Oh, you guys. You know, I was genuinely curious to hear about your favorite holiday cookies when I threw the question out there for the cookie cutter giveaway. But I’ve gotta say, I never expected to have all your answers get me so excited for the holidays. I absolutely loved reading all your responses and will be thinking about all the great inspiration you’ve given me as I start planning this year’s cookie tins. A big hooray! goes to the randomly selected winner of the Ann Clark holiday cookie cutter gift set…
Lisa, who said “My favorite holiday cookie is the sugar cookie.”
Simple and to the point, Lisa. I like it! Contact me at pieceofcakedesserts (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address so I can send the set your way. And also so we’ll all know where to go and greedily expect lots of adorably decorated sugar cookies.
After hearing about so many of your favorite holiday treats and so many stories that go along with them, I know you’re not dealing with a shortage of good ideas as we head into the holiday baking season. But because I want to return the favor of all your holiday baking inspiration and because I’m a Type-A list-maker, here are some suggestions for a great Thanksgiving dessert table from the Piece of Cake kitchen. Enjoy!
Chewy Apple-Oat Bars with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting. An apple pie-oatmeal cookie-cheesecake hybrid. If you have a problem with that combination, there’s something wrong with your soul.
Caramel Crumb Bars. Because nothing says holiday eating like butter, butter, butter and sugar in various forms.
Cheese Cake from Denmark. Made with firm-ripe Bosc pears or sweet, crisp apples like Fujis or Honeycrisps, this is like no other cheesecake you’ve ever had before.
Apple Cider Pudding Cake. An easy and unusual recipe that results in a tender, moist apple-studded cake that creates its own dessert sauce, with a layer of pebbly streusel on top.
Plum Crumble Tart. This tart screams fall. Easy and so pretty. Make it your own by swapping out the plums with other firm-ripe fruits and adding different spices.
Lemon Bars. One of my personal favorites. Light, sweet-tart, and completely refreshing. The perfect button on a big, elaborate meal.
Espresso Brownies. The only recipe from the Piece of Cake kitchen that has a mix involved, and I wholeheartedly endorse it. With a few extra pieces of flair, the chocolate lovers in your holiday crowd will think they were made from scratch, and your sanity will be saved with this quick and simple but totally decadent recipe.
To continue our conversation about flavors that spark debate, I don’t think I’m way off base to add maple to the list, am I? For example, I implore you to show me the person who goes painstakingly pricking the bottom of each chocolate in an assorted box in a mad search for the maple-filled one (oh, don’t tell me you haven’t done the same seeking out a vanilla buttercream or caramel). Of course, I do think there are occasions where the deep, distinct flavor of maple can really shine, beyond the weekend breakfast table. And there’s no better time than November (ahem, right now) to incorporate some maple into your life, like in some buttery, crunchy Maple-Pecan Shortbread Cookies.
This recipe takes the familiar shortbread and gives it a little something special. Well, really two somethings–a studding of earthy pecans and the rich flavor of real maple syrup. That pancake syrup that’s been rolling around in your refrigerator door won’t do the trick here. You want the real deal, dark amber maple syrup. The grade you choose depends on how much maple flavor you want. I wanted just a hint, so I went with Grade A, but Grade B or C would be great for the real maple lovers out there.
I was inspired to do a maple cookie recipe not specifically because of some insane hankering for maple, but because I was dying for a logical reason to try out some of the coo-worthy cookie cutters that arrived on my doorstep last week. The upholder of Americana that is Ann Clark Ltd. got in touch with me recently, and really, I can’t think of a more adorable family business than hand-crafted cookie cutters that come from Vermont. As I type this, I’m just now realizing the maple-Vermont connection. Interesting that I chose to try out their maple leaf cutter first. Huh! How about that. Further evidence that raising a toddler causes you to operate subconsciously about 75% of the time.
