STYLE

Tang of citrus enlivens peanut soup, focaccia and shortbread lemon bars

02/13/2015 01:46 EST | Updated 04/15/2015 05:59 EDT
When developing recipes for her cookbook "Pucker," Gwendolyn Richards made sure they were easy enough that anyone could make them.

"I'm not a chef. I'm not trained. I like to eat. I like to cook. I like to be in the kitchen," she says. "But it was really important to me to make sure that people could pick anything out of the book that appealed to them and they could get all the ingredients at the local grocery store."

Richards cautions against adding extra lemon or lime juice to goodies like cookies or cakes that home cooks may have left over from squeezing the fruit.

"It's really tempting to throw in any extra — you're like 'I only have a teaspoon left' — but it actually does throw off the leaveners," says Richards.

"Everything is quite calibrated. Baking is chemistry. You really do need to make sure it evens out perfectly, but particularly because you're working with an acid it can really throw everything off."

Here are three recipes from "Pucker" to try at home.

PEANUT SOUP

This beautiful yet unusual red soup, which combines peanut and tomato, is a riff on a version made by a friend.

She added tomato paste to intensify the tomato flavour, included ginger for some complexity and increased the lime to cut the richness. It's rich and creamy, but the lime juice and Tabasco sauce keep it from tasting too heavy.

30 ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil

1 small onion, finely diced

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt (divided)

3 cloves garlic, minced

5 ml (1 tsp) minced fresh ginger

30 ml (2 tbsp) tomato paste

1 can (796 ml/28 oz) diced tomatoes

750 ml (3 cups) chicken stock

250 ml (1 cup) smooth peanut butter

1 ml (1/4 tsp) freshly ground pepper

3 green onions, thinly sliced

125 ml (1/2 cup) roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped, plus more for serving

15 ml (1 tbsp) Tabasco sauce (approx)

Juice of 2 limes

Lime wedges

Set a large saucepan over medium heat and add oil. Once heated, add diced onion and half the salt. Saute until onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, then saute for about a minute, until fragrant. Stir in tomato paste and cook for another minute before pouring in tomatoes and chicken stock. Increase heat and let soup come to a simmer before adding peanut butter. Stir thoroughly, waiting for peanut butter to melt into soup before covering and reducing temperature to medium-low. Let soup simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add remaining salt and pepper, green onions, peanuts and Tabasco sauce. Add most of the lime juice and taste soup. If it still tastes a bit rich or bland, add remaining lime juice and a bit more Tabasco sauce, as desired.

Serve with lime wedges, Tabasco sauce and roasted peanuts.

Makes 4 servings.

MEYER LEMON FOCACCIA

It's prime time for Meyer lemons, which have a shorter season than the larger common lemons that can be bought year-round in grocery stores.

In this recipe the entire lemon is used, rind and all. "Because Meyers are thin skinned it's one of the few where you can very easily slice it and use the entire thing because they're slightly sweeter and have almost no pith," Richards says.

This is rich and chewy, more like a cross between focaccia and pizza bianca.

Because the dough is much wetter than with a standard focaccia, it is best made with a stand mixer. Slice the Meyer lemon as thinly as possible; otherwise it can be quite tart. Richards uses a sharp mandoline, but a sharp knife will also work. Chill the lemon in the fridge to harden it slightly before slicing.

7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast

5 ml (1 tsp) sugar

425 ml (1 3/4 cups) warm water (divided)

750 ml (3 cups) flour

7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) salt

75 ml (5 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil, divided (approx)

1 Meyer lemon, sliced thinly

Flaked salt or fleur de sel, for sprinkling

In a small bowl, mix together yeast, sugar and 175 ml (3/4 cup) of the warm water. Let yeast bloom until creamy, about 10 minutes.

Add flour and salt to bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and pour in yeast-water mixture along with remaining 250 ml (1 cup) water. On low speed, begin to mix together until no dry patches of flour remain, scraping down side of bowl as necessary. Add 30 ml (2 tbsp) of the olive oil and mix for another minute. Turn mixer onto medium-high speed and let it knead dough until it is shiny and has pulled away from side of bowl completely, leaving it bare, 6 to 8 minutes. When mixer stops, dough should slide off hook to bottom of bowl.

Add 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil to a large bowl, rubbing it up and down the side with your fingertips. Using your oiled fingers, transfer dough from mixer to a large bowl to rise. (The dough is incredibly sticky; the oil makes it easier to handle.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper that hangs over the edges. Pour on 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil and spread all over parchment that covers pan. (There's no need to oil the overhang.) Tip risen dough onto prepared baking sheet and, using the tips of your fingers, stretch dough to fill it, dimpling the surface as you go. If the dough resists, wait a few minutes and then continue. It will fill the baking sheet with a little patience.

Drizzle another 15 to 30 ml (1 to 2 tbsp) of olive oil over dough, letting it fill the dimples. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise again for about 30 minutes.

As it rises, preheat oven to 230 C (450 F).

Just before baking, scatter slices of Meyer lemon over top and sprinkle with a few pinches of flaked salt or fleur de sel. Bake until golden and cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from pan and serve warm.

Makes 1 large focaccia.

ROSEMARY, PINE NUT AND FLEUR DE SEL SHORTBREAD LEMON BARS

Richards decided to combine two favourite recipes — shortbread cookies and lemon bars — for a delicious result.

Base

175 ml (3/4 cup) butter, softened

125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar

4 ml (3/4 tsp) fleur de sel

125 ml (1/2 cup) pine nuts, toasted, cooled and chopped

15 ml (1 tbsp) fresh rosemary, chopped

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) flour

Filling

2 eggs

250 ml (1 cup) sugar

Zest of 2 lemons

125 ml (1/2 cup) lemon juice

30 ml (2 tbsp) whipping cream

30 ml (2 tbsp) flour

1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt

Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

Butter a 20-cm (8-inch) square pan and line with parchment paper, letting a few centimetres (inches) hang over each side, like a sling.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down side as necessary. Add salt and beat again. Add pine nuts and rosemary and mix until well incorporated. Add flour and mix again on low speed until just combined, scraping side to ensure all flour is incorporated.

Scoop into prepared pan and use your fingers to press into an even layer. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). When shortbread base has chilled, bake until just golden and set, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make filling. Whisk eggs and sugar until well combined, then add lemon zest, juice and whipping cream. Beat well until smooth, then add flour and salt. Gently stir until just mixed and no dry flour can be seen.

Once crust has baked, gently pour lemon filling over top and return to oven. Bake until filling has set and is just turning golden, 22 to 25 minutes. (It should barely jiggle in the centre.) Let cool completely.

Dust with icing sugar, if desired. Run a knife along edges touching pan and use parchment paper sling to lift it out. Cut into bars.

Makes about 25 bars (depending on size).

Source: "Pucker: A Cookbook for Citrus Lovers" by Gwendolyn Richards (Whitecap, 2014).

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