Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cherry Almond Bars

There are days when it feels like falling off the face of the earth would be fantastic, like when exams are bogging you down, or when you're cold and rain battered, or when you just don't feel like getting out of bed. Then there are times when it may seem like you've fallen off the face of the earth, but in reality you're in the better half of the earth and that blog that you so consistently keep up with becomes as distant a memory as the continent across the ocean. I am currently of the latter category and although I have missed posting here, overall my travels through France have distracted me enough to eliminate any guilt I may feel about my short-term lack of dedication. Although I plan to indulge you all with stories and photos of my culinary excursions here in France, in the meantime allow me to whet your appetite with something less exciting than a trip to France, but certainly more exciting than your average dessert.
cherry almond bars
I made these bars when I was in the midst of my final finals and munching on them was an ideal distraction from what felt like endless days of studying. When I first saw this recipe I was inspired by the focus on fruit and nuts with what seemed like just a touch of sweet butteriness from a shortbread crust. Also, I liked that it used jam rather than fresh fruit because as much as I wish it were prime time for market goods, summer fruits still need a bit more time and the jam ensured that these bars didn't lack any of the fruity flavor I love in dessert. That being said, if fruits were at their peak I would certainly make my own compote for these bars rather than using store-bought jam. Regardless of which way you make them the final result should shine with fresh, fruity flavor and satisfy your sweet craving without being coyingly sweet.
cherry almond bars
Although I loved the recipe, the final result was far different than I expected (in the best of ways). The shortbread base, made with confectioners sugar, had a much finer and sandier texture than I am used to. A good change from the ordinary, this allowed the flavors of the fruit and nuts to shine. On top, the toasted almonds, enrobed in a mixture of eggs and sugar, turned into something of an almond meringue, crunchy, airy and suberbly toasty. Aside from that, the smooth flavor of the toasty nuts was the key to balancing the sweetness of the fruit, which, without them, would have verged on too sweet. To be honest, I could have eaten the whole top layer on its own, but luckily I had photos to take. This recipe, like most recipes I love, is also endlessly adaptable. Peach and pecan? Pear and walnut? Plums and hazelnuts? No matter what combination you choose, I hope these bars find you well. In the meantime I am tearing myself away from the computer and delving back into the joys of France, be back soon.
cherry almond bars
Cherry Almond Bars
(adapted from Food + Wine)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus 3 tablespoons, melted
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup cherry jam (or your favorite, I suggest raspberry, blackberry, or blueberry)
3 cups sliced natural almonds (about 3/4 pound)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. In a standing mixer, beat the softened butter with the margarine until smooth. Add the flour and confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until combined. Pat the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan and bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden. Let cool slightly, then spread with the jam. Leave the oven on.
2. Toast the almonds for 7 to 8 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Let cool.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the brown and granulated sugars with the melted butter, eggs and vanilla and almond extracts until smooth; fold in the almonds. Spread the topping over the jam in an even layer. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until set and golden. Let cool completely in the pan. Using a sharp knife, cut into 48 bars and serve.