Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lemon Blueberry Crumb Bars

Last Sunday I celebrated another birthday (sigh!) and my daughter Sarah surprised me by baking an absolutely lovely treat.  She blogs on tumblr and found the recipe there.  It was wonderful and the friends I shared it with couldn't stop raving about how tasty the bars were.  No wonder at all, because Sarah is a great baker.  If she hadn't started using my first Barefoot Contessa cookbook before I did - yes, that's right! - I don't know if I would have had the guts to try the baking recipes myself.  She hasn't had much opportunity to bake in the last four years of university, but maybe now she'll be making Martha Stewart's decadent Fudge Brownies again!  She also knew I'd want to blog about this and share the recipe, so she took the pictures for me. :)

1/2 cup butter
1 package lemon cake mix
2 eggs

2 tsp. zest and 3 tbsps. lemon juice (divided)
2 packages of 8 oz. cream cheese, softened (low fat is fine)
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 13x9 inch pan with foil or parchment paper, letting it extend over the sides for easier removal after baking.

Microwave butter for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until melted.  Combine melted butter with cake mix, 1 egg and the 1 tbsp of lemon juice - mix until well blended.  Press 2/3 of the mix onto the lined cake pan.
With a mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar together.  Add in remaining egg, lemon juice, and lemon zest and mix well.  Pour this cream cheese mix layer over the cake mix.  Add the blueberries on top of the cream cheese.  Use the remaining 1/3 of the cake mix to crumble over the top.

Bake 48 to 50 minutes.  Let cool and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before slicing.  The cake slices best when lifted out of the pan completely.  Slices can be refridgerated in a sealed container to keep them moist.

After sampling the bars, my buddies Teresa and John came up with other possible versions.  Teresa sugested dark chocolate base with fresh raspberries, with melted chocolate swirled into the cream cheese and John's idea was chocolate base with pecans, with caramel swirled into the cream cheese.  I'm sure creating new variations of these tasty bars could go on and on...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Meringue Nests with Mixed Berries and Another Little Treat

Life has been so busy!  Between renos on the house and my daughters' university convocations this month, I haven't had much time to bake any new treats, much less update my blog.  Fortunately, last weekend I did get to make these lovelies which I brought as a dessert to a party.  Even more fortunate is that this is the prime time to enjoy fresh berries of every kind - in my case it's been raspberries, strawberries and blueberries.

For the party, I made meringue nests with mixed berries and whipped cream:

This is one of the easiest desserts I've ever made, but it's one of the most impressive.  Here's how it's made:

For 8 Meringue Nests:

3 room temperature egg whites (you want them room temp. for better volume)
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
pinch of Cream of Tartar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Using a 3 inch cup or glass, with a pencil trace the circles onto the paper.  Depending on the size of your cookie sheet, you will be able to draw 6 to 8 per sheet.  Flip the paper over, so that the pencil is on the UNDER side of the parchment.  This will give you the perfect size guide for piping the meringues.

Using a stand or hand held mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Add the Cream of Tartar until blended, followed by the sugar which is added in 2 tbsps at a time, to ensure it's fully incorporated.  Keep whipping the egg whites until they are glossy and form peaks when the mixer whisk is lifted.

Using a star tip on a piping bag, pipe the outer edge of the nest first, filling in the centres afterward.  Once done, pipe another edge around the circle, which creates the "nest" for your berry filling.  Bake the meringes for 2 hours - it's more like drying out than baking, so do not remove them early.  Allow to cool before moving to cooling racks.

For berry mixture:

I used a 2 lb container of strawberries, 1 pint of blueberries and 1/2 pint of raspberries.  I washed and cut the strawberries into smaller pieces, made sure there were no stems on the blueberries and mixed these two together with about 3 tbsp of sugar.  They sat in the fridge until right before we left, when I topped them with the raspberries, which I didn't want smashed into the mix.

The whipped cream:

Normally, I'm not a fan of whipped cream, but for this dessert it's essential and I'm happy to make an exception.  It's very simple - one cup of heavy whipping cream (yes, the 35% stuff!), 1 tsp good vanilla and 1 tbsp of granulated sugar.  Again, beat all ingredients until peaks form - soft ones for whipped cream, unless you want to make your own very sweet butter.  Try to make the whipped cream as the last thing you prepare before assembling this dessert, so that it doesn't have a chance to separate.  If you're taking it with you as I did, keep it as cold as possible before dessert is served.

For this party, I doubled all the quantities and had enough for 18 desserts.  Everyone seemed to enjoy them very much!

I also found another way to use raspberries recently on mini Lemon Tarts:

This was the easiest thing in the world - frozen mini tart shells, prepared lemon curd and fresh berries.  I followed the directions to bake the shells, let them cool and spooned in the lemon curd.  One raspberry each and they disappeared very quickly!