The Creme Brulee of Lemon Bars

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I’ve stuck to this recipe for a few years now.  I love lemon desserts and my only complaint is that something claiming to be a lemon dessert isn’t ever lemony enough.  I want a ZINGER of a lemon shock.  I know this may cause several of you to stop reading, but given the choice between a GOOD lemon bar and a brownie, I’d choose the lemon bar.  Not every time.  Like I said, it’d have to be good.  Not too eggy, just enough curd, just enough crust, big time lemon flavor and another thing: don’t dust your lemon bars with confectioners’ sugar.  I’ll give you a few reasons:

1. Lemon bars usually have at least two cups of sugar.  So..there’s enough sugar.  Why would you dust something with more sugar that is already shockingly sweet? (I’m not complaining – lemon and sugar need each other)

2. I don’t like inhaling powdered sugar with each bite.  It kind of ruins the whole eating experience to have to hack on powder.

So that’s really only two reasons.  With the right recipe, you don’t need a dusting of sugar to cover up the weird, sometimes sticky top of a lemon bar.  This recipe is so wonderful because the top gets crunchy like a creme brulee.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe because I mix up the filling while the crust is baking, so by the time the crust is ready for the filling, the filling has sat and separated a bit.  I whip it up really good, too, so maybe it’s the airy texture?  Or maybe the key is to let them cool completely before cutting and don’t cover them up if you’re not serving them right away, lest the top get soft.  That way you get that good crunch on the top, the velvety curd in the middle and the buttery crumble of the crust all together.  This is adapted from Paula Deen’s recipe, and to me, it’s the perfect lemon bar recipe.  The only one you need.

Creme Brulee Lemon Bars

Crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
2 tbs lemon zest (just zest the lemons you will use for the filling)
pinch of salt
2 sticks butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing

Filling
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease a 9x13x2″ pan.  Cover the bottom in parchment paper and let it hang off the sides (just along the long edge) so that you can remove it for cutting better.)
Make the crust by combining flour, confectioners’ sugar, zest and salt in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter to make a crumbly mixture.  Press the mixture into the prepared pan.  You may need to dip your fingers into a little flour or confectioners’ sugar to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the filling, mix the eggs, granulated sugar, flour, and lemon juice.  Pour this over the baked crust and bake for 25 minutes longer.  Don’t sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the bars, and then carefully, by the parchment overhang, lift the entire pan of bars out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board to cut.  I like to cut off the very edge of the bars so that each one will be perfectly smooth, cut, squared edges (obsessive) but that’s really up to you.  No one said you couldn’t eat the trimmings and no one would have to know they ever existed.

The Battle of the Quiches

Quiche

My friend, Summer, hates quiche.  The very word gives her mock dry heaves.  We’ve all had a traumatic experience with some kind of food; whether it be an ingredient (dill for me, pomegranate juice for Matt) or an entire meal ruined by getting sick later in the evening, it’s hard to come back to good terms with the food after the trauma.  I’m not sure why Summer hates quiche, but according to her, the description she gives is of a “rubbery filling, soggy crust, gross texture” and what comes to mind, for me, is the mini-quiches you find at baby showers the world over, or the frozen pie-sized quiches that could double as semi-wet Frisbees.  Either way, it’s not a huge shock that a lot of people have a bad connotation when they hear the word.

Thomas Keller is here to save the day, once again.

He sees the problem with the American version/view of quiche, as well:

“Why didn’t the French quiche ever really translate to America? American culinary culture embraced it, then trashed it without ever knowing what it was…I think it was a mechanical problem, not having the right tool–a ring mold about two inches high.  When the modern quiche took off here in the 1970s, that wasn’t widely available.  Instead, a pie pan was commonly substituted for the two-inch ring mold.  And then came the premade pie shell.  Who would want to eat quiche made in that? A quiche has to have a specific thickness or you cannot cook it properly: It must be two inches high, in a crust thick enough to remain crisp, and not become soggy, during cooking.  Custard in a pie shell invariably overcooks (if you cooked it slowly enough, the crust would become soggy).” — Thomas Keller, Bouchon Cookbook, page 86

We’ve made Keller’s quiche several times.  The foundation is a good crust and so we go back to the crust I will rely on for the rest of my life – the same crust used in my strawberry pie a few posts ago.  It’s perfect, it flakes, it is sturdy without being tough, and it tastes like butter because that’s the only fat used.  Why look elsewhere?  The key is to completely bake the crust first, with plenty of overhang so that it doesn’t shrink while baking.  And I’m sorry you’ll have to buy a special tool to make it, but a 2 inch ring mold is necessary.  Not expensive and if you want to really make this recipe correctly, you need one.

