Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

I can tell spring is here and summer is around the corner, because rhubarb has been all over my Instagram feed.  I’ve had bakery desserts with the red celery-like stalk, but I had never made anything with it myself.  Everyone else is doing it, so why not?  The grocery store had a crazy deal on gorgeous juicy strawberries (2 pounds for $3!) last weekend and the rhubarb looked great, so last weekend was a good a time as any to take the plunge!  It was meant to be.  I also took the opportunity to nibble on a piece of raw rhubarb because I’d only ever had it baked in a dessert.  And boy there is a reason why rhubarb isn’t served raw – my mouth puckers just thinking about the bitter tartness!

Admittedly, I bought far too much rhubarb, and ended up doing some experimenting with the extras.  I made a rhubarb puree and then combined it with a lemon bar.  I think I need to tinker with the recipe some more, because Kevin said it tasted like a Fig Newton.  It was not supposed to taste like a Fig Newton.  Also, let it be known that I am fairly certain they used rhubarb puree for the Psychomagnotheric Slime in Ghostbusters II.  It was bright pink jelly, and I of course forgot to take a photo of it.  Fortunately, no psychokinetic events took place during the making of this puree.

Making Rhubarb Puree (not for this recipe)

But I digress.

Smitten Kitchen’s social media channels have had rhubarb recipes on repeat lately, and the recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars in particular caught my eye.  I doubled the recipe for a 9″x13″ baking dish, and used less fruit in proportion to the original recipe.  You can halve the recipe for an 8″x8″ pan, but the bars will be a bit thinner.  But why would you want less of these bars??  The recipe was originally written as a one-bowl recipe, but the OCD in me kicked in and I ended up using a separate mixing bowl so that I could guarantee the crust/crisp would be mixed evenly.  Here is the recipe as adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • Heaped 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 14 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp cornstarch (optional, but helps firm up the filling)
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 2 TBSP granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced rhubarb (from about 3 medium stalks)
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced strawberries
  • Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. For easy removal and clean-up, line bottom and two sides of 9″x13″ baking dish with parchment paper.

    Lets Make Some Magic!
  2. Mix together oats, flour, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. Pour melted butter over, and stir until clumps form. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the crumble mixture. Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.
  3. Spread half the fruit over the crust. Sprinkle it evenly with cornstarch, then lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Spread remaining fruit over this, and top with second tablespoon sugar. Scatter reserved crumbs over fruit and bake bars for 30 to 40 minutes (firmer fruits will take longer), until fruit is bubbly and crisp portion is golden and your kitchen smells amazing.

    Ready for the Oven
  4. Let cool in dish.* Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving with (obviously) a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. Store leftovers in fridge.

    Smells Amazing

*Smitten Kitchen recommends cooling in the fridge to make sure the bars are crisp, but using less fruit than the original recipe I think kept the bars from getting soggy.  I didn’t need to chill mine!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

Dovetailing off the Chicken Enchiladas I made for the Sho-Yu holiday party we had (yes, still a few months behind here), I wanted to share the dessert I made for the potluck!  I took advantage of hosting the party this year and picked a dessert that could be served hot out of the oven – bread pudding!  And not just any bread pudding – croissant bread pudding.  Sometimes I find bread pudding using bread (challah, brioche, etc.) can get a little too dense.  And let’s be honest – if you’re going to have bread pudding, you might as well commit to the buttery, flaky goodness that croissants can bring to the table!

I’ve been a fan of Michael Chiarello for a few years now, after Kevin and I ate at his Italian restaurant in Yountville, Bottega Napa Valley, which is still arguably our favorite Italian meal (including the ones we had IN Italy!).  I’ve also had the pleasure of dining at his tapas restaurant in San Francisco, Coqueta, where my favorite grilled octopus can be found.  He spoke at an event I worked on at Coqueta, and my boss at the time knew I was a fan and insisted on getting me a photo with him.

Best Buds – I Wish!

After some research online for just the right recipe, I came across Michael Chiarello’s Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding recipe, and couldn’t wait to make it.  I do admit that I made a few adjustments to it, skipping the raisins and bourbon as well as adding an extra 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 12 croissants
  • 3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped small (I use Guittard chocolate baking bars for best results)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a blender or stand mixer*, combine butter and sugar process until well blended. Add cinnamon, and vanilla, and pulse to combine.  *The original recipe says to use a food processor, but it’s too much liquid for the food processor to handle.

