious.
I think my parents had this same table when I was little
Key Lime Cheesecake

Billy's is definitely a must try next time you're in the city and they also offer ridiculously gorgeous layer cakes as well as bars, cookies and pies. 

If you go
My attempt at an old-timey looking Billy's pic
Billy's Bakery Tibeca
75 Franklin St
Between Broadway and Church

Billy's Nolita
268 Elizabeth St
Between Prince and Houston Streets

Billy's Chelsea
184 9th Avenue
Between 21st and 22nd Streets