Sunday, September 23, 2018
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From the food editor: These Orange Ricotta Bars make for a light, easy dessert

It was one of those serene kitchen days when everything just kind of works out.

My husband and I were home on a Sunday, tending to our new puppy (!) as storm clouds gathered outside, and I set out to prep for dinner. Two of our friends were coming over that evening, and we had decided to make pot stickers from scratch. We would get the food ready and they would bring the cocktails. (More on both of those later, because, wow, they were good.)

At the last minute, I decided we needed a homemade dessert, because I am nothing if not Very Extra when it comes to menu planning.

I had chopped red cabbage, an apple and an onion for an Asian-y slaw; mixed sesame oil and rice wine vinegar for the pot sticker dipping sauce; diced some sweet potatoes that would later roast. And there were still hours left before our dinner party began.

This is not usually how it goes. Usually, I overbook and underprep, and then get FOMO while I’m stuck in the kitchen mincing garlic cloves. But on this magical day, I had time to scroll through my Pinterest boards, looking for a dessert that was light but still dessert-y enough.

I landed on Orange Poppy Seed Bars. I quickly realized I didn’t have poppy seeds. But I did have ricotta cheese left over from the previous night’s lasagna, and it led me to this week’s recipe.

I love using ricotta cheese in baked goods. It creates a nice, smooth texture in most batters while providing a rich flavor that isn’t overpowering. If you wanted to get really adventurous, you could try adding some goat cheese to these bars, too, and a hearty herb like rosemary.

These bars are dense and soft, kind of like pound cake but not as heavy. Citrusy notes from the orange juice and zest help to lighten them up.

This dessert benefits from some patience. The bars do take a while to cook, and it’s crucial that they cool both in the pan and out of the pan before you top them with glaze, otherwise the glaze will melt. It’s an ideal project for a lazy Sunday.

These orangey bars are topped with fresh mint sprigs that I actually remembered to clip from our backyard herb plants, which is how you know I was on my kitchen game. You can skip the mint, or go with another herb like basil. Another way to cute them up? Gently pour a scoop of confectioners’ sugar into a mesh strainer and tap the strainer over the bars, lightly dusting them with the powder.

And here’s a hot tip: They make for a great Monday morning breakfast when you’re running late because your puppy doesn’t quite have his bathroom routine down yet.

Orange Ricotta Bars

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup granulated sugar

Zest from 1 orange (save a pinch for the glaze)

Juice from half of that orange

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

8 ounces ricotta cheese

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

For the glaze:

2 tablespoons milk

Pinch of orange zest

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, more if needed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Fresh mint, for garnish

Orange slices, for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a square baking pan (I used a 9- by 9-inch pan) with cooking spray.

Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl. This should take between 20 and 30 seconds. Add to a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, orange zest and juice and mix well. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and whisk until the batter is smooth. Gently stir in the ricotta cheese.

Add in the flour, baking powder and salt and gently mix until everything is incorporated. Pour batter into the pan and bake for 40 minutes. You can start checking after 30 or 35 minutes, but mine took the full 40. The bars will be slightly brown around the edges, but don’t let them get too brown. Make sure a toothpick or knife inserted into the center of the bars comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, gently run a knife or spatula around the edge of the pan to loosen bars, then flip pan over carefully so the bars wiggle out. Let bars cool on a baking rack for another 15 to 30 minutes, or until cool to the touch.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: Mix all glaze ingredients in a small bowl, whisking to thoroughly combine. If very thin, add more confectioners’ sugar. You want it somewhat runny; it won’t be thick like frosting.

When the bars are cool, cut into 10 to 12 squares. Gently spread about 1 tablespoon of glaze on each square. (It will be drippy; that’s okay.) Top each one with a fresh mint sprig and orange slice. Serve immediately or refrigerate but let come to room temperature before serving.

Makes about 12 bars.

Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times

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