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.
Since I posted last, the weather took an unseasonable turn. We had a weekend in the 70s! Most of another week was in the 60s. I took Amelia on walks and to parks several days to let her burn off some of her endless 2-year-old energy. It takes her a while to run out of steam, and I began to fear we’d sunburn in February.
Having had a taste of beautiful weather and sunshine, I have spring fever. I’m pretty sure I’ll cry if we have cold weather again, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
In the meantime, I’d like to share this bright Grapefruit Yogurt Cake with you. I first made it in 2011 and have made it several times since, although not since I moved to New Jersey. Although it’s been a while since I made it, I love this recipe. The cake has a subtle citrus flavor that people can’t quite place, but usually assume is lemon. There are so many lemon recipes out there, that it’s nice to do something a little different. This cake is sweet but not too sweet, so it’s perfect for breakfast or a snack.
The cake is simple to assemble. It takes oil but not butter, and yogurt helps keep it tender. Grapefruit zest lightly flavors the batter, but grapefruit juice poured onto the hot cake shortly after it comes from the oven helps keep it moist and gives it extra grapefruit flavor. A simple glaze of grapefruit juice and powdered sugar pretties it up (particularly if your edges brown excessively like mine tend to do). I find it gives the cake an extra bit of flavor, but feel free to omit it.
The last time I made my usual blueberry muffin recipe, I wasn’t as happy with it as I remembered. Those muffins overflowed and flattened out, more of a mushroom shape than a nice, mountainous muffin shape. It was about then that Alton Brown published an updated version, which I tried – and wasn’t thrilled with because they were way too big, among other reasons. (His assertion that everyone loves a muffin top is inaccurate.) So I was pretty excited when Smitten Kitchen updated her blueberry muffin recipe. It made fewer muffins (9, a good number for a family of 2 1/2 people), looked easy to make, and took ingredients I had as long as I still had blueberries on hand.
I was impressed when I tried the recipe. The muffins assembled easily and quickly, and they turned out perfectly, as promised. They were fluffy and moist, even after a couple of days, and had lots of blueberries strewn throughout them. (Alex actually would like a little more muffin, and a little less blueberry.) I liked the hint of lemon in the muffin. The muffins rose and domed nicely – no batter overflowing onto the muffin pan and flattening out. I think this has become my new go-to muffin recipe.
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.
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!
I love fall. It’s hard to believe how far into fall we are. However, it’s also hard to believe I have an 8-month old.
One of the things that I enjoy, and that I missed doing for a few years, is apple picking. I finally went in St. Louis last year right before Alex and I moved. So I decided I had to see if there was a good orchard in New Jersey where I could get good apples. The one I heard of was near Philly, so I drove up there when my parents came to visit.
We got so many apples. Somehow apple pie came up. Mom wondered if you could make it without cinnamon, and I didn’t see why not. I told my mom that I would make an apple pie as long as I didn’t have to find the recipe for it. She found this Caramel Apple Pie recipe on All Recipes.
It didn’t turn out perfectly the first time, but it was tasty enough to tweak to try a second time. It’s a nice change from heavily spiced, overly sweet apple pie. I think this will be the apple pie recipe I make for a while.
My friend Kate came from St. Louis to visit us in New Jersey! She was the first of our friends to visit (aside from when she and Jen drove out here with me). Alex and I were very excited to have her as a house guest. We three and baby had a great time visiting the boardwalk in Ocean City (which I think I prefer over Atlantic City’s) as well as relaxing at home.
Kate didn’t just visit us – she visited on her birthday! I don’t yet have much of an opportunity to cook and bake (although hopefully that will change soonish), but I had to make her something. Kate is vegan, so of course the Vegan Clementine Cupcake recipe from King Arthur Flour jumped out at me when I saw it this month.
The cupcakes were incredibly easy to make. The recipe calls for peeled, finely chopped clementines or tangerines, but I think any flavorful seedless orange would work. I took a hint from the reviews, and used mandarins from Trader Joe’s and left the thin skins on them. Rather than chop them by hand, I whirred them in my bullet blender for a few seconds until it was slightly chunky pulp. These cupcakes are vegan, but they don’t take any fancy ingredients other than fresh citrus. Vegan or not, they’re the best orange cake I’ve ever tasted.
For Bread 43, I made Stollen. I’d actually planned to make a different panetonne recipe than I have in years past (and skipfruitcake entirely), but with the move and holiday travel, I didn’t have a chance to plan my holiday baking and gifting until last week, with only a week until Christmas. That meant no planning ahead and ordering panetonne papers in advance from Amazon, and the staff at the Michael’s that I went to didn’t know what panetonne was. So, like any good baker, I improvised with a different, but similar, bread. Stollen, like panetonne, also has nuts and liquor-soaked fruit. To its advantage – you can start the dough and bake the bread on the same day.
Stollen is a bread with history and symbolism behind it, of which I basically know what exists on the internet, and so I won’t discuss it here. In any case, it stands to reason that there are many different stollen recipes, but since I’d planned to use the panetonne recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (which I couldn’t do in any case, since the panetonne requires a sourdough starter), I opted for the Stollen recipe from the book instead. Reinhart said that he sometimes baked stollen in panetonne wrappers, so I hoped it would be similar enough. Also a plus – the stollen looked to be much less heavily spiced and lighter on alcohol than fruitcakes I’ve made in the past, which is a good thing if I have to eat some of it. I don’t like heavy, clovey spice mixtures, and I can’t try anything with much alcohol.
Overall, this was a delicious bread – much better than stollen I tried to make several years ago before I knew anything about baking bread. It’s also a great bread to give as gifts. I made several batches, so I did not have the energy to shape the bread traditionally, but I hope that next time I can practice some fancy, decorative shaping.
For Bread 39, and for the first loaf of bread I made at this new house, I decided to pull out another favorite of mine – Yeasted Banana Sandwich Bread. I happened to have an overripe banana in the fridge, and I prefer this bread over any kind of sweet banana bread any day. I wrote about the banana sandwich bread back in 2011, but I’ve made it since then – more than once, I’m sure – because it’s easy, and the results are so satisfying. Not only is this the banana bread that I always fall back to; if I make sandwich bread, this is what I usually make. It’s tender, moist, and a little sweet. It’s a perfect loaf of bread for toast with raspberry jam, for a PB&J, or for French Toast.
I didn’t have a lot of motivation for Bread Week 35, so I decided to take the opportunity to use up a few extremely overripe bananas in a Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Banana Bread recipe that was on the back of the bag of whole wheat flour I bought at Target.