Anyway, shortbread cookies of all sorts are the just the thing for this time of year. Simple to make with ingredients you probably have on hand right this very minute, and the perfect accompaniment to that afternoon mug of tea or coffee that keeps you pushing through the day, even when the day is seemingly turning to night at, like, 3:00 in the afternoon. Also, we’re not fully in holiday baking season just yet, so it might be nice to have a quick little baking project that doesn’t involve the all the production of the more intricate holiday cookie recipes that will be taking over our kitchens before we know it. And in honor of said holiday cookie extravaganzas, the good people from Ann Clark have sent me an adorable Holiday Cookie Cutter gift set to giveaway to one lovely reader! Hooray!
All you have to do to enter to win is to leave a comment answering this question:
What’s your favorite holiday cookie?
Comments for the contest will be closed on Thursday, November 19th at 8:00 pm PST. Winner will be chosen at random and announced this Friday, November 20th. Good luck!
To add some extra maple kick to this recipe, use 1/4 teaspoon maple extract in place of the vanilla, and use some maple sugar flakes (found at natural foods stores) instead of turbinado sugar for sprinkling on the cookies (with more ground pecans) before baking. To simplify the cutting process, shape the dough into two logs (each about 8-9 inches long) instead of a disc, before refrigerating. Slice the logs into rounds about 1/4 inch thick before brushing with the egg and sprinkling on the pecans and sugar mixture.
Makes about 2-3 dozen, depending on size
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw), for sprinkling
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Begin by finely chopping the pecans in a food processor. Scoop out 1 cup of chopped pecans and place them in a large bowl. Give the remaining 1/2 cup pecans a few extra pulses to grind them even finer. Place these very finely chopped pecans into a small bowl and mix in the turbinado sugar with your fingertips to combine. Set aside.
Into the large bowl with the 1 cup of chopped pecans, sift together the flours and salt and whisk all to blend. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed. Beat in the maple syrup and egg yolk and vanilla until well-blended. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, stopping when the dough just begins to come together and clear the sides of the bowl–better to undermix than overmix here. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, kneading once or twice if necessary to ensure there are no dry pockets and the dough is evenly mixed. Shape into a disc (or logs for slice-and-bake cookies–see note) and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 1/2 hours.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour and lightly flour a rolling pin. Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thick, and cut into desired shapes, gathering the scraps and rerolling as necessary until nearly all the dough is cut (see note for slice-and-bake cookies). Place the cookies on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Brush the cookies lightly with the beaten egg and sprinkle generously with the pecan sugar. Bake until lightly golden on the edges and bottoms of the cookies, lifting one slightly to check underneath for doneness, about 12-15 minutes. Rotate the sheets halfway through baking. Cool on the baking sheets for a minute or two before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.
Recently I got to thinking about some of the most polarizing food subjects. You know, the things that get people talking in a great, spirited love-’em-or-hate-’em debate. Cilantro, for starters. Sushi. Gin. Tomatoes. Rachael Ray. You get where I’m going here.
Coconut is definitely on that list, am I right? Its such a complex food that you can’t really be on the fence about it. Its bold flavor, distinct scent and rough, chewy texture puts it in a category of its own. Other things taste like coconut, never the other way around. So if, like my husband, coconut makes you do that shuddery “I’m getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about putting it near my mouth” thing, then I’ll catch you next time. But if you are on Team Coconut, then I hope you’ll try this recipe ASAP, because it makes one of the best dang macaroons I’ve ever had.
Typically, coconut macaroons are among the simplest, quickest cookies to make. Even if you decide to dip them in chocolate, the number of ingredients and steps is under five. The simplest recipes use egg whites, sugar, vanilla and sweetened coconut, and just like that they can be perfectly delicious. But so often, you can end up with something kind of clumsy and chewy and cloyingly sweet and it ends up taking a whole day to eat one, nibbling away at it here and there. Now, there’s really nothing wrong with that, per se, but I love finding recipes that aim to create the perfect version of something, and in doing so make it totally craveworthy and render me completely unable to put the rest away for later, even if I’ve probably already had enough.
