It all started when my friend had a birthday recently.

Wait, scratch that.  It started a few weeks before that, when one of the ladies at work (who knows I’m a baker and has previously been my sprinkle patron) asked me if I baked bars very often.

I wrinkled my nose.  “Not really,” I replied, and economically at that, for those two words were meant to convey the following:

I.  Don’t.  Get.  Bars.  They never seem to bake properly and become inedibly overbaked around the edges before the rest of it is done, and although they’re supposed to be easier than cookies, say, they seem like a lot more work, somehow.  Why do cookbook authors coyly list them with the cookies (e.g. “Bar Cookies”) when they are clearly not cookies?  They’re usually sticky or filled, and you sure as heck can’t eat them with your fingers like a cookie.  But they’re not cake, either.  And how are you supposed to portion/eat them?  With a (sliced) cake or a cupcake, the portioning is self-evident.  With cookies, you can go back and keep grabbing until you’re satisfied.  But bars?  Unless you’re at an outpost of a ubiquitous Seattle-based coffee chain, they’re generally cut into these teeny-tiny squares that look like something from a tea party, and which are not at all satisfying.  Yet because of their often-rich nature, too big a piece is just going to make your teeth and stomach hurt.  Just…why, bars, whyyyy?

I clearly need to work on my non-verbal communication skills, because she pressed on and explained that she had been tasked with baking for a church fundraiser, and thought I might have some ideas.  At that moment, I had a sudden flash of remembered inspiration, and told her all about the Cranberry Lemon Oat Zing Bars from The 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes by Kris Holechek: they’re delicious, beloved by pretty much anyone who tries one; they’re quick and easy to make (and can be made not-vegan, if that’s how you roll); and they give you something besides just chocolate.  Sometimes there’s just too much chocolate, and these are a welcome antidote.

When I related this exchange to the Birthday Boy, he perked up and said that if I wanted to make a batch to show her what they were like, he would gladly help with the leftovers.  He wasn’t just being nice – I have honestly seen him lick out a container after being brought a sample.  When he mentioned them again, unprompted, a week or so later, I knew I had his birthday cake figured out.

And you know what?  I forgot just how easy these are to make!

Dry ingredients in one bowl:

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I always triple the cinnamon called for in the recipe because we like cinnamon around these parts. 😉

Wet ingredients in another:

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All together, with cranberries stirred in:

The batter was quite thick, and I had to use my fingers to spread/press it into place in the foil-lined, greased pan to get an even layer.  Always line those pans with foil, kids!

And now, we get to the fun part…

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My initial misgivings weren’t entirely incorrect – they did get a little darker around the edges, although not to the point of burning or otherwise ruining them.

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A lemon-cream cheese frosting seals the deal and hides the toasty edges.

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We managed to not set off the smoke detector or get wax on the cake bars, so I’d call that a win-win.

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Look at that: they cut beautifully, have just that little extra browning at the bottom edge, but stayed moist inside.  We played by ubiquitous coffee chain rules and made the pieces cake-sized, but because these aren’t overly sweet (the lemon zest and cranberries provide the right amount of tartness and tang), no one batted an eye.

The Birthday Boy was delighted by his “cake”, and even more so when I sent half of what was left home with him.

I’m still not sold on bars-as-a-culinary-subgenre, but these definitely have a place in my repertoire.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

I should preface this by saying that I had a whole post planned out: “A Tale of Two Cupcakes, or: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Blurst of Times.”  However, cupcakes the second were more or less inhaled in record time, and may not have photographed as impressively (this is what I tell myself), and instead I was left with a bunch of pictures of cupcakes the first.

Well, then.

I had had some inklings of these cupcakes bouncing around my brain for a while, now, but I was inspired by the lemon-mascarpone cake on Life, Love, and Sugar.  It looked really good, but I didn’t want to fuss with making my own lemon curd from scratch, and unless you’re feeding a crowd (I’m usually not), whole layer cakes are an annoyance to store.

I started out with the golden vanilla cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and added some lemon zest and juice, plus just a hint of lemon extract in addition to the vanilla.  Oh, and maybe just a drop or two of yellow food colouring.  Once they had cooled, I used my trusty corer and filled the insides with jarred lemon spread.

(Quick aside: I had a childhood friend who would eat peanut butter and lemon spread sandwiches for lunch.  Shocking, I know!  Schools used to allow peanut products on their property.  We were made of tougher stuff then.)

While the thought of peanut butter and lemon spread together still makes me want to retch, lemon spread on its own is tangy and delicious, and did not make the cupcakes soggy – most important!

Instead of a mascarpone icing, I made one of my new favourites: the whipped cream-cream cheese icing from Brown Eyed Baker.  It’s just fluffy and perfect, not too sweet, and if you have some left over and can manage not to eat it by the spoonful on its own, it goes great on fruit, toast, you name it.

What’s that?  Quit waxing nostalgic about peanut-permissive schools and get to the pictures?

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Cue the striptease music…

Lemon Cupcakes 2

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The cupcakes were moist on their own, but the lemon filling helped keep them moist over the next couple of days.  And after sitting, fully assembled, for 24 hours, the flavours melded and the filling was just a bit less tangy and became almost an extension of the cake (flavour-wise, not texture-wise).  I’m not sure about the best of times, but these were pretty darned good!

Thanks for looking! 🙂