Strawberry Raspberry Jam Pie Bars

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The weather in New York this past weekend was perfect. It finally feels like spring is exactly as it should be — 70 degrees and sunny. To celebrate, I met up with some friends from work for a picnic in Prospect Park.

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I first went to Prospect Park this past fall and was blown away by the park’s beauty and magnitude. The green hills and trees make you feel like you’re not even in New York City. It’s a long subway ride from Astoria, but boy, is it worth it.

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Last night’s picnic was met with not only good weather and company, but also, of course, delicious food. My friend Ally is also a food enthusiast, and she and her husband made a curried chickpea and carrot salad, a cucumber and avocado salad, and homemade pizza — all so fresh and flavorful. I brought along Ina Garten’s Mediterranean pasta salad, which I highly recommend if you’re in need of a good picnic or summer potluck dish.

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And for dessert. Every time I thought of a dessert idea last week, I’d meander over to Ally’s desk and share my plans. First it was banana cake with caramel frosting. Then it was lemon cake squares. Finally, I settled on these pie bars. I’m glad I did.

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These bars are a great picnic dessert because they have all the flavors of a homemade pie without the fuss of slicing and plating. These bars hold up well in transit (even across public transportation in three boroughs!), can be made in advance, and are easy to put out for a self-serve gathering.

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The lemon zest in both the crust and the filling complement the sweetness of the jam and serve as a reminder that we really are heading toward summer. The spices in the crust and crumble add warmth and create that comforting freshly baked pie taste.

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The jam that’s mixed into the filling is sweet enough that additional sugar isn’t needed. Of course you can change it up by adding some whole berries or swirling extra jam into the filling, which would make these pie bars burst with even more flavor.

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I hope you had a wonderful spring weekend and that the next few weeks leading into summer bring you beautiful weather, fun with friends, and delicious food.

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Strawberry Raspberry Jam Pie Bars

Adapted from Joy the Baker

Crust/topping:

–       3 cups flour

–       1 ½ cups turbinado sugar

–       ¼ tsp. salt

–       ¼ tsp. ground ginger

–       ¼ tsp. all spice

–       1 tsp. cinnamon

–       3 sticks cold unsalted butter

–       zest of 1 lemon

Filling:

–       4 eggs

–       ½ cup raspberry jam

–       ½ cup strawberry jam

–       1 cup sour cream

–       ¾ cup flour

–       ¼ tsp. salt

–       zest of 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients for the crust in a food processor. Once combined, the mixture should be crumbly but should hold together when squeezed. Press the mixture into a 9×13 inch pan. Leave 1 ½ cups aside for the top of the bars, and refrigerate. Bake the crust at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. Whisk all ingredients until smooth. After the baked crust has cooled for about 10 minutes, pour the filling on top. Distribute the remaining crust evenly over the top of the filling so that it resembles a crumble. Bake for about an hour or until the filling has set.

Notes for next time:

–       Pecans or walnuts would be a welcome addition to the crust. They would add both crunch and a buttery texture that would allow you to cut down on the amount of butter used. A mixture of finely ground and coarsely ground nuts would work well here.

–       Add more lemon zest or juice. The consistency of the filling of these bars is similar to that of lemon squares. Adding more zest and juice to the filling would create a lemon square/fruit pie bar hybrid that would be lovely.

Fruit Tart

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Whenever there’s a holiday that celebrates my mom – namely her birthday or Mother’s Day – I can always guess what she’ll ask me to make for dessert. Before my mom even got to make her request this year, I said, “Don’t say fruit tart.”

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Needless to say, I made a fruit tart for Mother’s Day. On this day, it doesn’t matter that me or my other family members have gotten a little tired of the standard fruit tart my mom loves so much. It’s my mom’s favorite dessert, and it will always make an appearance on our dining room table on this day each year.

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This year for Mother’s Day, we went all out. We always stay home and cook for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day because in our minds, nothing can beat the taste and price tag of home cooked meals.

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For brunch, I made a vanilla Dutch baby and homemade pork sausage patties. Dinner starred veal Milanese, which my younger brother made, with a side of eggplant caponata that I whipped up. This berry tart closed out the day, which was full of cooking, baking, and dish washing from start to finish.

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The crust of this fruit tart is a little sweeter than other pie crusts I’ve made, but I think my family liked the sugar cookie-esque taste. The chocolate layer is a simple yet extra special addition, and the pastry cream is chock full of flavor from the vanilla seeds.

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This is my second time making this type of pastry cream, and I have to admit that it isn’t one of my favorite things to make. It always takes longer than I want to thicken up, and when it does, I can never seem to completely get rid of the lumps. But, it tastes good in between the chocolate and fruit, which is really all that matters.

