Tag Archives: bar cookies

Cherry Brown Butter Bars

One weekend in May, I messed with brown butter for the first time. I made brown butter chocolate chip kitchen sink cookies (recipe coming eventually… I forgot to take photos because om nom nom they were so good and I just ate them and… what was I saying? Oh yes, I froze some of the dough for future cookie cravings, so I’ll take photos of those) and was delighted by my first experience with browning butter. So since I had tackled what I considered a challenge, I tried another recipe with brown butter for a Memorial Day cookout a few weeks ago.

This recipe comes from the ever-reliable Deb at Smitten Kitchen, and after I read through the comments on the page, I decided to tweak the recipe just the slightest bit. Namely, I used salted butter instead of unsalted. Because I gotta say, I love the salty. It worked pretty well, so I’d encourage you to go with salted butter as well.

So let’s talk about brown butter. Wow, it smells good. It’s actually kind of misleading, because you’re all “Mmmm, this smells like butterscotch! I’ll bet it’s delicious!” and then you remember that it’s still just butter, and it’s kind of weird to dip your finger into a pot of melted butter for a taste. So then you start really wanting some damn butterscotch.

Anyway.

If you’ve never browned butter before, be prepared to be patient. It’s very easy, but you don’t want to rush the process. You just slip a stick of butter into a saucepan, turn the heat to medium, and wait, stirring occasionally, until the butter starts to become a rich caramel color. This will take anywhere from 6 – 10 minutes. Start watching around 6, because once the butter changes color, it can quickly get scorched. (Just so you know, the butter will start out very pale yellow, then darken to a slightly disturbing yellow, then turn into its heavenly nutty color.) When it’s ready, there will be a little opaque swirl of browned bits in the middle of the pot. Go ahead and scrape all these out when you remove the butter from the pan; they won’t hurt you.

Also, another note: for stirring, don’t use a plastic spatula that can’t withstand prolonged heat. Yeah.

The rest of the recipe is very straightforward, and the results are fan-freaking-tastic. Kind of a vanilla-cherry-buttery-shortbread flavor, all tinged with cream. These bars actually reminded me a bit of the cherry cheesecake cupcakes my mom used to make for Christmas, which were just cheesecake mixture cooked in muffin cups, chilled, and topped with cherry pie filling. God, they were good.

So, have you deduced that I really love the flavor of cherries and cream? If you do too, you’ll love these brown butter bars.

Ingredients:
Crust:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/4 t. salt

Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup flour
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 cup salted butter, cut into small pieces
1 pound sweet cherries, pitted and halved (this will yield 12 ounces of pitted cherries*)

*If you don’t have a cherry pitter (I don’t), just cut the cherry in half with a sharp knife and ply out the pit. This took a while, so I actually did it in front of the tv for entertainment. Perhaps you don’t need such distractions.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9-inch square pan, then make a little parchment hammock — From Smitten Kitchen: “cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet.”

Make the crust:
Melt the butter (you’re not browning this batch) in a large saucepan, then stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and flour. Press the crust evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan, then bake until golden, about 18 minutes. Set aside to cool while you make your filling.

For filling:
Brown the butter — melt it over medium heat and stir frequently until it turns a dark golden-brown color and smells nutty. Remove from heat and pour into glass measuring cup to cool slightly. In a separate bowl, beat eggs with salt, sugar and vanilla. Add flour and mix until smooth. Gradually pour browned butter into egg mixture and whisk until smooth.

Scatter halved cherries over cooled crust and arrange however you wish. Pour brown butter batter over cherries. Bake bars for 40 minutes, or until puffed and golden on top and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Move to cooling rack and cool bars in pan.

Once cool, use parchment overhang to pull the whole square of bars out of the pan, then slice into squares. Use a sharp knife to get through those cherries, and you’ll want to wipe off the knife after each cut to keep it neat.

Cherry Pistachio White Chocolate Blondies

Source: Smitten Kitchen and my childhood
Yield: One 9×9 pan

When I was in middle school, my mom would pay me ten dollars a week to wash the kitchen floor. From what I recall, I usually did it when I was home alone, so I could crank up the music and glide around the kitchen like a blissed-out Cinderella. Sometime during that era, I also learned how to make blondies from scratch. I had found some recipe in my mom’s worn, fragile family cookbook — one that was filled with her own mother’s handwriting — and I was sold on the simple combination of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. Easy, delicious, perfect.

