Alex’s Birthday + Raspberry Alexandertorte

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Hello! I’ve missed you. I had so many posts I wanted to get up this month, but it just got away from me. However, we’ve had some fun and exciting things happening in the Limanowski household (fun for us, probably not fun for you). We visited Detroit for the first time together at the beginning of the month, and had a really awesome time. Detroit’s great! Go visit Detroit! Then we both got sick (not fun or exciting). But in the meantime, we were tooling around with some important planning for our next move in October (fun and exciting, but not yet finalized). Finally, Alex successfully defended his dissertation last week. That’s right! He’s Dr. Limanowski now. And then he celebrated his birthday this weekend. Whew.

In celebration of both of these events, I thought I’d try to sneak in one last July post, before I have to start thinking about what the heck I can make for August! As I have mentioned in the past, Alex is not really a cake enthusiast. He never wants a cake for his birthday. He is, though, an almost-every-other-kind-of-sweet enthusiast. I had been tooling around with a post a while back about the Danish favorite hindsbaersnitter, which translates to “raspberry slice.” It is a popular shortbread pastry in Denmark. In fact, it was said to be Hans Christian Andersen’s favorite dessert. When I told Alex about it, he expressed a lot of interest, especially after I compared it to a fancy Pop-Tart. Then, while doing some research, I realized that the Danish hindsbaersnitter may have actually been a copycat of an earlier pastry from Latvia, known as–ready for this–Alexandertorte. An even earlier form has existed in Finland, since at least 1818, called the Aleksanterin leivokset (Alexander cakes). Both Alexander-based desserts were named to commemorate the visit of a Russian Czar: In Finland, Alexander I; in Riga (Latvia’s capital), Alexander III.

So, name-wise this was obviously a perfect choice. It’s not celebrating a Russian Czar, but it is celebrating a newly-minted doctor, and birthday boy. Even better.

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Raspberry Alexandertorte
5-10 servings.

Ingredients:
2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling dough
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp heavy cream (For pink frosting (optional): use 1 tbsp raspberry juice, and 1 tbsp heavy cream. For juice, combine 1/4 cup raspberries in a small bowl, heat for 30 seconds in microwave and strain through a fine mesh sieve.)

3/4 cup good-quality raspberry jam

Instructions:

In a medium bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups flour, salt, and baking soda.

Add butter and sugar to a large bowl and beat until very smooth and almost completely white in color, about five minutes.

Add the lemon zest, vanilla, and egg, and beat until just incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in three batches, beating each batch until it’s just incorporated. If the mixture is very sticky, you can add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour.

After you’ve added all the flour, begin pulling the mixture together. Divide in half. It may look a bit dry at first, but should come together. There may be some crumbs and that is OK. Form both portions into a disk.

Wrap the two disks with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours, or as long as overnight.

Once refrigerated, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Keeping one disk refrigerated, roll out one disk of dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into a 6 x 10″ rectangle. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. You don’t even need to have golden edges. The cookie should be a little soft to insure that it’s less crumbly when you cut it.

After you remove it from the oven, allow it to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes, then remove to finish cooling on a cooling rack. Roll out the second disk and repeat the process.

Once the cookies have cooled completely, spread one half of the completely cooled shortbread with raspberry jam.

In a small bowl, combine the confectioner’s sugar and heavy cream (or cream and raspberry juice). Stir until smooth. If mixture is runny, add a little more confectioner’s sugar. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more cream. Sprinkle top with freeze-dried raspberry crumbles, pearl sugar, or sprinkles, optional.

Pour the frosting over the top of the second shortbread cookie and smooth to the edges.

Place the frosted shortbread on top of the jam-covered shortbread. Allow to set for at least 20 minutes before cutting.

Slice into five large pieces, or 10 smaller squares. Enjoy!

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This dessert is a little on the sweeter side, that’s for sure. Definitely not for those missing their sweet tooth. However, we had it alongside some hot, black coffee, and it was just perfect.

Happy birthday and congrats to my favorite guy of all time!

