Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsWhy is it that I always want to make pie when I simply don’t have the time? I would love to take a week off of work just to make pie and drink cold brew, but I know for a fact that I would make exactly one pie and spend the rest of the week trying to get to the beach.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsI’m looking forward to many adventures this summer, but for now, it’s mostly business as usual: lots of work, lots of baseball-watching, lots of late nights, pounds and pounds of seasonal fruit, and every intention of making pie. But again, there is no time for all the rolling and cutting and chilling that goes with pie. Not this week, anyway. I think I’ll just stick with these Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars instead.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsThese bars have everything you love about sweet cherry pie, but are half the work. Less than half, even. There’s buttery crust and crunchy, nubbly topping. There’s sticky, not-too-sweet cherry filling. And there’s exactly zero chilling, rolling, crimping, and railing at the universe because the heat is melting all the butter in your must-must-must-stay-cold pie dough. That’s my kind of summer day dessert.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread Bars come together fairly quickly and are very simple to make. Leave your mixer in the cabinet—you won’t need it today. Just fold together a couple pounds of pitted sweet cherries (feel free to use frozen), sugar, nutmeg, cornstarch, and salt. I like to add a bit of almond extract too, as it pairs well with cherries, but feel free to leave it out if you don’t have any or are allergic to tree nuts. The filling will look powdery at first, but it will release some liquid as it sits.

The next step is making the shortbread. I freaking love shortbread. It requires minimal ingredients and ability, and is far more than the sum of its parts. Here, it serves as both the crust and the topping. To make this shortbread, just rub cold butter into a mixture of flour, sugar, and salt. A cohesive dough will not form—the mixture will be powdery overall, but should hold together when pinched. Once the butter is broken down in the dry ingredients, set aside a cup of the mixture for topping.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsNext, assemble the bars. Pour the remaining shortbread mixture into a foil-lined square baking dish and press it into an even layer. Then, dock it with a fork.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsTop the crust with the cherry mixture, discarding any excess liquid. Grab that reserved cup of the shortbread mixture. Working with just a little bit at a time, pinch it together and scatter little clumps of dough over the cherries. When that’s done, bake the assembled bars for 40-50 minutes, transferring the pan to the bottom rack at the halfway point. You’ll know they’re done when the filling just barely jiggles when the pan is jostled. Oh, and when your kitchen smells incredible 😊

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsAnd now, for the hard part—cooling. Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars must cool to room temperature before you slice them. It’s the difference between the clean edges you see here and a gooey, crumbly mess. If you are short on time (or just impatient), you may place the pan in the freezer once you can handle it without oven mitts. It’ll bring the bars to room temperature in 45 minutes or so.

Once the bars are cool, use the foil overhang to remove them to a cutting board and peel off the foil. I find this easiest to do by removing the foil on the sides, slicing the bars, and then using a thin spatula to lift them from the foil on the bottom. However you go about it though, you’re in for a treat. 

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsLook at these beauties! That buttery, flaky shortbread and the beautiful cherry filling—I can’t get enough. Who needs pie when you can have Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars?!Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars

Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars
makes one 9-inch square pan, about 9 bars

Cherry Filling:
2 pounds whole sweet red cherries, stemmed and pitted
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)

Shortbread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes

Place oven racks in top and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 375F. Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil, leaving overhang on two sides. Grease foil with butter. Set aside.

Make cherry filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine pitted cherries, sugar, nutmeg, cornstarch, salt, and almond extract. Fold everything together with a silicone spatula. Set aside, stirring occasionally, while you make the shortbread.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Add cold butter. Use your fingertips to rub butter into flour until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. It will be powdery, but should hold together when pinched. Set aside 1 cup of the mixture for topping.

Pour remaining shortbread mixture into prepared pan. Spread it around to cover the bottom of the pan before using your hand to pack it down into an even layer. Prick several times with a fork. Pour cherries over the top, discarding any excess liquid.

For the topping, use your fingers to pinch together small portions of the reserved shortbread mixture. Scatter them over the top of the cherry layer.

Bake bars on the top rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Move bars to the bottom rack and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, until the filling just barely jiggles when the pan is jostled. Tent with foil if anything begins to brown too quickly. Let bars cool in the pan on a rack until they reach room temperature.

Use foil overhang to remove bars to a cutting board. Carefully peel off foil (see post above for my method). Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice into nine squares. Serve.

Leftover Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days, or in the refrigerator for up to four.

Brown Butter Strawberry Shortcakes

Brown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesFather’s Day is coming up! Normally, I would write a sappy post about my dad (he’s a great guy–see here and here), but he’s a little Internet shy. I don’t blame him. So, instead of writing about him and a dessert he would love, I’m going in the opposite direction.