I remember making that recipe one afternoon before I started washing the floor. As I prepped my cleaning supplies, the pan of blondies — set out on the counter to cool — sat patiently waiting for me to devour them. One bucket of hot, soapy water later, I was in a rhythm: run the mop up one row of floor tile, stop at the counter, eat a blondie square, run the mop down the next row of floor tile. Repeat. Until most of the blondies were gone. Now THAT, my friends, is the way to make household chores fun. I might as well have been a puppy in training, eager for my comestible reward.

You might think I’d have ruined blondies for myself, associating them with kitchen cleaning. But no. For one thing, I actually kind of liked cleaning the kitchen floor. And for another, blondies are irresistibly delicious. Warm, caramelized brown sugar; thick, chewy, buttery bites; plenty of room for whatever add-ins suit your fancy, from chocolate chips to nuts to dried fruit. These cherry pistachio white chocolate blondies have all three. They’re ripe for experimentation, too, so feel free to adapt your add-ins. But I think this particular combination is my favorite.

To this day, eating a blondie hits some part of my brain that says “Good! Good good good!” I’m pretty sure I would do most any chore with the promise of a blondie at the end. Clearly, positive reinforcement works.

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt (reduce to a pinch if you’re using salted butter)
1/3 cup chopped dried cherries
1/3 cup chopped salted pistachios
1/3 cup white chocolate chips

(A note on the amount of add-ins — feel free to add more or less of each depending on your taste. I did an even split among the three and it was pretty perfect.)

Another awesome thing about blondies? They could not be easier to make. A baking pan, a saucepan, and a stove are all you need. And also, ingredients. Unless you’re making Air Blondies, which, if you are, get off my blog.

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9×9 square baking pan and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar and vanilla. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then beat in your egg. Stir in flour, then fold in cherries, pistachios, and chips.

Smooth batter into pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it.

Cool, then cut into however many squares you want.

Tangy-Tart Lemon Bars

A few years ago, back when Terwilliger and I were still suffering through winter on the East coast, his So-Cal grandmother sent his family a box of legendary lemons from the tree in her backyard.

“These are the best lemons you’ll ever have,” Terwilliger told me, holding one to my nose so I could smell the sweet-tart aroma. The lemon was a deep, golden yellow, and it smelled like flowers and earth. I appreciated it, but I didn’t really understand just how awesome the lemons were until we ended up out here in San Diego, where we are terribly spoiled by our current locale.

In our yard, we have two orange trees — navel and Valencia — and the legendary lemon tree. We are not sure if they’re Meyer lemons, but they are fantastic lemons. This month the tree is just bursting with citrus, its branches heavy with clusters of fragrant, deep-yellow fruit, and I’ve been looking forward to using them in recipes.

Hello, lemon bars. When I was a kid, with no legendary lemons at my disposal, I would make lemon bars from a box mix, and it was the easiest thing in the world. I was so accustomed to the flavor of boxed crust that years later when I had my first from-scratch lemon bar, with its buttery shortbread base, I thought it was weird. Good, but not like a “real” lemon bar. I’m telling you, I loved the box mix. (One weekend when my mom was out of town, my dad and I ate an entire pan of box-mix-bars in 24 hours. We were great fans.)

But as my snobbery palate has developed over the years, I’ve moved away from box mixes, and I’ve come to salivate over homemade lemon bars. But I’ve never made them myself. So for this endeavor, I combed through various recipes, trying to find one that seemed like the ideal ratio of tart-to-sweet. I was also looking for something that used an excessive amount of lemon juice, since we have so many lemons to use. This recipe, from the Baking Bites Cookbook, used the most juice and looked incredibly easy to put together.

You’d think I would realize that by using as much lemon juice as possible, I would be creating something that was mouth-puckeringly tart. But I didn’t think about it until I tried one of these. Hoooo boy, these have some zing. They’re very good, but I’m thinking one small piece at a time is my limit, lest my throat start hurting from the acidity of the citrus juice.

But as I said, they are good. The shortbread crust has a light texture and perfect buttery flavor, and the filling is more like a lemon curd, smooth and slick and tangy. These are rather thin, so if you prefer a thicker crust and thicker lemon filling, I’d suggest baking the recipe below in a 9×9 square pan instead of the 9×13 called for.

