• The Star Staff

Dishes to cook this week: Just desserts

By Emily Weinstein

This week’s recipes respond to a frequent question from readers: What about dessert? So rather than your rice, pasta and other savory carbs (don’t worry, they’ll be back next week) here are treats to turn to when you need something sweet on demand (these recipes can be made within two hours or less).

Lemon bars with olive oil and sea salt

Traditional lemon bars balance the tangy sweetness of lemon curd with a rich shortbread crust. This recipe adds extra notes of flavor to the mix: the compelling bitterness of good olive oil and a touch of sea salt sprinkled on top. They lend a mild savory character to this childhood favorite, making it a little more sophisticated than the usual lemon bar, but just as compelling. Choose an olive oil with personality, otherwise you’ll miss the point. Something herbal and fresh tasting with peppery notes works best. Although the bars will last up to five days when stored in the fridge, they have the brightest flavor when eaten within 24 hours of baking.

By: Melissa Clark

Yield: 24 bars

Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes, plus cooling and chilling


For the crust:

1 1/4 cups/155 grams all-purpose flour

1/4 cup/50 grams sugar

3 tablespoons/25 grams powdered sugar

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

10 tablespoons/142 grams cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

For the curd:

4 to 6 lemons

1 1/2 cups/300 grams sugar

2 large eggs plus 3 yolks

1 1/2 teaspoons/5 grams cornstarch

Pinch of fine sea salt

4 tablespoons/57 grams butter

1/4 cup/60 milliliters fruity extra-virgin olive oil

Powdered sugar and flaky sea salt, for sprinkling


1. Heat oven to 325 degrees and line a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with enough parchment to hang over two of the sides (to be used as handles later to lift the bars out of the pan).

2. To make the shortbread base, pulse together the flour, sugar, powdered sugar, lemon zest and salt in a food processor, or whisk together in a large bowl. Add butter and pulse (or use two knives or your fingers) to cut the butter into the flour until a crumbly dough forms. Press dough into prepared pan and bake until shortbread is pale golden all over, 30 to 35 minutes.

3. While the shortbread is baking, prepare the lemon curd: Grate 1/2 tablespoon zest from lemons and set aside. Squeeze lemons to yield 3/4 cup juice.

4. In a small saucepan, whisk together lemon juice, sugar, eggs and yolks, cornstarch and fine sea salt over medium heat until boiling and thickened, 2 to 5 minutes. Make sure mixture comes to a boil and stays there for 30 seconds or so; you should see it thicken up before you take it off the heat. But once it boils do not cook for longer than 1 minute or you risk the curd thinning out again. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Whisk in butter, olive oil and lemon zest.

5. When the shortbread is ready, take it out of the oven and carefully pour the lemon curd onto the shortbread base; return the pan to the oven. Bake until topping is just set, 10 to 15 minutes more. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold before cutting into bars. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and flaky sea salt right before serving.

Strawberry spoon cake

This unfussy cake with a top layer of jammy strawberries is so gooey it’s best to serve the whole thing with a spoon. The batter comes together quickly with minimal effort, using basic pantry ingredients and a small handful of berries — frozen or fresh. If you’re using frozen, be sure to defrost them in the microwave first. Extract as much juice as possible from the fruit by macerating and mashing it, so that it lends the cake additional moisture while baking. Add a dash of freshly ground cardamom or ground ginger on top before baking it off, if you like, or some ribbons of fresh basil once it’s hot out of the oven. Whatever embellishments you decide on, burrowing warm spoonfuls of this cake beside scoops of vanilla ice cream is the most important thing.

By: Jerrelle Guy

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes, plus cooling


1/2 cup/115 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), melted, plus more for greasing

5 ounces/145 grams frozen and thawed or fresh, hulled strawberries (about 1 cup)

2/3 cup/150 grams packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup/120 milliliters whole milk, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup/130 grams all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Vanilla ice cream, for serving


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8-inch (square or round) baking dish with butter. Set aside.

2. Using your hands or the back of a fork, mash the berries to release all their juices, and stir in 1/3 cup of the brown sugar. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, remaining 1/3 cup brown sugar, milk and salt, then add the flour and baking powder and continue whisking just until the batter is smooth. Transfer the batter (it’s not much) to the greased baking dish, and spread evenly into corners.

4. Spoon the strawberries and all their juices over the top of the cake batter. Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or just when a toothpick comes out clean in the center. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 3 to 5 minutes before spooning into bowls. Serve warm with ice cream.

Nutella Banana Bread

This banana bread definitely leans toward dessert, thanks to thick swirls of chocolate-hazelnut spread. Browning the butter may seem a little fussy, but it’s totally worth the time and effort. The resulting toasty warm flavor pairs perfectly with sweet bananas and the rich spread. After all, the French term for brown butter is “beurre noisette” which literally translates to hazelnut butter.

By: Yossy Arefi

Yield: One 9-inch loaf

Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes


1/2 cup/113 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), plus more for greasing the pan

2 cups/256 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the pan

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups/310 grams mashed bananas, from about 3 medium bananas

2/3 cup/134 grams sugar

1/4 cup/57 grams plain Greek yogurt

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup/99 grams chocolate-hazelnut spread, like Nutella


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

2. Stir the flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.

3. Brown butter: Melt butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Cook butter, occasionally scraping the bottom and sides of the pan with a rubber spatula until it turns a deep golden brown and smells nutty. Don’t walk away from the pan during this process. The butter will go from browned and nutty to acrid and burnt in moments. Transfer butter to a large heat-safe mixing bowl and let it cool slightly.

4. When the butter has cooled a bit, add the mashed bananas, sugar, yogurt, eggs and vanilla extract. Stir until well combined, then add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Do not overmix.

5. Pour half the batter into prepared pan and spread it evenly with a knife or offset spatula. Spoon half the chocolate-hazelnut spread in several dollops over the top and use a toothpick or skewer to swirl it into the batter. Spoon and spread the remaining batter over the top followed by dollops of the remaining spread. Swirl in the spread, then bake the bread for 55 to 60 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Salty-Sweet Peanut Butter Sandies

This modern classic is reverse-engineered from a cult cookie at City Bakery in Manhattan. They are saltier, richer and tangier than the usual crisscross rounds, thanks to updated ingredients like sea salt, cultured butter and brown sugar. And like any good “sandy” cookie, they have a soft, crumbly texture that melts away on first bite.

By: Julia Moskin

Yield: 3 to 4 dozen

Total time: 1 hour


1 cup/228 grams/2 sticks unsalted butter, preferably cultured, softened at room temperature

3/4 cup/150 grams sugar

3/4 cup (packed)/170 grams light brown sugar

1 heaping teaspoon/6 grams kosher salt

2 cups/510 grams unsweetened peanut butter, creamy or chunky

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 cups/250 grams all-purpose flour

Flaky sea salt and coarse sugar for sprinkling (or use kosher salt and sugar)


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick liners. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy, at least 3 minutes. Add the peanut butter and eggs, and mix. Add the flour and salt and mix just until well combined, with no white flour showing.

2. Using a small cookie scoop (about 2 teaspoons capacity), scoop dough onto prepared pans. The tops will be rounded but craggy. The cookies will not spread much or change shape when they bake, so they can be placed quite close together, but leave room for air circulation so they can brown.

3. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons sugar with 1 tablespoon salt. Sprinkle each cookie lightly with sugar-salt mixture, getting it into the crags and crannies. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until cookies are set and golden-brown. Carefully lift or slide off baking sheets and cool on racks. Store in layers separated by parchment paper, in airtight containers.

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