    Sugar, Cinnamon, Butter, Vanilla
  2. While the mixer is running, pour the beaten eggs into the mixture. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides. Add the heavy cream and pulse to combine.

    Use a Blender Instead
  3. Lightly butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Break up the croissants into 1-inch pieces and layer in the pan. Scatter the bittersweet chocolate over the top, and gently mix to incorporate. Pour the egg mixture over the croissants; soak for 8 to 10 minutes. You will need to push croissants pieces down during this time to ensure even coverage by egg mixture.

    Ready for the Custard
  4. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 10 minutes to brown the top. The croissant bread pudding is done when the custard is set, but still soft. Allow to cool. Serve with the ice cream of your choice!  I used Alden’s Organic Salted Caramel Ice Cream.

    Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

    I can’t wait for an excuse to make this again!

Momofuku Milk Bar’s Compost Cookies

I’ve been lucky enough to dine at a few of David Chang’s eateries over the years – Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Milk Bar, and Momofuku Ssam Bar.  All were very memorable experiences in their own way, and I’m excited for Majordomo to open up in LA soon!  I loved the Milk Bar concept and still dream about that cereal milk soft serve.  My sister-in-law loves salty snacks and cookies, so I wanted to make a crowd-pleasing sweet and salty treat that wasn’t the usual Brown Butter Sea-Salted Rice Crispy Treats for the family get-together.  I remembered the Compost Cookie from my first visit to Milk Bar in New York and wanted to recreate it.

I followed the recipe exactly as written the first go around, and I thought the cookies were a bit too sweet for my taste and way too big.  The next time, I used a 1/4 measuring cup to portion out the dough and reduced the time in the oven.  I also used less butterscotch (which I thought overpowered the rest of the cookie a bit) and added pecans.  The original recipe came from an article in the Los Angeles Times if you want to use the original version. I’m sharing the recipe here with my tweaks:

MAKE THE GRAHAM CRACKER MIXTURE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup milk powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter, more if needed
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

DIRECTIONS:

  1.  In a medium bowl, toss together the graham cracker crumbs, milk powder, sugar and salt with your hands to evenly distribute.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter and heavy cream. Add to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. The butter will act as glue, adhering to the dry ingredients and turning the mixture into a bunch of small clusters. The mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand. If it is not moist enough to do so, melt an additional 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and mix it in with the crust base.
  3. This makes about 2 cups crust base, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe. Eat the base, or use as desired in other recipes. Store in an airtight container for up to one week at room temperature, or for one month in the refrigerator or freezer.

MAKE THE COMPOST COOKIES

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons glucose or light corn syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup mini butterscotch chips
  • 1/2 cup (1/4 recipe) graham crust
  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground coffee
  • 2 cups potato chips
  • 1 cup mini pretzels
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugars and glucose on medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla, and beat for an additional 7 to 8 minutes.
  2. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute, being careful not to overmix the dough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
  3. Still on low speed, add the chocolate and butterscotch chips, the graham crust, oats and coffee and mix just until incorporated, about 15 seconds.

    Add the Sturdy Add-Ins
  4. Add the potato chips, pretzels, and pecans and beat, still on low speed, just until incorporated, being careful not to overmix or break too many of the pretzels or potato chips. I found that giving the stand mixer a “pulse” or two to incorporate the chips and pretzels was enough to incorporate them but not break them up too much. (LA Times says you deserve a pat on the back if one of your cookies bakes with a whole pretzel standing up in the center.)

    Add the Salty Add-Ins
  5. Using a  1/4-cup measure, portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing each portion roughly 4 inches apart.  I fit four per baking sheet after learning from this little disaster:

    When You Try to Cram Too Many on a Baking Sheet
  6. Pat the tops of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, up to one week. Do not bake the cookies while at room temperature because they will not bake up properly.

    I used a 1/4 Measuring Cup
  7. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  8. Bake the cookies, one tray at a time on the center rack, 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the cookies halfway through baking for even cooking. The cookies will puff, crackle and spread while baking, and should be very faintly browned on the edges yet still bright in the center. Give them an extra minute or so if needed.
  9. Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a plate or an airtight container for storage. At room temperature, the cookies will keep fresh for 5 days; frozen, they will keep for up to 1 month.

NOTE:  If you plan on freezing the extra dough, portion out the dough before freezing it or it will be very difficult to scoop into the measuring cups later.  Once the dough is cold, it really is hard to deal with!