Crust:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Filling:
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 T. lemon zest
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat 350 F.

In a large bowl (mixer optional), cream butter and sugar until well-combined. Stir in flour, salt, zest, and vanilla and mix until you have a grainy, crumbly dough, like coarse sand. Transfer mixture to a 9×13 baking pan (I left mine ungreased and the bars came out just fine) and press firmly to bring dough together. Bake crust for 15 – 17 minutes, or until the crust is juuuuust beginning to brown at the edges.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. This part is really easy: combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and whirl until well-combined. If you don’t have a food processor, a spoon and a bowl will work just fine. Pour filling over hot crust, and then bake for 11 – 14* minutes, or until the filling is set and the edges have gotten barely golden. (*My oven cooks slow, but even still, this took more like 20 – 22 minutes for me.)

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then transfer bars to fridge and chill for an hour before serving. To serve, cut into 20 squares and sift powdered sugar over all (you might want to use quite a bit, to cut the tartness of the filling).

Peanut Butter Blondies with Chocolate Frosting

Oh, decadence.

That’s really all there is to say.

Also, this: Dense, peanutty-caramelly blondies, slicked with thick, creamy, indulgent chocolate frosting. Heaven.

Now that’s all.

From Joy the Baker
Makes about 40.

For the blondies:

10 T. unsalted butter, cut into 5 cubes
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9×13-inch pan, then line the pan with parchment paper, then grease the paper. (No worries if you don’t have parchment paper. Just grease the pan.)

Melt butter and sugar together in a saucepan over medium heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes, then stir in the peanut butter. Allow the mixture to cool for 5 more minutes, then quickly stir in the eggs and vanilla extract.

Whisk together salt, flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients all at once to the peanut butter mixture and stir until just incorporated. Spread the batter, which will be thick, into the prepared pan and smooth over with a spatula. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the blondies comes out clean. Allow blondies to cool to room temperature before frosting.

For the frosting:

6 T. unsalted butter, softened
3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 & 1/2 cups powdered sugar (and 1/2 cup more if needed)
3 T. milk
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips, melted*

*Melt the chips in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, stirring every 15 seconds.

Beat together the butter, cocoa, and salt with an electric mixer. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar, then stir in 1 tablespoon of milk. Beat well. Add another cup powdered sugar, followed by 2 T. milk. Add the melted chocolate chips and beat to incorporate. If you need more thickness, add another 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Spread evenly over the cooled blondies, then cut into 40 pieces.

Pumpkin Pecan Blondies

Source: Adapted from Baking Bites
Makes: 20 bars

A letter to squash:

Oh, pumpkin, you irresistible minx. You lure me in with your promise of mingling so sweetly with cinnamon, buoyed by brown sugar. And then the health benefits! You are full of vitamin A and fiber! You are a wonderful, delicious squash, and I very much like you. I especially like you when you are paired with butter and sugar in a delectably moist bar cookie that takes all of 15 minutes to whip up and put in the oven. I daresay you are exquisite that way.

Love, Jill

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease an 8×8 baking pan.

Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in spices and salt, then add the egg and the pumpkin puree. Stir in flour until just combined, then add pecans and distribute evenly.

Spread mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the blondies are lightly browned at the edges and the center is set (it may look moist, but it shouldn’t be sticky when lightly pressed).

Cool in pan, then slice and serve.

Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Source: Cookies, Brownies, and Bars
Makes: 48

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I’ve gotta be honest about something: I don’t get that excited about cheesecake. If I’m faced with a dessert buffet, it’s is the last thing I’m going to consider. (Though I do love The Cheesecake Factory for its massive, motley menu.) I do love the little muffin cakes with cherry pie topping that my mom makes at Christmastime, but those are practically diet food compared with the richness of a slice of standard cheesecake.

So it follows that I’m not much of a cheesecake baker. But I had some leftover cream cheese from some icing, and I had some graham crackers I needed to get rid of, and blueberries seemed awfully festive at the time (I’ve had this recipe sitting in my drafts folder for about two months), so I whipped up these blueberry cheesecake bars for a party.

They were good.

Enough to make me think that perhaps my reluctance to eat cheesecake is actually more an act of self-preservation than preference. Because if I really let myself love cheesecake, well, let’s just say my pants wouldn’t fit. And I hate shopping for pants.

