Thursday, July 9, 2015

cherry shortbread bars.

Everyone has a food that conjures images of summer.  Or perhaps they feel as if it isn't summer until they consume said food.  For some its a toasted almond bar from a Mr. Softee truck.  For others it may be a lobster roll and a lemonade.  I imagine some feel nostalgic for a BLT made with the first heirloom tomatoes of the season and then there is the camp that feels it isn't summer without something made on a grill. Namely a good burger best served with a cold beer.

For me, it's cherries.  And not sour cherries.  I am talking about big old bing cherries.  The kind you eat my the handful while sitting outside preferably at a beach though on a bench isn't necessarily a bad thing. I eat cherries until my fingers turn pink and then I keep going because I love them.

So it's easy to imagine that come July, I am looking for every recipe possible that incorporates cherries. There are salads of micro greens, blue cheese, and cherries.  There are porkchops with cherry salsa.  And then there are desserts.  Cherry pie, cherry crumble, cherry clafoutis (such a classic) cherry brown butter bars (here's hoping I get to make those again next week), and now for the newest addition, cherry shortbread bars.  

These are the new unsung hero of picnics but they work just as well consumed at the beach or straight from the fridge after a long day at work.  It's summer in a neatly packed, handheld, and portable square.

Cherry Shortbread Bars
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

The original recipe calls for peaches and while the peach version is insanely delicious, I couldn't help adapting this to work with cherries because I am a cherry-aholic.   I changed the spices around (and added a little almond extract) just because.  The resulting bar is sublime.   

I cut mine into 24 2 x 2 1/2-ish squares. You can halve this and bake it in a 8 x 8 pan instead.

1 cup (7 ounces or 200 grams) white sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder
2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (12 5/8 ounces or 359 grams) cups all-purpose flour (can replace 1 cup with graham flour aka my new favorite thing)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Couple of gratings of fresh nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces or 227 grams) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
4 cups cherries pitted and halved (quartered if really large) 

Brown your butter: Melt butter in a small/medium saucepan over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Keep your eyes on it; it burns very quickly after it browns and the very second that you turn around to do something else. Set it in the freezer until solid (about 30 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter a 9×13 inch pan, or spray it with a nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and spices with a whisk. Use a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips, blend the solidified brown butter, almond extract, and egg into the flour mixture. It will be crumbly.

Pat 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing firmly. Pour the cherries over the base in a single layer. Scatter remaining crumbs evenly over cherries and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until top is slightly brown and you can see a little color around the edges. Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares.

Keeping: I’ve kept mine in the fridge and they’ve held up great. These would freeze well, between layers of waxed paper, with the container sealed well in plastic wrap.   

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