Monday, May 24, 2010

Bar None

Rachel here: This week we're offering up some ideas for barbecues, picnics and the like since Memorial Day is next Monday. While the meat on the grill and the salads are certainly key components to any good outdoor celebration, I think you have all figured out by now how my mother and I feel about dessert. Fond would be an understatement. Anyway, for these types of gatherings, dessert is preferably portable and something that can sit out of the fridge for hours. Because of this, today we are making bars.

Growing up, more lunches than not at my grandma's house ended with her date-nut bars. You could usually find them tucked away in a tupperware in her breadbox if you found yourself with a hankering and it wasn't the lunch hour. Anyway, I'd never made them before this post. As has consistently happened for me when I've made recipes of those I love, making these treats transported me back to when I was younger. The sunlight streamed across my grandma's dining room table and, though full from lunch, I discovered I still had a little bit of room in my belly for dessert. A glass of milk in hand and the memory was complete. This recipe is incredibly simple, so so satisfying, and guaranteed to please those looking for something a little sweet after an afternoon in the sun.

Grandma Reynolds' Date-Nut Bars
makes 10, depending on size

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tspn. baking powder
1/8 tspn. salt
1/4 lb. butter (one stick), melted
1 c. granulated sugar
2 c. dates, coarsely cut
2 c. walnut pieces
2 eggs

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the center position. Line a shallow pan with foil (she recommends a 9x13, but I think mine was a little smaller and it worked fine) and brush with butter. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Beat butter and sugar in your electric mixer (if you have one...if not, the butter's melted, so the mixing shouldn't be too hard). Add the eggs and beat until combined. Stir in sifted ingredients until just combined. Fold in dates and nuts. Distribute batter evenly in your pan, giving it a few taps down on the counter at the end to get air out and make sure everything's divvied up nicely. Place in oven, rotating halfway through, for roughly 35 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack before inverting onto a cookie sheet and then inverting again to finish cooling. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Janet here: My friend, Anne, often makes lemon bars when we visit her for dinner and I always leave her house thinking, I should make these sometime. And then I don't. But when Rachel and I decided we were going to make some kind of bar cookie this week, I realized now was my chance. So without further ado, the lemon bars.

Lemon Bars
12 servings

1/2 cup salted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour

cream cheese filling
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract

lemon curd
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup water
2 medium lemons grated for 2 teaspoons lemon peel and squeezed for 1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons softened salted butter

2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

To make the shortbread crust cream the butter and sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer at high speed. Add vanilla and combine. Add flour and mix at low speed until fully mixed. Then press the dough into an 8X8-inch pan evenly. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Prick with fork and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minute or until golden brown. Take out and cool completely.

While the crust is baking, prepare the cream cheese filling. Beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth with an electric mixer until smooth. Add egg and lemon extrax and beat on medium speed until light and smooth. Cover the bowl and refrigerate.

To prepare the lemon curd, blend egg yolks with the cornstarch and sugar in a medium non-aluminum pot. Place over lowe heat and slowly whisk in water and lemon juice. Increase heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat. Add lemon peel and butter and cool 10 minutes.

To assemble the bars: Spread the chilled cream cheese filling evenly over the cooled shortbread crust with a spatula. Spread the lemon curd evenly over the cream cheese filling. Place pan in center of the oven. BAke 30-40 minutes until the edges begin to turn golden bwon. Cool to room temperature. Then chill in the fridge 1 hour before cutting. Dust top with confectioners' sugar.

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