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For the crust:
2 & 3/4 C. graham cracker crumbs
2 T. sugar
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 C. unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
4 large eggs, at room temp.
1 & 1/2 lbs. cream cheese, at room temp.
1 C. granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 C. sour cream
2 C. blueberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 325. Press a 20-inch piece of aluminum foil onto the bottom and over the sides of a 13 x 9 baking pan. Butter the foil.

In a bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Add the butter and stir until moistened. Press the crumb mixture over the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of the prepared pan. Bake until slightly darkened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly.

To make the filling, in a small bowl, whisk the eggs until blended; set aside. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Using a mixer on medium speed, beat until well blended, about one minute, scraping down bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula. Add the flour and beat just until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add half the beaten eggs and beat just until fully blended. Add the sour cream and beat just until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using a large spoon, gently stir in the blueberries. Pour the filling into the crust. Bake until the filling looks set and does not wobble when the pan is shaken, about 40 – 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool until the top is room temp, about 1 hour. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Holding the ends of the foil, lift the bars onto a cutting surface. Use a warmed knife to cut the bar into 48 pieces. Store the bars in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

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Fudgy Family Brownies

field of chocolate3

One-bowl (really, one-saucepan) brownies are one of the first baked treats I learned to make on my own. My mom and I made brownies together with such frequency that once I was allowed to man the stove by myself, our family-recipe brownies were my fail-safe choice. They were a simple combination of a stick of butter melted with two ounces of unsweetened chocolate, with a cup of sugar, 1.5 eggs (yes, 1.5), a teaspoon of vanilla and a cup of flour all poured into an 8×8 or 9×9 pan and ready for devouring in 20 or so minutes. Eventually, they became my oh-dear-God-I-NEED-chocolate-RIGHT-NOW brownies, because they are so easy to whip up, and because the combination of salted butter, chocolate, and sugar (before you add the eggs) is, I think, better than cookie dough. Yes, I said it.

The chocolate base in my mom’s traditional brownies has always been Baker’s unsweetened chocolate blocks. They were a staple in our kitchen throughout my childhood, and I learned very quickly that even if it smells like chocolate and looks like chocolate, it tastes like bitter, bitter disappointment. I had a gleeful I-told-you-so moment with my best friend in 7th grade when she grabbed a cube and insisted that it would be delicious, because it was chocolate, for goodness’ sake. She tried valiantly to eat the whole thing to prove me wrong, but not even stubborn tweens can get through a one-ounce hunk of unsweetened chocolate.

Anyway, my point is that the butter-sugar-unsweetened chocolate mixture is the holy trinity of the recipe I’ve been using for twenty years, but recently, I started experimenting a little.

And I made it better.

That’s a big statement from me, people, because my family recipe brownies have ever been my favorite brownies in the whole wide world. I’ve tried fancier, richer, more chocolate-y brownie recipes. I’ve tried two-bowl recipes, three-bowl recipes. I’ve tried 8-ounces-of-chocolate-in-a-little-square-pan brownie recipes. And I’ve always gone back to my family favorite. And I probably will again, because it’s easy, and always always good.

But with a few (admittedly very minor) tweaks, I’m pretty sure I’ve created my best brownies ever. A little more chocolate, a little more egg, a little less flour. They are not crammed full of butter and chocolate, but they taste like they are. They are just the family recipe, glammed up for a night on the town.

Try them. Cut them into little pieces. Refrigerate them. You’ll see.

field of chocolate1

Ingredients:
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 ounce high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger)
1/2 C. salted butter
1 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 C. flour

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour an 8×8 or 9×9 pan.

In a saucepan over low-to-medium heat, melt butter and chocolate, stirring frequently. You could probably be a purist and use a double-boiler for this step, but I’ve never had a problem with scorched chocolate. Once your butter & chocolate are melted and smooth, remove the pan from heat and stir in one cup of sugar. (Taste this combination. If you have an incorrigible sweet tooth like I do, you will love it. If you don’t, well, I feel sorry for you.)

In a small bowl, beat eggs well. Add eggs to chocolate mixture and stir quickly. Add vanilla. Gently stir in flour until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with crumbs still clinging to it.

Cool, cut, and eat. Or eat before they’re cool. You’re welcome to do that, you know. (But do try them chilled — I put these in the fridge after I cut them and they turned into little fudgy squares of awesome.)

stacked

Don’t kind of wish those fingers were yours, reaching for a brownie?