It’s spring, and one of the most cheerful and spring-like things I could think of to take to a recent party was the Lemon Bars recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve made them before, but years ago, and I didn’t have the recipe actually written here on the website. It’s time to fix that, particularly since they’re so delicious and so easy to make.
These lemon bars are incredibly bright and citrusy. They’re nicely tart, definitely sweet but not overwhelmingly so. The base layer is a simple shortbread that comes together very easily with an electric or stand mixer, and the extra-thick layer of lemon curd is easily whisked together. The most time consuming part of making these bars may be juicing the lemons! These bars are great for a potluck or party, because one batch yields a full 9×13 inch pan that will feed a lot of people, especially if cut into 64 two-bite bars (a perfect serving size that lets you get seconds or thirds!). Mine were a little softer than they probably should have been, as I baked them on the shorter end of the time, but the filling still stayed in place except when jostled.
One trick to these: use a metal baking pan that’s lined with parchment paper along the bottom and sides. This keeps the bars from sticking horrendously to your baking pan and allows you to pull them from the pan for easy cutting. Skip it and you’ll be sorry.
When I found the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake on the Smitten Kitchen website, I knew that it would be what I made Alex for his birthday. And I did, a little late, in 2014. It turned out beautifully, perfectly, but I never got around to blogging about it. So this year again, I baked for his birthday.
This is a fantastic cheesecake. The chocolate cookie crust was delicious, as was the peanut butter cheesecake, as was the chocolate fudge layer hidden beneath the cheesecake layer. Chocolate ganache covers the entire thing (and hides any cracks or flaws you might have, though mine surprisingly didn’t crack). The peanut butter cheesecake was smooth and creamy; it paired perfectly with all the chocolate. Overall this was a dense and rich cheesecake. I needed to cut slices very thin – about as thin as I could with a cheesecake – in order to be able to finish a slice. The only downside was that the crust was a little dense and hard in the corners where the sides met the bottom; that was the case two years ago as well, and I wish I knew how to fix that.
Given the separate layers, I find this an impressive dessert to make. No layer was particularly difficult to make. It took a little time and planning, but I didn’t have trouble making it with my toddler watching me (though it helped that she snacked on chocolate animal crackers in the meantime). I had it done in a morning, aside from the ganache on top.
If you love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, this is definitely a dessert for you.
My mom has had a recipe in her recipe box for a chocolate sheet cake for as long as I can remember. She kindly texted me a copy of it a few weeks ago when I really, really wanted to make a sheet cake. I thought it was a Texas sheet cake. It’s not, although it’s similar. Although I thought I wanted to make a Texas sheet cake, I trusted that I’d had and enjoyed this cake before, so I went ahead with it.
It’s been a while since I’ve tried a recipe that wasn’t published online or in a cookbook, so I was a little nervous. However, the cake was delicious. It’s basically a frosted brownie. I inadvertently halved the oil in the cake, but it still came out very moist and stayed moist for a week. The cake itself was tender and chocolatey; it’s a definite keeper. Our least favorite part was the icing, which came out sugary – crystalline and fragile. The cake definitely needs a light icing, and although this one provided just the right amount of coverage and kept the cake from drying out, I’ll try a ganache next time for a better texture.
Recently Smitten Kitchen wrote about the Palm Springs Date Shake. I’d never heard of a date shake before, but I have a bag of dates in my pantry that I never use, and I (suppose I’ll admit that I) always have two or three kinds of ice cream in the freezer. There was no good reason for me not to try a date shake, and the recipe required minimal effort, which is how much I want to exert on my cooking nowadays.
I don’t usually make milkshakes. They require an obscene amount of ice cream in them, and it’s easier to just eat the ice cream. However, this milkshake was surprisingly good. I always forget how delicious dates are; when I eat them, I wonder why I don’t eat them more often. The dates made the milkshake taste honeyed to me, even though there’s no honey included. The nutmeg was subtle but delicious.
The recipe is incredibly simple. Only thing to remember is to chop and soak the dates in boiling water for at least 15 minutes, and that can be done well in advance (which is best, in my opinion, so you can chill them and have the coldest milkshake possible).
I don’t know if this is healthier than normal milkshakes, but I’m going to pretend that it is since it contains fruit. It’s definitely worth making more than once.
Anyone who’s read this blog knows I love chocolate. Let me introduce you to one of the purest and most delicious chocolate things I’ve made.
Over the weekend, I finally made time to make the Belgian Brownie Cakelets from Smitten Kitchen. This weekend was dreary, bringing colder weather as well as snow for the first evening of spring. I didn’t have much in my house that I wanted to cook, though it was a good weekend to cook. This recipe really brightened the whole weekend.
The ingredient list is simple but decadent. Lots of chocolate, butter, and eggs; some sugar; a little salt and flour. It’s rich, but worth every calorie. The recipe itself was easy to assemble as well. Just melt together butter and chocolate; whisk in everything else; let rest; scoop into a muffin tin, then bake. It’s not a flourless cake, but it’s pretty darned close, and is better than most of those cakes that you find. You could substitute in some cocoa powder if you needed to make it gluten-free.
