07 July 2010

Almond-Ricotta Bars with Blueberries

In August 2009, Andy and I spent a month in n Paris. With me amid several quasi-international freelancing projects and Andy toiling away on his dissertation, I convinced myself it would be just as easy doing all of this from the 9th Arrondissement as from New York. It seemed we might not have the opportunity again to pick up and experiment with living someplace else with such relative ease, for such an extended period of time. And so we quickly narrowed our choices -- Berlin, Rome, or Paris. One guess who won? 
My relationship with Paris began XX-years ago when, at 19, I lived in the south of France, working as an au-pair for a horrible family who liked to yell a lot (alright, nice enough kids, really horrible parents). I would escape on the weekends, and when my budget permitted, took the TGV (then quite a novelty) to Paris. I fell in love with the city during my first visit, and while spending nearly a month there seemed a little greedy, the whole thing came together in a matter of days before we had a chance to second guess the idea. 

I quickly found a like-minded couple offering up their much-more-spacious-than-mine apartment, and the trade went so seamlessly, that now nearly a year later, it still warms my heart when I think of the level of trust we all exhibited in agreeing to the whole thing over a few emails, then booking international flights and showing up at each others doorsteps. Our hosts, Paul-Henri and Cyrille (and Artur, the goldfish) convinced us that Parisians don't need air conditioning in August, and I did my best to warn them about the minuscule size of west Village apartments and my (at the time) six-flight Manhattan walk up. 

In the weeks preceding the trip, David Lebovitz and and Clotilde Dusoulier became my quick guides to the latest food destinations in Paris, and our new neighborhood. We quickly fell into a routine with Andy obligingly running out to pick up a fresh morning baguette, croissant, or Pain au chocolat (how Continental!) for breakfast, and me cooking up dinner in the late afternoon to carry down the Seine for evening picnics. Our neighborhood, as it turned out, is a food-shopping destination even within Paris, located in close vicinity to the Rue Des Martyrs and a plethora of award-winning boulangeries, charcuteries, and competing fruit stands. Tucked away from the street is the nearly hidden Rose Bakery. Beloved by all who visit, Rose Carrarini combines the best of British and French baking traditions in her small cafe, along with a certain French chic and English homey feel. 
These bars are the first thing I've attempted from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, the many little meals of Rose Bakery. The mix of finely ground almonds, ricotta and egg result in something of a cross between a cake and an Italian ricotta cheesecake. The original recipe calls for apricots as a topping, but I think the blueberries add a bit more. I baked them in a 8x12 inch pan, slightly larger than instructed, and had to up the cooking time a bit. Next time I'd opt for a larger pan to make a thinner cake and add more fruit.    

Almond-Ricotta Bars with Blueberries
adapted from Rose Bakery
makes 15-20 squares

1 cup plus 1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened plus extra for greasing the pan
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top of bars
6 eggs, separated
zest and juice of 3 lemons
2 1/2 cups ground almonds
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1 pint blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9x13 inch (or 8x12) pan and line it with parchment paper. 
Beat the butter and sugar till light and fluffy, then add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each. Now add the lemon zest and juice. Sift in the ground almonds, flour, and salt and fold into the butter/egg mixture. 

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites till stiff. Mix half of the egg whites into the butter/almond mixture to lighten it, and then add the remaining egg whites, folding in carefully. Now, fold in the ricotta and pour into the prepared pan. Sprinkle blueberries over the top, covered with a tablespoon or so of sugar. 

Bake for 45 - 55 minutes, depending on pan size, until just set and not jiggly. Cool in the tin and then cut into squares. 

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