Lemon Ricotta Bars

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I went on a baking/food styling spree 4th of July weekend (see my mini blueberry pie post) and finally got around to making these lemon ricotta bars I had been eyeing from Food52.  If you don’t already follow them (via email, Facebook, instagram, etc.) I highly recommend you do!  They have tons of fantastic, but simple, recipes as well as beautiful photos and a wonderful selection of kitchen goods/accessories.

I love lemon bars and I love ricotta cheese so it only seemed natural to put them together.  The ricotta cheese gave the lemon bars a lighter and fluffier texture than normal lemon bars and made for a tangy yet refreshing summer treat.  I brought them into the hospital for my hardworking team and they ate them up pretty quickly!

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I’ve been practicing my food styling from my food photography class with Betty Liu and Cottage Farm so I got a little creative with the photo set ups for this recipe.  Some of the tips I employed for this shoot was styling using remnants of ingredients (like the juiced lemon rinds and egg shells) and using cheese cloth to add simple texture to the backdrop.  One of my favorite things about these photos is the oyster shaped ceramic plate made by Ae ceramics in Maine that I picked up the the Portland Trading Co. in Portland, Maine.  I am a little obsessed with this plate which may look familiar to you if you have ever dined at Eventide Oyster Co., also in Portland, Maine.  I am planning to add to my collection next time I am in Portland!

Lemon Ricotta Bars (from Food52)

  For the Crust

  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1-inch pieces, slightly softened plus extra for greasing pan
For Lemon-Ricotta Filling

  • 8oz (1 cup) fresh whole milk Ricotta, drained
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/3cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice from 3 to 4 large lemons, strained
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

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  1. To make the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a pastry brush, lightly butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and line with one sheet parchment paper. Butter paper, then lay second sheet crosswise over it.
  3. Pulse flour, confectioner’s sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest and salt in food processor.
  4. Add butter and process to blend; then pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal.
  5. Sprinkle mixture into lined pan and, press firmly with fingers into even layer over entire pan bottom and about 1/2-inch up sides.
  6. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, and then bake until light golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  7. To make the filling: Whisk ricotta, eggs, sugar, and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon zest, juice, and salt to blend well.
  8. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
  9. Stir filling mixture before pouring into warm crust.
  10. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 30 minutes.
  11. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 2 hours.
  12. Transfer to cutting board, fold paper down, and cut into bars, wiping knife or pizza cutter clean between cuts.
  13. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

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Chocolate Babka

Those who know me know I need little excuse to bake…but blizzards and snow days are as good as any!  With growing concern in Boston over reports of record snow fall and winds, I headed to my local Whole Foods (along with everyone else in a 5 mile radius) to stock up…on butter, flour, sugar, and eggs!

I decided to take advantage of this forced hibernation by baking things I’d had on my “to do” list for a long time.  First up was the chocolate babka I’d seen on Food52.com (Does anyone else think of that Seinfeld episode whenever they hear “chocolate babka”?).

Chocolate babka is a slighty sweet yeast bread swirled with a spiced chocolate nut mixture.  I made this recipe almost exactly as written except I substituted toasted pecans for almonds.  It was the perfect breakfast to wake up to while snowed in!  And I have a feeling it will be even better tomorrow as french toast!  Next up for today….Alton Brown’s macaroni and cheese followed by Milk Bar’s cornflake, marshmallow, and chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate Babka (from Food52)

Dough

2 1/4 tsp or 1 packet active dry yeast
3/4 cup milk at 110ºF
6 tbs unsalted butter at room temperature
6 tbs sugar
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
egg yolks
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tspsal

Stir the yeast into the milk to dissolve. Let sit until foamy.

While the yeast proofs cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the oil and vanilla extract and mix well to combine. Then add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing until each yolk is incorporated before adding the next. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat the mixture for about 2 minutes.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour and salt, followed by the milk and yeast mixture. Switch to the dough hook attachment and mix the dough until a soft, tacky dough forms. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead by hand for two more minutes. The dough should feel soft, supple and smooth. Move the dough to a clean, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at a moderate room temperature for about 2 hours or until almost doubled in size. Alternately, you can let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator and shape it the next day.

Filling and Streusel

Filling

3/4 cup finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
cup sliced almonds (or pecans), toasted and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter

Streusel

2 tbs soft unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
pinch salt
egg for egg wash

Prepare the filling while the dough is rising. Put all of the ingredient into a large bowl and use a pastry blender or bench scraper to cut the ingredients together into a streusel-like crumble.

To shape the bread: Roll the risen dough on a lightly floured surface into a roughly 15×18 inch rectangle. Gently lift the dough to make sure that it will easily release from the work surface. Sprinkle the filling mixture evenly over the top of the dough leaving a 1/4-inch border around the edges then roll the dough from the long end into a tight log about 20 inches long. Gently bend the dough into a U-Shape and twist the arms of the dough two or three times around each other to form the loaf, then pinch the seams together. Place the dough into a greased 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room until the babka fills the pan, 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Prepare the streusel: Combine all of the streusel ingredients in a bowl and mix until crumbly. When the loaf has risen completely, brush with egg wash made from 1 egg + 1T water and sprinkle the streusel mixture over the top. Use a toothpick to poke a few holes in the top of the loaf which will release any air pockets trapped between the folds of the dough and filling.

Put the loaf pan on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for 20-30 more minutes. The loaf will be deep golden brown on top and sound hollow when the bottom is tapped when finished. You can also use a thermometer to check the internal temperature which will be 185º when the loaf is finished. Let the babka cool to room temperature before slicing.