These were amazingly good, just as dense and rich and chocolatey as you might imagine. The cakes were soft and moist; when we microwaved them for 15-20 seconds, they became even richer and more decadent. They’re perfect for entertaining, since they’re individual desserts. Just garnish with a dab of whipped cream and a raspberry or mint leaf. It’s also perfectly fine to split a batch with your husband, for no reason at all except you can.
I had a bunch of frozen blueberries, so I made a blueberry pie. I have a cold right now, so this recipe was about as much effort as I wanted to put into a pie – minimal.
I made this recipe in 2010 when I first started this blog, and it’s still a good, straightforward pie. Not too sweet. I think it turned out better this time. The recipe called for optional cinnamon, which I omitted. I think some lemon zest (probably one lemon) would be a nice addition. I used frozen wild blueberries but extended baking time by about 15 minutes.
I used refrigerated pie crusts as well, since I just don’t have time or inclination to make my own. I find that refrigerated pie crusts stick to whatever pie plate I use, but I always forget to grease the plate in advance. Don’t make my mistake!
Last week we had DirecTv installed. We had it before we moved to New Jersey, but decided to cancel it for a variety of reasons. However, in our area we get ZERO channels via regular or amplified antenna, so we decided to get tv service again. Alex and I went through our complimentary (but temporary) premium channels, recording new movies that we want to see again or that we didn’t get a chance to see in theaters. I knew we’d want a few movie nights, so I immediately wanted brownies to go with them.
Within the past few months I bookmarked the King Arthur Flour Fudge Brownies recipe, and I knew that was what I needed to make. I’ve been dissatisfied recently with my go-to recipe, Hershey’s Best Brownies. It’s not the recipe’s fault. I’ve changed, and it just doesn’t suit my needs any longer. I like them a little better when I add M&Ms or chocolate chips to them, but really, I just need a new go-to brownie recipe. This one is it.
Our baby is one month old! Recently my life has been changing diapers, nursing, and napping. It’s a good thing that I stocked my freezer with meals and all the bread I made last December, because we’ve gone through just about all of it. I don’t mind emptying my freezer or taking care of Amelia at all, but it does mean that I haven’t had two hands available to do cooking or typing/blogging. As baby gets bigger, spending time in the kitchen or on the computer should become a little easier, and I can keep updating this blog!
The only thing I made before last Saturday was baked oatmeal. It was very quick and easy to make in the evenings, and I only made it to streamline my breakfast during the week. My friend Jen reminded me that last Saturday was Pi Day. Was I going to make a special pie for a super-special Pi Day, since it was actually 3/14/15, the extended digits of Pi? It was a shame not to make a pie, since Alex would be home all day and able to watch baby. I hadn’t planned to make anything elaborate, but then I saw that Smitten Kitchen had posted the recipe for a Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie, and although it was more complicated than the super-easy Key Lime Pie I made recently, I couldn’t resist it.
This pie wasn’t too difficult overall, but it was a little more involved than I probably should have tackled with a 4-week old at home. When you have the time to make it, though, it’s totally worth it. As you can see, it didn’t last long in this house.
Did you know that January 23 was National Pie Day? (Not to be mistaken with Pi Day, which is 3/14, but can be celebrated equally well with pie.) The only reason I know is because I looked up US food holidays last month when Alex told me that it was National Cookie Day (which naturally prompted me to make chocolate chip cookies).
A pie holiday, plus a recent post from Smitten Kitchen, spurred me to make Key Lime Pie on Friday. I love making Key Lime Pie; it’s always very quick and simple to bake. I’ve always from the recipe from the Joy of Baking. This time, I mainly followed the Smitten Kitchen recipe, although I found the differences between the recipes to be minimal. Alex and I were very happy with the results. The pie disappeared very quickly.
Here I will tell you the story of how I was disappointed with a very big, delicious cheesecake.
It resulted from cold, unsoftened cream cheese.
I didn’t believe it would make such a big difference, but it did. There is no substitute for thoroughly softening your cream cheese when you make cheesecake. This, more than anything else than I can imagine, is what might make me turn away from a cheesecake. The crack that might form on top if you beat too much air into it or cool the cheesecake too quickly is disappointing, but manageable – you can just cut the cheesecake along those lines, or top the cheesecake with fruit. The cheesecake isn’t so pretty, but it’s still tasty. However, those lumps of cream cheese that aren’t dissolved smoothly into the batter will coalesce in your cheesecake, resulting in more of a curd-like texture. Which is fine if you’re like my husband and love the flavors of cheesecake and honey and bourbon, and focus on that alone. It makes it more difficult for people like me, who will reject food based on texture alone.
I lamented the lack of smooth, creamy cheesecake which I desired, but I managed. It was truly a mess of my own making with a good recipe.
The Honey Bourbon Cheesecake recipe came from A Splash of Bourbon, which I bought while Alex and I toured the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. I’ve enjoyed the book, even if I haven’t made too much from it yet. We liked this recipe – the flavor of of the cheesecake was great. It also happened to be the first cheesecake I’ve made that didn’t develop a crack along the top. That’s definitely a point toward soothing my pride.