The yellow school buses are on the road; the first curled leaves litter the ground; you overhear your neighbors discussing the price of fuel oil -- it's proof that summer soon will end. Some find this sad; others rejoice -- they are mostly football fans or home bakers, maybe both.
Admit it: Those weeks and months of light fruit desserts and frozen confections were starting to drive you nuts. You want to bake. September gives you all the permission you need.
After months of slicing watermelon, the multi-step butter-sugar-egg thing can be a bit overwhelming. Best to ease into the baking season. Or perhaps you may be just learning to bake. Just as you wouldn't start jogging with a 10-mile run, you shouldn't start your home baking experiment by tackling, say, a napoleon.
"One Bowl Baking" by Yvonne Ruperti is an excellent introduction to the world of, as the subtitle says, "simple, from scratch recipes for delicious desserts." Ruperti, who worked on the cooking show "America's Test Kitchen," has serious baking chops. She could probably whip up a napoleon without breaking a sweat, but is happy to introduce such simple fare as cookies, cupcakes, muffins, and snack and pudding cakes. As she says: "You really do not have to trudge through a maze of recipe steps, turn a kitchen upside down, and batten down the hatches to wash a gazillion dishes every time you bake. You do not need to own fancy equipment or a stopwatch." This is music to a home cook's ears.
Ruperti's crisp shortbread is a low-stress recipe to start your baking season. It travels well in a lunchbox, and keeps well, too. Ruperti describes it as one of the simplest recipes in the book, but also one of her favorites. Make it, and you'll see why. Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens!
Note: Ruperti gives traditional measurements (in cups) but also gives them in ounces. If you have a digital scale, use it. The scale is a professional secret; it makes for consistent, accurate and successful baking. For example, I weighed two cups of flour: one weighed 6 ounces, the other 5 1/2. Rupert's recipe calls for 1 cup weighing 5 ounces. Had I not weighed the flour, my cookie dough would have been flour-heavy.
CRISPY BROWN SUGAR SHORTBREAD
Yield: 12 servings
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened, plus a bit more for greasing the pan