Brown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesMy dad doesn’t care for strawberries, so in order to keep him out of this post, I am bringing you Strawberry Shortcakes. But not just any old strawberry shortcakes–these little guys are made with brown butter. See those gorgeous golden brown biscuits? They’re full of the stuff.

Brown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesSo, how exactly does one make biscuits with brown butter? Well, logically, you start by browning the butter. Place a stick of butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, and then babysit it. No, helicopter parent it. It will melt and bubble and sputter for a few minutes, and you need to be swirling it frequently. Don’t leave the room, don’t check your work emails, don’t strike up a conversation with your roommate. You need to watch that butter. Just when you think it’s not going to do anything beyond splatter your stovetop, the solids in it will turn brown and give off an incredibly rich, nutty aroma. That’s how you’ll know it’s ready. Immediately pour it into a little bowl–don’t let it sit in the pan or it will burn. Burnt butter is not delicious.

Brown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesOnce that brown butter isn’t searing hot anymore, place it in the fridge. Unlike most recipes calling for brown butter, this recipe will not work if the butter is liquid. For our biscuits to be flaky (instead of brown butter-flavored hockey pucks), it needs to solidify and be very cold. This will take a few hours. I recommend browning the butter the night before you want to use it. That way there’s no waiting the next day.

Brown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesMaking brown butter biscuits is a lot like making Buttermilk Biscuits. Whisk together flour, baking powder, a few tablespoons of brown sugar (these are decidedly sweet), and a touch of salt. Use a pastry blender or your fingertips to cut the cold brown butter into the dry ingredients, before stirring in some cold half-and-half. I don’t recommend using milk in this recipe. When the butter browns, its water content evaporates. Using a liquid with a higher fat content helps restore some of that lost moisture.

Brown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesBrown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesTurn the dough onto a floured surface. Pat it out and give it a few folds to ensure flakiness before cutting it into rounds. Pat your leftovers back together and cut them again–you should get about a dozen biscuits. Place them close together on a lined baking sheet, brush them with more half-and-half and sprinkle coarse sugar over the tops. Bake them for 12-14 minutes, just until puffed and golden.

Brown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesWhile the biscuits are baking, fold together a ton of sliced strawberries and a bit of sugar. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let them sit. This is called macerating—it will allow the berries to release a lot of moisture, creating a delicious strawberry syrup. The longer they sit, the more liquid there will be. The strawberries pictured only sat for half an hour, but you can do this up to a day in advance; just let the berries macerate in the fridge.

Brown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesBrown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesWhen your biscuits are cool and your strawberries are to your liking, whip some cream. Slice the biscuits in half and layer them with the strawberries and whipped cream—there are no hard and fast rules about how much of each, at least as far as I’m concerned. Just pile them up how you like them, and then dig in!

Brown Butter Strawberry ShortcakesY’all, these Brown Butter Strawberry Shortcakes are in. sane. INSANE. Beyond the absolute perfection that is the combination of strawberries and whipped cream, there are the incredible brown butter biscuits. They are lightly sweet, but rich from the brown sugar and the nutty brown butter. Layered with the berries and cream—well, they’re about as wonderful as strawberry shortcake gets. Even my dad might like ‘em.Brown Butter Strawberry Shortcakes

Brown Butter Strawberry Shortcakes
makes 12 servings

Brown Butter:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

Brown Butter Biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup brown butter, solid, very cold
2/3-3/4 cup half-and-half, very cold, plus more for brushing
1 tablespoon coarse sugar (like turbinado), for sprinkling

Strawberries:
1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered (about 4-5 cups)
1/3 cup granulated sugar

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Brown the butter. Place butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Let butter melt. Butter will bubble and crackle as the water content evaporates. Swirl the pan frequently for 5-7 minutes, keeping an eye on the color. When the solids are turning brown and the butter is nutty and fragrant, remove the pot from the heat and immediately pour the brown butter into a small bowl. Let the butter cool to room temperature before refrigerating until solid and very cold, several hours or overnight.

Make the biscuits. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt. Add cold brown butter. Use a pastry blender or clean fingertips to cut the butter into the flour until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Stir in 2/3 cup half-and-half. Add more half-and-half by the tablespoon (up to 2 tablespoons), until no unincorporated bits remain.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Pat it to 1/2-inch thickness. Fold it in half and give it a quarter turn (more details on this process here). Repeat patting and folding until you have done it 3-4 times total. Use a 2 1/2-inch round cutter to cut biscuits. Pat scraps back together and cut a few more. Place biscuits close together on the prepared pan. Brush them with more half-and-half and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake 12-14 minutes, until puffed and golden. Let biscuits cool in the pan on a rack until they reach room temperature.