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National Blonde Brownie Day + Brown Butter Blondies

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Blondies, or blonde brownies, always remind me of school lunch. Don’t get me wrong–that’s a good thing. School lunch memories for me are surprisingly positive. I loved the weird, sort of stale-tasting pizza; I still have dreams about something they served in our cafeteria called “chicken hot rodders” (side note: if anyone knows what this is, or where I can find it, let me know–think chicken tender, but in the shape of a hot dog, and on a hot dog bun–I assume they’ve been outlawed for being the most unhealthy thing ever, which is probably why I love them so much); and my final cafeteria favorite, blondies! Blondies were not something my mom ever made at home. We had a very strict chocolate-only brownie rule in our house, and I was pretty meh about chocolate when I was little. But at school, blondies were chewy, buttery, and always a stark contrast to whatever the steamed vegetable was for the day! I loved them.

Today is National Blonde Brownie Day. I can find no information on how this day got started, or if it’s even a real day at all. And I think we can all agree that a National Blonde Brownie Day is a bit much, but I’m taking the opportunity anyway to write a little about one of my favorite desserts.

If you are a brownie lover, you might think: Who even cares about blondies, when there are brownies in the world? Brownies hold a special place in the hearts of so many, but you might be surprised to learn that blondies actually predate brownies.

In the 1896, in the Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook (the cookbook that is responsible for the standardization of measurement in baking), there is a recipe for a “brownie” that calls for sugar, flour, and butter, based on earlier recipes for a dessert bar that resembled gingerbread, minus the spices. No mention of chocolate. The original “brownie” was, in fact, what we recognize today as a blondie, and would have been flavored with molasses. Brown, for sure, but not the beautiful brown-black that we recognize as a chocolate brownie today.

The story the chocolate brownie is a little roundabout. In 1893, Bertha Palmer, a socialite and the President of the Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, called on the chef at the Palmer House Hotel, owned by her husband, to make a chocolate cake that was could easily be handled by women at the fair without getting their hands and gloves dirty. The unleavened chocolate cake created by the chef would have closely resembled the modern-day brownie, but it wouldn’t be called a brownie until after the turn of the century, and there does not seem to be any record of this original recipe today. (This was actually one of the first things I ever wrote about on this blog. If you’re interested in learning more about Bertha Palmer and the first brownie, you can find that post here.)

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By the early 1900’s, though, brownie recipes containing chocolate began to be published. Fannie Farmer is often credited with the first chocolate brownie recipe in 1906, after she updated her cookbook from the 1890’s. However, a recipe from two years earlier has been found, calling for the addition of chocolate. Once chocolate was in the mix, brownies, unsurprisingly, were a hit, and the humble molasses brownie became a somewhat distant memory. Then, around the 1940’s, a dessert bar showed up containing brown sugar instead of just molasses, which was renamed a “blonde brownie.” The earliest entry I’ve seen in a newspaper for a blonde brownie was in 1941. The blonde brownie increased in popularity over the years and, in 1956, traveling food critic and cake mix king, Duncan Hines, released boxed mixes of both brownies and “blond brownies.” The ad above announces their release in the Janesville Daily Gazette from March 15, 1956.

So, I can’t answer the question of which is better, blondie or brownie, but if you’re ever in a heated argument with someone about it, at least you know a little history. The blondie recipe below is not Fannie Farmer’s or Duncan Hines’, but my own version using brown butter, which makes a great party treat–even if it’s just you at the party.

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Brown Butter Blondies
Makes 9 2.5-in blondie squares, or 36 two-bite pieces. 

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
12 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
4 tsp vanilla extract
Powdered sugar, for dusting, optional

Instructions:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with two pieces of parchment paper, crisscrossed over one another. Spray lightly with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.

Add butter to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter turns light brown in color, begins to smell slightly nutty, and ceases to sizzle and pop. Pour into a large, heat-safe bowl to cool slightly.

Add both sugars to the melted brown butter and stir to combine. Stir in the eggs and then the vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. You can test by using a toothpick inserted into the middle. It is done when it comes out with damp crumbs, but not wet streaks. Do not overcook.

Allow to cool for at least 45 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar, cut, and serve.

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If you want to add mix-ins, heck yeah, you can do that! Sprinkles, white chocolate chips, nuts, those all sound good! Me? I’m a blondie purist, save for a dusting of powdered sugar, but honestly, these guys don’t need the cover up. They are rich, chewy, slightly nutty from the browned butter, and not overly sweet. And, weirdly, quite important for me: NOT TOO TALL! I kind of like my blondies hovering around a centimeter in height, whereas I prefer a good solid inch square for brownies. Personal preference, probably influenced by that school cafeteria dessert so long ago.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!