January 20, 2008

Meyer Lemon Bars

I have a problem that I doubt will elicit much sympathy- I am in possession of more Meyer lemons than I know what to do with. It is definitely Meyer lemon season here in southern California- they're at every stand in the farmer's market, and dirt cheap too. I bought a massive bag before Christmas, because I was going to make several batches of lemon curd as gifts and figure I'd need a lot of lemons. Plus they were 4 for a dollar, and I'm not one to resist a bargain.

Even after making the curd, I had 6 lemons left over. Ok, lemon bars! Easy enough.

But the lemon bars only required 2 small lemons, which still leaves me with 4. Hmm...I made lemon drop martinis...squeezed lemon juice in my tea...added a teaspoon of zest to pancake batter (really good)...but there are still more lemons to go. It's like a bottomless pit of lemons, right in my refrigerator.

Oddly enough, the LA Times had a feature in their food section last Wednesday called "100 things to do with a Meyer lemon". Clearly my problem is solved. My favorite suggestions:

4. Make Meyer lemon-cardamom ice cream [recipe on the website!]

16. Infuse your favorite olive oil with Meyer lemon peel

35. Throw a Meyer lemon for your dog to catch and play with; you'll lose the lemon, but your dog's breath will smell fantastic.


Meyer Lemon bars


1 cup, minus 2 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar, plus extra to decorate finished bars
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp table salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cold, cut into 1-inch pieces

Lemon Filling
2 large eggs , beaten lightly
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1.5 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp grated meyer lemon zest
1/3 cup meyer lemon juice, strained
8 tsp milk
pinch table salt

**note: ideally, you should time this so that the filling is ready to go when the crust comes out of the oven, so that you can pour the filling into the hot crust.

-Preheat oven to 350 F.
-Butter an 8-by-8-inch baking dish, or line with one sheet parchment or wax paper, then lay a second sheet crosswise over it so that the surface of the whole pan is covered (see photo at bottom of page for an illustration).
-Crust: Combine flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add butter and cut it into the flour with a pastry blender or fingertips until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal (can also do this in a food processor).
-Sprinkle mixture into pan and press firmly with fingers into even, 1/4-inch layer over entire pan bottom and about 1/2-inch up sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
-Filling: While the crust is baking, whisk eggs, sugar, and flour in another bowl, then stir in lemon zest, juice, milk, and salt and blend well.
-When crust is finished baking, remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
-Stir filling mixture to reblend; pour into warm crust. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes.
-Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to room temperature. Grab the parchment sling and (carefully) transfer to cutting board, fold paper down, and cut into bars with a pizza cutter or knife (wipe knife between cuts, or it gets all sticky).
-Dust with powdered sugar.

Will keep a few days covered and refrigerated.

January 7, 2008

Happy New Year: Anadama Bread

Well, it was nice while it lasted. I spent a lovely two weeks at home in Illinois over the holidays, doing not much other than sleeping, eating, watching tv, eating...

I spent a few days in Chicago, which is just gorgeous in the winter, if a bit cold. And on New Year's Eve, it snowed, the first snow I've seen in almost three years.

In spite of having so much free time, I didn't do much baking aside from the usual Christmas cookies, but I did manage to get off my butt long enough bake this lovely bread. The bread has a chewy texture and a distinct molasses aroma. The recipe is adapted from A World of Breads, by Dolores Casella, which was a very thoughtful Christmas gift from a close family friend. If this recipe is any indication, I'm going to love this book.

Anadama Bread
Makes 2 loaves

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup water

1 packet (2.5 tsp) dry active yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 stick (2 tbsp) butter, melted and cooled
2 cups flour

4-5 cups flour
2 tsp salt

The night before baking: Combine cornmeal and 1 cup water in a large bowl, and leave (covered) overnight or for 12 hours.

The morning of baking, make the sponge: Proof yeast in the 1/2 cup warm water. When yeast is foamy and active (about 10 minutes), add to cornmeal mixture along with warm milk, molasses, butter, and 2 cups flour. Cover bowl and let sit at room temperature for one hour, until sponge is bubbly and has risen a bit.

After one hour, uncover sponge and stir in remaining 4-5 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough forms a homogeneous mass and feels tacky to the touch, but not too sticky.

Place dough on a floured surface. Cover with plastic wrap or an upside down bowl, and leave for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle salt over dough and knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour if necessary in very small increments. Place dough in a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a nice warm spot until doubled in size (about 1.5-2 hours).

Butter 2 loaf pans. Once dough has doubled, turn out onto floured surface and pat into a rough rectangle. Divide dough in half, form each half into a loaf, and place loaves in pans. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

30 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 F. Once loaves have doubled in size, brush tops with water and sprinkle with cornmeal. Bake for 40 minutes or so, until loaves are golden brown on tops, sides, and bottoms. Cool loaves in pans for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.