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You can of course use any type of fruit you like and omit or change the chocolate layer. A layer of white chocolate would be a nice twist. My mom loves dark chocolate, though, so that’s what our tarts will continue to feature.

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I hope you all had a lovely Sunday celebrating your moms. I think I speak for everyone in my family when I say that we all got to enjoy Mother’s Day this year by treating ourselves to some delicious dishes including my mom’s favorite fruit tart.

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Fruit Tart

Adapted from The Dessert Spot

Crust:

–       12 tbs. cold, unsalted butter

–       ½ cup sugar

–       2 cups flour

–       ½ tsp. salt

–       1 egg

–       1 tbs. cold water

Pastry Cream:

–       2 cups milk

–       ½ cup sugar

–       1 vanilla bean

–       ½ cup cornstarch

–       4 egg yolks

–       3 tbs. butter

 Chocolate Layer:

–       ¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate

–       ¼ cup cream or half and half

Fruit:

–      ½ pint raspberries

–       About 10 large strawberries

Start with the crust, since it will have to refrigerate for at least an hour before being rolled out. Combine all ingredients for the crust in a food processor, and process until dough forms into a ball. Form into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll out dough on a floured surface and press dough into a nine-inch tart dish. Bake at 375 degrees F for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Heat the milk and ¼ cup sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the whole vanilla bean to the milk mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Once the milk has heated, remove the vanilla bean. Add a little bit of the milk mixture to the egg mixture, and whisk until combined. Continue to temper the egg yolks until all of the milk has been added to the egg mixture. Add the liquid back to the saucepan and add the cornstarch. Whisk until the cornstarch dissolves, and let the liquid come to a boil. After it starts boiling, the mixture should become thicker. Turn off the heat and start mixing to work out the lumps. Add in the butter and continue to stir. Refrigerate until cool.

Once the crust has been baked and cooled, make the chocolate mixture. Heat the chocolate and cream in a small saucepan until melted. Smooth the chocolate mixture over the baked crust. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until the chocolate has set.

Add the pastry cream on top of the chocolate in a smooth layer. Cut the strawberries in whichever type of shape you like and arrange fruit on top of the pastry cream until completely covered.

Lemon Blueberry Cake

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Lately I’ve been having fantasies about moving to a small town in a different state. Somewhere like Oklahoma or North Carolina. Somewhere where, at least in my idealized view of the place, life is a bit easier than here in New York.

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Whenever I think of living in a small town, I undoubtedly think about one of my favorite TV shows, Gilmore Girls. I think about the Dragonfly Inn and all of the delicious creations Sookie made.

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This lemon blueberry cake seems like the type of thing that would appear on the Dragonfly Inn’s menu. This cake has a small town charm to it. The lemon makes this cake bright and sunny, just as I imagine small town people to be. And baking with fresh fruit always reminds me of how satisfying it must be to bake with fruit you’ve grown or picked yourself. I imagine that, if I lived in a small town, I’d have a small garden and the luxury of picking seasonal fruit from nearby farms.

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Of course much of this is my romanticizing small town life. I’m sure there are just as many, albeit different, challenges to everyday life as there are in other places. But for some reason, this cake just seems to be the perfect thing to be eaten while sitting on a porch on a warm spring afternoon, talking to your neighbors about how pretty the flowers are this time of year.

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Wherever you may eat this cake from, I do hope you make it, as it has all the right flavors to match this sunny, spring weather. I tried to ramp up the health factor of this cake by using nonfat yogurt, decreasing the amount of sweetener, and substituting coconut oil for the vegetable oil, but other moisture, sugar, and fat stand-ins would work just fine.

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This cake was just the thing I needed on this early May afternoon, unwinding on my couch after a long walk this morning and catching up with a friend on the phone (who just happened to be sitting on the porch of her new home down south!) I may not be in Stars Hollow, but this cake makes me feel just a little bit closer.

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Lemon Blueberry Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

–       3 eggs

–       1 cup Greek yogurt (I used nonfat)

–       zest and juice of two lemons

–       2/3 cup agave syrup

–       ½ tsp. almond extract

–       ½ cup coconut oil, melted, plus more for preparing the pan

–       1 ½ cups flour plus one tablespoon, plus more for preparing the pan

–       2 tsp. baking powder

–       1 tsp. salt

–       1 pint fresh blueberries

–       1 tbs. turbinado sugar

Whisk all of the wet ingredients until incorporated. Add the 1 ½ cups of flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir until combined. The batter will be very thick, but should still be moist. In a separate bowl, combine the blueberries and 1 tbs. flour. Stir until blueberries are coated, and fold blueberries into the batter. Coat a loaf pan (or any type of pan, really) with coconut oil and flour, and add batter to prepared pan. Sprinkle turbinado sugar on top of the batter, and bake at 350 degrees F for about an hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.