My friends in the University of Minnesota Law School Alumni office have perfect pitch: at a great farewell party, they gave me the amazing Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, New York, 2008). I opened the book to the picture of Butterscotch Pudding Tarts (p. 104), and, for the first time in my life, I said "food porn" and meant it in a good way.
Kelsey Dilts McGregor did the right thing -- she made the Banana Cupcakes with Vanilla Pastry Cream (p. 70) just to make sure the book was good enough to give as a gift. I absolutely believe in testing and in preview. Thanks, Kelsey.
I've had this book for a week, and I am two-for-two -- both are winners. Because it was her birthday, my former colleague Stacey Tidball got the first pick of cakes. Mindful that one person is the office is violently allergic to chocolate, she steered clear, and picked Lemon Lime Bars (p. 119), the aforementioned Butterscotch Pudding Tarts, Pumpkin Whoopie Pies (p. 151) and Peanut Butter Pie (p. 100). Even saying these things out loud is a pleasure. Because Lemon Bars are practically a State Food of Minnesota, I went for the Lemon Lime Bars with the graham cracker-toasted coconut crust. Unable to leave well enough alone, I now add candied ginger to the crust. Making the filling requires a candy thermometer. Don't flinch -- just buy one.
But Baked isn't just about sweet baking. If you crave a cheese biscuit that's loaded with cheddar and has a real kick, Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits (p. 35) are for you. They require no special equipment. Bake them and pop the leftovers into the freezer. While you can defrost them in the microwave, they are best reheated in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. You will amaze and astonish your guests, and I guarantee that these biscuits will be Best Friends to your winter chili, summer salads and to year-round tomato soup.
Lemon Lime Bars (adapted from Baked)
Several people I know will skip the crust and make the filling, which is a lemon-lime curd and cries out for a spoon. While I love the crust, especially with ginger, I fully endorse that plan.
Tools: food processor to grind graham crackers and ginger
9x13 baking pan
fine mesh sieve and a spatula
Graham-Coconut-Candied Ginger Crust
1 c. sweetened shredded coconut
2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. candied ginger, chopped or processed with the graham crackers
2 T. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
Lemon Lime Filling
11 large egg yolks*
3 large eggs
1-3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c.fresh lemon juice
2 T fresh lime juice
2 T grated lemon zest
2 T grated lime zest
1-1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup heavy cream
Make the Crust
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Butter or spray the bottom and sides of a 9x13 inch baking pan.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment and toast the coconut until it starts to turn golden (7-10 minutes). Remove from the oven, toss the coconut and return it to the oven for 3 more minutes, or until it starts to smell and is dark gold. Check it every minute after 2 minutes. Burnt coconut is not good.
3. Use a food processor to crush the graham crackers into crumbs. Process the ginger in the same bowl.
4. Put the graham and ginger mixture in a bowl. Using your hands, add the coconut and the brown sugar and mix well. Add the melted butter, and still using your hands, firmly press the crust into the prepared pan. Using a measuring cup as a press will help make an even crust.
5. Refrigerate the crust for 15 minutes, and then bake it for 10 minutes. Cool the crust before adding the filling.
Make the Filling
1. Increase the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
2. Mix the egg yolks, eggs, sugar, lemon and lime juices and zests in a deep clean metal pot. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture reaches 180 degrees. This may take 10 minutes. Do not walk away from this mixture -- if it burns, you will have to start over.
3. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and the cream. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve directly onto the cooled crust. Make certain that you scrape the underside of the sieve to capture ALL of the filling. Tap the pan to make an even layer. NOTE: Fully strained lemon lime curd is smooth and silky. If you don't have a fine-mesh sieve, use a spaghetti strainer and know that you'll have some lemon and lime zest in your bars.
4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the filling is just set. Test for "set" by shaking the pan. When it barely wiggles, it is done. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for a least two hours. Cut into squares.
* What about the egg whites? You can make a lot of omelets or Pavlova. While New Zealanders and Australians continue their dispute over the origin of the Pav, you can make this giant meringue and top it with summer fruits.
Buy this book for yourself or for a baker who loves you.