Friday, April 8, 2011

Cherry Bars and Cherry Blossoms

This just in: while cherry blossoms may have been in season for the last two weeks, cherries were not. I had the brilliant (but probably not so novel) idea to do a cherry dessert in the spirit of the Cherry Blossom Festival that has been going on here in DC. I was so excited about this plan that I stopped at Capitol Hill's local gourmet kitchen shop, Hill's Kitchen, straight off the metro after work to buy a cherry pitter. Shortly thereafter I arrived at the grocery store to discover that my only cherry options were frozen ones. Fresh cherries won't be around these parts until June. And thus my food education continues.
Oh well, the cherry show must go on. I decided to bake some cherry bars for my friends Allison and Mike (you may recall Allison as the MacGyver of baking), and their new little munchkin, Lucas (because you know my motto, babies call for bars). I first met Baby Lucas in the hospital before he was even a day old (my first time seeing a baby so new!). Since he was fresh out the oven, he kept his little arms and legs all curled up to his body as though he was still confined to a belly. I've loved him to bits ever since.

Lucky for me, mom emails out a single photo of her little cutie every few days so I can see him grow even when I can't fit in a visit. Nothing fancy, just a pic that she takes with her phone. I think the single photo every few days method is GREAT. Honestly, I might not always have time to peruse a lengthy album right away (though they are still appreciated!). But I always have time to open an email and have a smiling baby face looking back at me.
And now, drumroll please.... Here he is! He was actually awake and smiley for a lot of the visit, but I was too busy playing with him to get any photos. So you'll just have to enjoy him in this equally cute snoozing shot. Mom, dad, baby and I took a stroll around town (we may or may not have stopped for delicious cupcakes at Baked & Wired). Two stranger-ladies were so enamored by Lucas that they conspicuously pointed and started talking about him (is that what happens when you carry around a baby?). Allison graciously gave them a good look at babes and then we shuffled along. She's a good sport. (Sidebar: I've heard that stranger-ladies will go as far as to touch pregnant bellies. NOT OK, ladies. If I ever have a pregnant belly and I don't know you, hands off or you might get smacked.)

And for good measure, here are some photos of the blossoms:

Cherry Bars

Makes 16 bars

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
zest of one lemon

10 tbs. (1 stick + 2 tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks 
1 egg
1-1/2 to 2 lbs. frozen cherries (sour if you can find them)

2 tbs. lemon juice
1/4 cup white sugar (for mixing with cherries)
1 tbs. cornstarch

Thaw the cherries completely and lightly press into a strainer to drain, getting out as much excess liquid as possible. Roughly chop the cherries so that they are halved. If lots of liquid is coming out, drain again. Set cherries aside.

While cherries are thawing, cut butter into chunks and place back in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir flour, sugars, baking powder,  salt and lemon zest together. Mix the egg and butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or your hands until the butter is incorporated and the dough forms pea-sized bits. A pastry cutter is ideal because you want the butter to stay cold. Using your hands warms the butter up, but, honestly, your hands are the only tool that will work besides a pastry cutter. Dough will be crumbly.

Pour half of the dough in a 9" x 9" square baking pan and pat down evenly.

Again, making sure all excess liquid is out of the cherries, stir cherries together with lemon juice, sugar and cornstarch. Pour cherry mix into pan (if there is a lot of liquid, spoon cherries into the pan using a slotted spoon). Spread remaining dough over top of cherries. I like my top crumb to be a little smaller than the bottom crust, so I had a bit of dough left over. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until top is golden-brown. Pack up and bring for a picnic under your favorite blossoms.

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