While the biscuits are baking, fold strawberries and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for up to an hour. This may also be done a day in advance—just let the strawberries macerate in the refrigerator.

When the biscuits are cool and the strawberries are ready, whip the cream. In a large mixing bowl, combine heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar. Use an electric mixer on medium-high speed to whip cream until soft peaks form.

Assemble shortcakes. Slice biscuits in half. Lay the bottom half of a biscuit on a plate. Top with strawberries and whipped cream. Place the top half of the biscuit over the top. Spoon on more strawberries and whipped cream. Repeat with remaining biscuits. Serve immediately.

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry MuffinsBlueberry Muffins always make me think of summer camp. I went from the time I was in first grade, and after sixteen years (twelve as a camper, four as a counselor/staff), my love of summer camp is just a part of who I am. I finished my last year at camp a mere eight days before I moved to New York–almost ten years ago!–but around this time every year, I still get the urge to pack a trunk and take up residence in a cabin in Granbury, Texas. I know I have many friends who would be happy to join me.

Blueberry MuffinsIt’s different now, but the food at camp was pretty terrible back in my day, save for a few crowd-favorite meals. The highlights of the week were grilled cheese and tomato soup and blueberry muffins. Yes, blueberry muffins were as good as camp breakfast got. I don’t know how exactly it got started, but we had a tradition during those breakfasts where we’d all occasionally chant-yodel “BLUE…BERRY MUFFINS!” I wish I could explain why we all thought it was so funny, but as anyone who has ever gone to camp can tell you, it’s just a camp thing.

Blueberry MuffinsThose summer camp blueberry muffins will always hold a place in my heart, but in all actuality, they weren’t very good–dry with a hard outer crust and gummy blueberries. They worked on those early mornings, but I know I wouldn’t want one now.

Blueberry MuffinsBlueberry MuffinsBlueberry MuffinsThe blueberry muffins I make these days are everything you could possibly want them to be. They’re soft and fluffy with domed tops, and positively bursting with blueberries–there are two whole cups in the recipe! The muffins themselves are flavored with a bit of vanilla and nearly-undetectable dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg. They stay moist for days thanks to buttermilk, a combination of melted butter and oil, and the blueberries, of course! Really, they are everything a blueberry muffin should be.

The only things that could make them better are a swipe of butter and sharing with a camp friend or two. Or sixty.Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins
makes 12 muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
12 ounces fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil (I used canola)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoon coarse sugar (like turbinado), for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a 12-cup standard muffin pan with cupcake liners. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Remove 2 tablespoons of the dry ingredients and place in a separate medium mixing bowl. Add fresh blueberries. Toss together with your hands until blueberries are coated in the dry ingredients. This will keep them from sinking in the batter. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg and yolk, vanilla, oil, and melted butter. Add dry ingredients in three installments, scraping down the bowl as you go. Mix just until combined. Fold in blueberries.

Divide batter among muffin cups–they will be almost completely full. Sprinkle with coarse sugar. Carefully tap the pan on the counter five times to release any large air bubbles. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 350F and bake for an additional 14-18 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for at least five minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely before serving.

Leftovers will keep covered at room temperature for up to three days, or in the refrigerator for up to five.

Southwestern-Style Shrimp & Grits

Southwestern-Style Shrimp & GritsThis past Friday night I was asked to cater a dinner party for twenty. The guest of honor hadn’t asked for anything but Red Velvet Cake, so I reached out to her early in the week to ask what she would like to have for dinner. As often happens, she turned the question around on me and asked what I thought would be good. My mind immediately went to Shrimp & Grits, a classic low-country dish, to go along with her decidedly southern cake. When I gave her my suggestion, she replied “That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.” And so it was.

Southwestern-Style Shrimp & GritsFriday came, and with it a quintuple batch of Shrimp & Grits, a big green salad with tomato, avocado, and buttermilk dressing, and thick slices of Red Velvet Cake served to dear friends in a garden in Brooklyn Heights. And you know what? It was maybe the best dinner party I’ve catered so far, and I’ve catered a lot of dinner parties. The food was good, the company was better, and I never really got flustered–a win all around. I was super proud of the work I had done, but I couldn’t help thinking about how I could make Shrimp & Grits “my own.” What can I say? I can’t leave well enough alone.

Southwestern-Style Shrimp & GritsAnd so, I spent this past weekend making even more Shrimp & Grits. But instead of keeping it traditional, I added a little southwestern flair. I whisked a touch of cayenne into the cheddar cheese grits. I swapped the bacon for chorizo. I traded lemon for lime. I added traditional southwestern spices like cumin and chipotle powder to the sauce, and I topped it all with chopped fresh cilantro.

