Baking Again in My Fair City

After one train ride, two flights, three taxis, one shuttle, and one heart-racing drive through a flash flood…I’m home!

I settled into a temporary apartment in Madison, and have been spending every day on the job hunt. And then yesterday, I embraced my current joblessness (after dropping off a couple apps in the morning) and had a lovely, sunny, lazy Madison summer day.

First stop in the morning was the farmers’ market. I have been excited for this all summer! Wednesday’s is not as big as the city’s amazing Saturday market all around the capital square, but I love being able to wander through the two rows of vendors and compare all the products.

I should really bring less cash next time, because I cannot resist all those veggies! My only big splurge, though, was 2 pints of raspberries.

These raspberries:

(can you tell I love sunflowers? I got them into every picture.)

These berries were so dark and ripe, they probably would’ve been bad by the next day. I couldn’t resist. I wanted to bake a summery treat, and you can’t get more summery than farm fresh berries.

These are called berry cobbler pie bars. The name’s kind of a mouthful, but the bars are relatively simple to put together and very impressive. I had never had anything quite like them. The bottom is a crumbly, buttery (I mean, buttery) shortbread-like crust. It’s topped with a custardy, berry-filled mixture, and then sprinkled with some reserved crust dough.

Look at this prettiness! I love summer!

One thing I loved about these bars is the lemon sugar you make at the beginning. You press lemon zest into the sugar, and it releases such a bright, sharp fragrance. And the flavor was really prominent in the baked bars. It added a nice layer of flavor, in addition to offsetting the richness. Plus it was something new for me!

It was awesome getting back in the kitchen after my trip. And sitting right now in one of my favorite coffee shops on State St., I am so happy to be blogging about food again!

My favorite part of baking these bars was probably this:

I didn’t even ask if any of my roommates have an electric mixer. I just worked the butter into the dough with my hands – it’s so satisfying that way!

I brought the bars to another quintessentially Madison event: Concerts on the Square. Every Wednesday during the summer, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs on the steps of the capital building, and tons of families and students gather all around the capital lawn on picnic blankets with snacks and wine. They fill every space of grass to chat and listen to the music and soak up Madison at its finest.

The communality, the relaxed, happy atmosphere…it’s so representative of this city. Ahhh, I love it here…. Um, sorry. Am I gushing? That happens sometimes.

Here's my group! Don't they look happy?

Anyway…. We had quite an impressive spread at our little picnic, and I was glad to have this pretty little treat to contribute. Now if only I could find a job, maybe I could buy more berries next week….

Berry Cobbler Pie Bars

Recipe from Joy the Baker

Makes one half sheet pan of bars

I cut the recipe by 2/3 (I didn’t think my wallet could handle three pints of raspberries), but I’m posting the original recipe here. Note how she explains that you can use frozen berries as well. And you can also make these with blackberries and/or blueberries.

Crust and Topping

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes

zest of two lemons

Berry Filling

4 large eggs

2 cups sugar

1 cup sour cream

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

2  (16-ounce) packages frozen mixed berries, defrosted and drained

(You can also use 6 cups of fresh berries, or 1 (16-ounce) package frozen berries and 3 cups of fresh berries)

To make the crust and topping-

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a half sheet baking pan (12×17-inch) with butter or cooking spray and set aside.  If you use a 9×13-inch baking pan you’ll have thicker bars.  Zest two lemons.  Measure out the sugar onto a clean work surface.  Rub the lemon zest into the sugar with a bench scraper or the back of a spoon.  Rubbing the zest into the sugar will release oils from the zest and create a lemon scented sugar.

Combine lemon sugar, flour, salt and butter in an electric mixer fit with a paddle attachment.  Beat the ingredients on medium speed until the mixture looks dry and crumbly.

Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the crust mixture to use as the topping.  Press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the pan.  Bake the crust for 12 to 15 minutes until it is golden brown.  Let cool for 10 minutes while you make the filling.

To make the filling-

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl.  Add the sugar, sour cream, flour and salt.  Gently fold in the berries.  Spoon the mixture evenly over the crust.  You may have to distribute the berries evenly around.

Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture evenly over the filling.  Bake for 45 to 55 minutes until the top is lightly browned.  Cool for 1 hour before slicing.

**If you’re using frozen berries, be sure to defrost and drain the excess liquid.  Place the frozen berries on a plate in the refrigerator overnight.  They’re defrosted and ready for bar baking!

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