We decided for this post, that we’d compare a store-bought quiche with Keller’s quiche.  I didn’t buy the most disgusting one I could find, either.  I actually bought probably the best a grocery store has to offer.  An in-house made quiche Florentine (bacon/cheese) baked in a pre-made pie shell (assuming.)  It was set in a metal pie tin with holes poked all in the bottom.  I appreciated that effort, because at least someone is acknowledging that quiche shells go soggy.  Didn’t quite work, though.  Here they are, back to back:

Battle of the Quiches

Store bought on the left, Keller on the right.
You can’t tell much, texture-wise, so I’ll tell you.  And again, I’m fairly impressed with the grocery store made quiche.  It’s about as good as a pre-made, American pie version gets.  However, the crust was really wet and soggy on the bottom. Couldn’t exactly pick it up without it sagging, whereas the Keller quiche’s crust is very crispy and fully cooked on the bottom (you can tell by the color and how it even stands away from the plate a bit.)  The Keller quiche has almost a half inch more custard and the store bought quiche’s crust tasted like sand.  Honestly.  Sand held together by water.  It really wasn’t good.  Now, the store-bought quiche’s filling was fine, taste-wise.  It had bacon – how can that not be at least decent?  (I could imagine a frozen mini-version would find a way) but anyway, it was a good effort, but the crust was awful and it was wet, just like you don’t want it to be.  It also had that over cooked texture – kind of rubbery- that eggs get if cooked too long.  I swear to you, I am not making this up, after a few days and microwaving the leftover Keller quiche, it STILL had a smooth, silky, custard-like texture.  Almost creme brulee texture.  It’s so darn good.

Fun experiment and I would say that if you’re interested in doing something for the sake of the experiment and doing things properly, buy yourself a ring mold and get after it.  And remember – a Keller quiche takes two days.  So if this is for Sunday brunch, start it on Saturday afternoon.

Roquefort and Leek Quiche

I also want to add, for the sake of The Family Meal, that Olive ate on both quiches with  much enthusiasm.  Yes, even those big chunks of Roquefort.  She leaned forward and said, “mmmmm!” to both.  Eggs are awesome.  Oh, and she also said, “Quiche” perfectly.  I think because “quiche” sounds like her version of the word “cheese”.  Whatever works, Ollie.

For the crust:

2 cups AP flour, plus extra for rolling out
1 tsp kosher salt
8 ounces chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1/4 cup ice water

Place 1 cup of the flour and the salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Turn the mixer to low and add the butter a small handful at a time.  When all the butter has been added, increase the speed to medium and mix until the butter is completely blended with the flour.  Reduce the speed, add the remaining flour, and mix just to combine.  Add the water and mix until incorporated.  The dough will come around the paddle and should feel smooth, not sticky, to the touch.
Remove the dough from the mixer and check to be certain that there are no visible pieces of butter remaining.  Pat the dough into a 7-8″ disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to a day.

Lightly brush the inside of a 9×2″ ring mold with canola oil (or cooking spray works) and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the dough on a floured work space and rub all sides with flour.  Roll out the dough into about a 14″ diameter circle.  Lift the dough into the ring, centering it carefully and pressing it gently against the sides and bottom edges of the ring.  Trim any dough that extends more than an inch outside the ring.  Carefully check for crack in your dough and patch any cracks with your trimmed dough (I DIDN’T DO THIS AND OUR QUICHE LEAKED ALL OVER THE PLACE)
Refrigerate your dough for 10 minutes to resolidify your butter (if you don’t do this, the butter will drain out of your dough as it bakes.  Done it; learn from my mistakes)
Line the bottom of your crust with parchment and fill with pie weights (our pie weights are dry beans – a whole pound of them.  We just keep them for use in pies).  Bake shell in a preheated 375F oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the edges of the dough are lightly browned.  Carefully remove the parchment and the weights.  Check the dough for cracks and patch with reserved dough trimmings (DO THIS STEP) Return the shell to the oven for another 15-20 minutes, or until the bottom is rich golden brown.  Remove from oven and let the shell cool completely on the baking sheet.

Basic Quiche Batter

2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
6 large eggs
1 tbs kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
A few gratings of fresh nutmeg, or 1/8 tsp of ground nutmeg

Combine the milk and cream in a large saucepan over medium heat and heat until a skin begins to form on the surface of the milk.  Remove from the heat and let cool for 15 minutes before continuing.  If you have an immersion blender, add the rest of your ingredients to the saucepan and blend for about a minute to fully aerate the batter and make it light and foamy.  Pour the batter into your quiche shell (which is still on your lined, rimmed baking sheet – this thing inevitably will leak a tish.)
At this point, if you’d like to add ingredients, go for it.  Be creative.  We did his blue cheese and leek version and it was awesome.  You simply add these ingredients (about a cup of each ingredient, chopped fine and cooked properly) to the quiche batter as you’re pouring it into the shell.  Try crumbled, cooked bacon and cheddar cheese, or caramelized onion and grated swiss.  The options are endless.
Bake for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, or until the top of the quiche is browned and the custard is set when the pan is jiggled.  Remove and let cool to room temp on a cooling rack.  Refrigerate until chilled, at least one day, up to 3 days.  Once the quiche is thoroughly chilled, scrape away the excess crust from the top edge of the quiche.  Set the quiche down and carefully lift off the ring.  Preheat the oven to 375F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the quiche into 8 pieces.  Place the pieces on a baking sheet and reheat for 15 minutes, or until hot throughout.  Serve immediately.