Momofuku Compost Cookies

Banana Bread

In my quest this past spring to find a breakfast bread that wasn’t overloaded with sugar but still tasty, I gave a number of different recipes a try.  The third recipe I tried out (from AllRecipes.com) for Banana Bread was hands down my favorite.  Because the banana content is so high, you don’t have to worry about moisture and you don’t need as much added sugar as other breads do.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C butter (1 stick)
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/3 C mashed overripe bananas (about 3 bananas)*
  • 1/2 C chopped walnuts (optional)

*NOTE:  If you don’t have over-ripened bananas, you can ripen them to your liking in the oven.  Put them in the oven at 250°F for 15-25 minutes (depending on how unripe they were to begin with).  The low heat accelerates the ripening, turning them sweet and almost pudding-like.  However, beware the peel will turn an unappetizing black color, and the bananas may leak a little!

On-Demand Overripe Bananas

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Since the bread is SO moist, it won’t stay fresh for very long.  I would give it three days tops outside of the fridge, and maybe 4-5 days in.  With that, I prefer to split these into 6″ x 3″ x 2″ mini loaf pans (this recipe will make enough for 3), wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze the loaves I’m not going to eat immediately.  The loaf at that size will easily thaw over night.  Just adjust the cook time to about 40 minutes, but start checking for doneness around 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart

A long time fan of ispahan and admirer of French pastries, I had to take advantage of being in Paris a few months ago and try one of Pierre Hermé’s famous ispahan macarons!

Ispahan Macaron
Ispahan Macaron

Here are a couple more fun snaps from our time in Paris.  Italy photos to come soon!  The Palace of Versailles was one of our favorite stops on this trip.

Jardin de Versailles
Jardin de Versailles

We’re standing in front of the Arc de Triomphe below, on the outside of what Kevin and I coined the “Frogger Roundabout”.  A lot of tourists didn’t realize there was a tunnel that led you from where we are standing underneath the roundabout and right under the gorgeous monument.  People were nuts and played frogger, dodging cars to get to the Arc!

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

And of course – Le Tour Eiffel!

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower

Shirley gave me the Baking: From My Home to Yours cookbook for Christmas this past year, and feeling inspired from our trip, the first recipe (of many) that caught my eye was of course Pierre Hermé’s lemon cream.  The “Most Exquisite” in the title was enough of a sell to pique my interest! This is way different from lemon curd, though they both use the same ingredients. With lemon curd, you cook everything together til it thickens and then strain it.  With this lemon cream recipe, you cook everything but the butter til it thickens and then whip the butter into it until it’s fluffy.  Even though the only dairy in it is butter, it really does feel more like a cream. Truly remarkable!

Here’s the recipe as adapted from the book.  I recommend reading through the entire recipe first before starting, as paying attention to the details are important for this one.

INGREDIENTS:

DIRECTIONS:

Getting ready: Have a thermometer, preferably an instant-read, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor by your side. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

  1. Put the sugar and zest in a large metal bowl that can be fitted into the pan of simmering water. Off heat, work the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs followed by the lemon juice.

    Zest and Sugar
    Zest and Sugar
  2. Fit the bowl into the pan (make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl) and cook, stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels slightly warm to the touch. Cook the cream until it reaches 180°F. As you whisk, you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling. The cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as the cream is getting closer to 180°F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. At this point, the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking and don’t stop checking the temperature. And have patience – depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.  [NOTE: I whisked for exactly 10 minutes on the dot before the temp hit 180 degrees.  Also, if you happen to take your eyes off of the cream for just enough time to let the cream get a few traces of scrambled eggs in it, fear not. You’ll strain the cream later anyway.]

    Whisk Cream Mixture Over Double Boiler
    Whisk Cream Mixture Over Double Boiler
  3. As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

    Strain the Lemon Cream
    Strain the Lemon Cream
  4. Turn the blender to high or turn the processor and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going – to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.
  5. Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. [NOTE: The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 day or, tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.]

    Pre-Plastic Wrap
    Pre-Plastic Wrap
  6. When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell.  Serve the tart, or refrigerate until needed.

    The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart
    The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart

I brought this to a holiday potluck at Leslie and Tri’s so that Shirley and Spencer could try it as well.  In hindsight when I make this again, I’ll definitely make some whipped cream to go with it.  The lemon cream is SO silky and delicate, but very tart.  I think a dollop of whipped cream would have been perfect complement.

A Tart Little Slice of Heaven
A Tart Little Slice of Heaven

Thanks again, Shirley!  Looking forward to seeing what other goodies will come from this amazing book!