Southwestern-Style Shrimp & GritsY’all, these are the best Shrimp & Grits I’ve ever had. The grits are super creamy and cheesy with just a hint of heat. The shrimp are smoky and a little spicy with a good hit of lime. Southern comfort food meets the southwest–yum.

The best part? This hearty, comforting meal comes together in under an hour, meaning that you can have Shrimp & Grits any night of the week. And on the chance that you have leftovers the next morning, I highly recommend topping them with a fried egg.Southwestern-Style Shrimp & Grits

Southwestern-Style Shrimp & Grits
makes 4 servings

Grits:
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup old-fashioned grits*
6 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Shrimp:
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces Spanish-style (dried) chorizo, casings removed, quartered, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 pound peeled & deveined raw jumbo shrimp, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1 sweet bell pepper, diced small
4 scallions, white and green parts separated, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 large (or 3 small) cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon cornstarch
juice of 1 lime
chopped cilantro, for garnish

Prepare the grits. Combine milk and water in a 4-6 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, watching carefully so that the mixture does not boil over. Add salt. Whisk in grits. Reduce heat to low and let simmer uncovered until cooked (mine took 20 minutes*). Remove from heat. Whisk in cheddar cheese, followed by butter and cayenne. Cover while you make the shrimp.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add chorizo, cooking until crispy. Remove the chorizo to a bowl. Remove and reserve all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat from the pan.

Working in batches if necessary, add shrimp to the pan and cook just until they turn pink, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.

Add more fat to the pan as necessary. bell pepper and sliced white portions of scallion to the pan and cook until soft. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in chipotle powder, cumin, and optional cayenne. Add chicken broth and let come to a simmer.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 2 teaspoons of the boiling chicken stock until a gluey paste (slurry) forms. Stir it back into the simmering chicken stock mixture and cook until slightly thickened, 3-5 minutes. Fold shrimp and sliced green portions of scallion and cook for 1-2 more minutes, just to heat through. Remove from heat. Stir in lime juice.

To serve, divide grits among four bowls. Top with shrimp mixture. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.

Leftover grits will keep in the fridge for up to five days. Leftover shrimp are good for up to three days.

Notes:

  1. I used Quaker Old-Fashioned Grits. You may also use quick grits or stone ground grits.
  2. Refer to grits packaging for cook time.

Cheesecake Brownies {Grain-Free}

Cheesecake Brownies {Grain-Free}For a baking blogger, I sure haven’t baked much lately. It’s not because I haven’t wanted to–no, I always want to bake–but because I’ve been so crazy busy. Eliot was here, I went to Texas, my best friend from college was in town, I turned 32…I simply haven’t had the time!

Cheesecake Brownies {Grain-Free}My last three recipes haven’t required an oven at all. I’m not complaining though; I’ve been enjoying lots of Iced Matcha Lattes, Whole Wheat Pancakes, and Key Lime Pie Popsicles lately 😊

But enough about that. Today, let’s get back to baking.

Cheesecake Brownies {Grain-Free}Cheesecake Brownies are a classic for a reason–who can resist a fudgy brownie swirled with a layer of creamy cheesecake?! Add to that that this recipe is completely grain-free, thanks to my spin on Katharine Hepburn Brownies, and you’ve got a surefire crowdpleaser for all your cookouts this summer!Cheesecake Brownies {Grain-Free}

Cheesecake Brownies {Grain-Free}
makes one 9-inch square pan, about 16 brownies

Cheesecake:
8 ounces full-fat brick-style cream cheese
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large eggs
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Brownies:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder (natural or dutch process)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

Place oven racks in the top and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 325F. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil, leaving overhang on two sides. Grease foil with butter. Set aside.

Make cheesecake. In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese until fluffy. Mix in sugar, followed by egg and vanilla. Set aside.

In a double boiler or the microwave, melt butter and unsweetened chocolate together until smooth. Let cool slightly before transferring to a large mixing bowl.

Whisk in granulated and light brown sugars, followed by eggs and vanilla. Mix in cocoa powder and salt. Reserve 1/3 cup of batter in a small bowl.

Transfer the rest of the batter to the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Drop spoonfuls of cheesecake over the top, followed by spoonfuls of the reserved brownie batter. Swirl with a small, thin knife. Tap full pan five times on the countertop to release air bubbles and distribute. Cover pan with foil. Bake on the top rack for 20 minutes. Uncover pan. Bake on the bottom rack for an additional 20-30 minutes, until cheesecake just barely jiggles when the pan is jostled.

Let brownies cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. Refrigerate in the pan for four hours (or overnight). Use foil overhang to remove brownies to a cutting board. Peel off foil. Slice and serve.

Leftover Cheesecake Brownies will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.