Quiche shell

Corned Beef – this is your Monday post

open faced corned beef sandwich

I once saw a segment on the Martha Stewart show where she had a guest on and they were making pastrami sandwiches.  In her typical, incredulous, Martha-tone, she said, “Doesn’t everyone corn their own beef?!”  I balked.  I would have asked, “Does anyone make their own corned beef?!”  Making my own corned beef seemed not only like a giant waste of time, but I don’t even crave the stuff, so why would I want to let a gigantic stock pot filled with a brisket sit in my fridge for a week when I could go buy a nice, pre-packaged Hormel version for $4?

Because I’m married to Matt Palmer.  He is extraordinary.  He always sees the potential in a long process.  He has endless patience.  He can set out with the process in mind, not the finished product.  He enjoys learning how to do something from scratch, whether it be something widely appealing like home cured bacon, or as unappealing and death-smelling as pickled diakon, which sat on top of my computer for a week, fermenting (but hey, it made an interesting dip!)  The point, for him, is always the learning process.  I have learned so much in the last 9 years of knowing him and 8 years living with him.  He’s never once lost his patience and thrown something against the sink to watch it explode because it didn’t work out right (ahem), and even spent one Sunday afternoon making homemade mayonnaise 5 times in a row for 2 hours because the emulsion kept breaking (I remember crying that day.)  Needless to say, he’s greatly influenced where I am now and how cooking has become therapeutic for me.  He is the reason I keep trying to do things better, for better’s sake.

So when he got me involved in his latest corned beef endeavor, I was less reluctant.  He got it in the brine, and I finished it on the stove a week later when it was ready.  It makes a TON, so I will be slicing it and freezing it really soon.  But the other day, I sliced some thin strips, heated them up in a skillet (unnecessary, because it’s cooked, but appealing because it sizzles) and made a corned beef sandwich on rye with store-bought sauerkraut that was fermented in someone ELSE’S place of business instead of my garage, thankyouverymuch.

The results were good.  I’ve taken the corned beef recipe directly from Michael Ruhlman’s blog, because that’s who we look to when it comes to charcuterie recipes and we didn’t deviate from the recipe a bit.  For the sandwich, I just toasted some rye bread, spread mayo and dijon mustard on each side, topped it with sliced cornichons and sauerkraut and melted some swiss cheese on top of the beef.

corned beef sandwich

Home-Cured Corned Beef

1-1/2 cups kosher salt*
½ cup sugar
4 teaspoons pink salt (sodium nitrite), optional
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons pickling spice
1 5-pound beef brisket
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in two
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped.

In pot large enough to hold brisket, combine 1 gallon of water with kosher salt, sugar, sodium nitrite (if using), garlic and 2 tablespoons pickling spice. Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled.

Place brisket in brine, weighted with a plate to keep it submerged; cover. Refrigerate for 5 days.

Remove brisket from brine and rinse thoroughly. Place in a pot just large enough to hold it. Cover with water and add remaining pickling spice, carrot, onion and celery. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer gently until brisket is fork-tender, about 3 hours, adding water if needed to cover brisket.

Keep warm until ready to serve. Meat can be refrigerated for several days in cooking liquid. Reheat in the liquid or serve chilled. Slice thinly and serve on a sandwich or with additional vegetables simmered until tender in the cooking liquid.

*A note about the saltSalt level not hugely critical here because it’s basically boiled and excess salt moves into cooking liquid.  You can weigh out 12 ounces here if you feel better using a scale (approximately a 10% brine).  Or you can simply make a 5% brine of however much water you need to cover (6.4 ounces per gallon).  When you cook it, season the cooking liquid to the level you want your meat seasoned.  Another option is wrapping the brisket in foil and cooking it in a 225 degree oven till tender, but only do this if you’ve used the 5% brine.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Pickling Spice

2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons allspice berries
1 tablespoon ground mace
2 small cinnamon sticks, crushed or broken into pieces
2 to 4 bay leaves, crumbled
2 tablespoons whole cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger.

Combine peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds in a small dry pan. Place over medium heat and stir until fragrant, being careful not to burn them; keep lid handy in case seeds pop. Crack peppercorns and seeds in mortar and pestle or with the side of a knife on cutting board.

Combine with other spices, mix. Store in tightly sealed plastic or glass container.