Thursday, July 5, 2012

austrian shortbread bars.

Summer always ends up consisting of lots of road trips.  Weekend jaunts to friend’s homes and to any place where there is a body of water I can swim in.  I adore driving (because I’m rarely the one driving and can instead indulge in car naps, my favorite).  I love having my feet up on the dashboard, listening to mix CD’s, feeling the sun warm my skin and the wind whip through my hair – it’s summer perfection.  No matter where we go I pride myself on always bringing a hostess gift (it’s how you ensure you get invited back!), wine and liquor (I personally adore artisan bourbon or prosecco) are always good choices, but homemade cookies/brownies are the best.

The perfect summer cookie has to fulfill many criteria.  It needs to be easily portable (no broken cookies upon arrival!), it needs to freeze easily (big batches that you can store for later make life so much easier), and it needs to taste like something you would eat on a summer picnic.  These Austrian Shortbread bars fulfill all those criteria and more.  They are heaven – buttery but not too sweet (the jam gives the perfect amount of sweet and tartness), and incredibly beautiful looking.  I find they are best eaten late in the afternoon after a day spent swimming and I imagine most everyone else would agree with me on that. 

Austrian Shortbread Bars
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

These bars are infinitely adaptable.  My personal favorite involves cherry jam and almond extract (that flavor combination screams summer to me) but whatever jam you have on hand works well here.  This recipe also halves beautifully.  I usually make these in an 8 x 8 pan because I have no self-control.   I would eat all of them if I made a bigger batch and left them in the freezer, sigh.  I also recommend using more jam then the original recipe calls for, using more gives the bar more distinct layers which I love.  In addition, this is the time to splurge on the good butter.  Pulga is my choice and in a recipe like this that uses a great deal of butter, it makes all the difference.  The recipe below includes my changes but you can see the original at Smitten Kitchen!

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened (Pulga!)
4 egg yolks
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla extract
1 ½ cups cherry jam at room temperature (or any other type)

Cream the butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until soft and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and mix well. 

Mix the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together.  Add to the butter and egg yolk mixture and mix until incorporated and the dough starts to come together.  Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and form into two balls.  Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze at least 2 hours or overnight (or up to a month). 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove one ball of dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it by hand or with the grating disk in a food processor into the bottom of the 9 x 13 baking pan.  Make sure the surface is covered evenly with shreds of dough. 

Dot jam over the top of the dough and spread as evenly as possible over the dough with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon (it helps to heat the jam up a little in the microwave do so at 10-second intervals as you don’t want the jam super hot!).  Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and grate that as well, spread evenly over the jam. 

Bake until lightly golden brown and the center no longer wiggles, 50 to 60 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack (and even go so far as to put it in the fridge overnight), then cut in the pan with a serrated knife (do not try and cut or remove from pan until cook, disaster ensues otherwise!).   

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