Monday, December 5
The good; this recipe.
The bad; a cake, lost.
The ugly; overflowing batter. Everywhere.
This weekend I attempted to make a basic carrot cake. Apparently my cake pans are not "deep" enough to accommodate carrot cake's lofty standards. (I blame the shallow pie pans they've been spooning with for the past few months.)
Luckily my oven was already a hot mess and the cake batter spillage merely added to its edgy, artistic appearance.
When a recipe fails, miserably, I can rely on the always-successful *knock on wood* simplicity of bars, cookies + shortbread. And even though I made this cranberry shortbread pre-Cakeageddon, just writing about them makes me feel better about the whole incident.
Cranberries are my winterling lemons. I know lemons are readily available year round, but there are only so many lemon bar recipes one can make before people start shaking their heads and things start to get awkward. Cranberries are special because of their limited appearance (fresh, not canned!). And I love the tart, slightly-bittersweet ambiance they lend so generously to recipes. Plus they're gorgeous.
These bars are blithely luscious. Nutty brown butter, perky cranberries and sugar - I think that's all you need to know. If it's not enough incentive, you can always have a chocolate fix in the form of hot cocoa.
If your pie crust melted, or your custard curdled or your cake batter oozed over sub-par cake pans, whip up a batch of this shortbread and not only will they make you happy, you will feel productive, too. (Browning butter makes one feel chefy.)
Brown Butter Cranberry Shortbread (adapted from Fine Cooking)
crust and topping ingredients
1 cup + 5 Tablespoons (10 1/2 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into chunks [Note: 1 cup of butter= 2 sticks]
1 cup granulated sugar [divided into 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup]
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups + 3 Tablespoons (14 1/4 oz.) all-purpose flour
12 oz bag of cranberries (that's about 2 cups)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup of orange juice
Line a 9x13-inch pan with foil, leaving a slight overhang along the edges. Lightly butter the entire foil-lined pan.
Prepare the crust: Have a medium heat-proof bowl on hand for the brown butter.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Increase the heat to medium and, stirring occasionally, cook the butter until it turns golden brown and develops a nutty aroma. Depending on the stove's heat, it can take 5-8 minutes for the butter to brown properly. During this process the butter will first become foamy before changing color, making it difficult to see what's going on. Just be sure to give it a good stir now and then so that the butter doesn't burn. Once it's gorgeous and fragrant, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the butter to a heat-proof bowl. Cool till lukewarm. [Note: While the butter is cooling, give it a stir now and then, just to prevent it from solidifying. You just want to butter to be cool enough so that it won't scramble the eggs when they're added.]
In a large bowl, combine the cooled brown butter, 3/4 cup of sugar, and salt. Stir till well blended. Add the yolks and the almond extract, whisk until smooth. Using a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the flour until you have a stiff dough. [It will have a very odd, dense texture for shortbread, but it will bake up beautifully, so don't worry.]
Transfer about 2 cups of the dough to the foil-lined pan and press it evenly onto the bottom. I found that it was easier to just press large chunks of the dough into flat 'shingles' and arrange them evenly in the pan, then use your fingers to squish them together until it's one happy, united crust. Refrigerate the pan for about 40 minutes.
Topping: Add the 1/4 cup of sugar to the remaining dough, and using your fingertips, work the sugar into the dough until becomes crumbly and sandy. Cover and set aside.
Divide the oven, placing one rack second from the bottom, and the other second from the top. Heat the oven to 325 F.
Remove the pan from the refrigerator and prick the crust several times with a fork. [Chilling and pricking the dough will keep it from puffing up too much in the oven.]
Place the pan on the lowest oven rack and bake the dough for about 15 minutes, just until the crust begins to set. Don't worry if the center still looks doughy, it's better to under-bake it at this stage.
While the crust is baking, begin preparing the filling.
In a medium size saucepan, combine the cranberries, sugar, and orange juice. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid turns into a thick syrup and the cranberries take on a chunky jam-like consistency (about 8-10 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and allow the filling to cool for about 5 minutes.
Spread the filling over the warm partially-baked crust. Scatter the topping evenly over the cranberries.
Place the pan on the highest of the 2 racks and increase the temperature to 350F. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crumb topping is golden.
Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Cool for at least an hour before removing the bars from the pan (use the foil overhang to lift them out of the pan).
Cut into square or triangles.