The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

September 11, 2013

Sweet September means it's time to bake

BY MARIALISA CALTA United Feature Syndicate
The Commercial-News

---- — The yellow school buses are on the road; the first curled leaves litter the ground — it’s proof that summer soon will end.

Admit it: Those weeks and months of light fruit desserts and frozen confections were starting to drive you nuts. You want to bake. September gives you all the permission you need.

After months of slicing watermelon, the multi-step butter-sugar-egg thing can be a bit overwhelming. Best to ease into the baking season. Or perhaps you may be just learning to bake. Just as you wouldn’t start jogging with a 10-mile run, you shouldn’t start your home baking experiment by tackling, say, a napoleon.

“One Bowl Baking” by Yvonne Ruperti is an excellent introduction to the world of, as the subtitle says, “simple, from scratch recipes for delicious desserts.”

Ruperti, who worked on the cooking show “America’s Test Kitchen,” has serious baking chops. She could probably whip up a napoleon without breaking a sweat, but is happy to introduce such simple fare as cookies, cupcakes, muffins, and snack and pudding cakes. Ruperti’s crisp shortbread is a low-stress recipe to start your baking season. It travels well in a lunchbox, and keeps well, too. Ruperti describes it as one of the simplest recipes in the book, but also one of her favorites. Make it, and you’ll see why. Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens!

Crispy brown sugar shortbread

Yield: 12 servings

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened, plus a bit more for greasing the pan

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (2¾ ounces) packed light brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on top (optional; turbinado sugar -a type of brown sugar -can be found in the baking aisle of some supermarkets and in specialty stores)

Place an oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom (if you don’t have a tart pan, see the alternate baking method below).

In a large bowl, stir the butter, brown sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Stir in the flour until well combined.

Press dough into the bottom of prepared pan (don’t go up the sides). Sprinkle the top with the turbinado sugar (if using). Poke the dough several times with the tines of a fork. Bake until a deep and uniform golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove pan from oven. With the shortbread still in the pan, use a pizza cutter to cut into 12 wedges. Go over the cuts with a sharp paring knife, making sure the slices reach the edge of the pan. Allow the shortbread to cool completely, then remove the sides of the tart pan and use a metal spatula to release the cookies.

Alternate Baking Method: Use a lightly buttered 9-inch cake pan instead of a tart pan and bake as directed. Remove the pan from the oven and loosen the edges with a table knife. Wait a few minutes, then carefully invert the pan onto a plate, then invert again onto a clean work surface, so sugared side is up. Using a sharp knife, immediately cut the warm shortbread into 12 wedges (if you wait until it is cool, it won’t cut easily). Transfer wedges to wire racks to cool.

Store baked shortbread in an airtight container for up to five days.

(Recipe from “One Bowl Baking: Simple, From Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts” by Yvonne Ruperti; Running Press, 2013.)

Marialisa Calta is the author of “Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family” (Perigee, 2005).