This is why I am totally obsessed with the recipes from America’s Test Kitchen. They take stuff that’s already good and somehow find a way to make it even better. Although they rarely provide the simplest way to get there, its so worth it. And maybe I should keep this to myself, but I get the biggest thrill out of having to hunt down a certain ingredient that I’ve never used before. Like the cream of coconut (not to be confused with coconut milk or unsweetened coconut cream) that has a full, round, creamy coconut flavor and makes these macaroons out of this world.
More greatness about the version of this recipe: it uses a mixture of unsweetened coconut and the sweetened variety usually found in the baking aisle, which makes for a much more balanced sweetness in the finished product. Plus the combination of textures of the two kinds of coconut (the unsweetened variety is dry and very finely shredded, unlike coarsely grated and almost wet sweetened coconut) makes the macaroon more like a cookie and less like the center of a candy bar.
The drier mix of coconut and the combination of the cream of coconut and sugar in this recipe create the most fantastic crunchy crust on the bottom of the cookies, a texture you don’t always get with a macaroon. It makes for the most awesome textural element between the chewy coconut and the slick of chocolate on the bottom of the cookie.
When I sent some of these home with a friend, she and her husband thought there was some kind of wafer-like layer involved under the chocolate and made it seem like I’d put waaaay more effort into making these than I actually did. Ha! Awesome. I love when that happens. But then I always end up ruining the glamour by telling people the truth. I should work on that.
Sweetened cream of coconut, often used to make pina coladas and other cocktails, can usually be found in most supermarkets by the booze, canned and under the brand name Coco Lopez. Finding the sweetened coconut is no problem in the baking aisle, but for the unsweetened coconut, you may have to check the Asian foods aisle or a natural foods store. If you have no luck finding the unsweetened coconut, then use all sweetened coconut, but reduce the cream of coconut to 1/2 cup, omit the corn syrup, and add two tablespoons of cake flour to the coconut before adding the wet ingredients.
Makes 4 dozen
1 cup cream of coconut
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 large egg whites
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
3 cups sweetened shredded or flaked coconut
10 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli)
Place the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper sprayed lightly with cooking spray or silicone baking mats.
In a large bowl, whisk together the cream of coconut, corn syrup, egg whites, vanilla and salt until well-blended. In another large bowl, using your fingertips, toss together the shredded coconuts. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a rubber spatula until evenly moistened.
Drop the mixture by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Form the cookies into loose haystacks with your fingertips (moistening your fingers with water will prevent sticking). Bake until the cookies are softly set and golden in spots on top and your can see the bottoms are deeply browned, about 15-17 minutes. Cool on the sheets for about two minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Line the baking sheets with fresh parchment paper or wipe the silicone mats clean. When the cookies are completely cool, place about two thirds of the chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl. Melt the chocolate on high power in 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after each interval. Put the remaining third of the chocolate chips into the melted chocolate, stirring again until all the chocolate is melted and smooth.
Holding a macaroon by its pointed top, dip the bottom of the cookie into the chocolate, using a spoon to gently coax the chocolate up the sides a bit if necessary. Place the dipped cookies on the lined baking sheets, and refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container.
My friend Sara has all these wacky-but-completely-lovable traits that you’d really never see coming. She is sunshine personified, this girl–all blonde and loud laughs and positive energy. You’d never think she’s the type to get too hung up on details, based on first impressions. But you would be very, very wrong about that.
For instance, she goes positively bananas for laundry day. Like a micro-sorting-into-categories-of-whites-that-I-didn’t-know-existed-and-serious-opinions-about-detergents-level of interest in laundry. It used to be that I would know not to call her before a certain hour on Thursdays, because I knew it was Sara’s Laundry Day, but if I just had to call her about something and she did happen to pick up, she’d have this very Sara-esque cheery-but-absentminded tone because she’d really rather be ironing and folding her many, many sets of sheets than talking on the phone. But I will say that her meticulous nature with housekeeping duties makes being a house guest at her place one of the loveliest experiences ever.
You’ve also never met someone with so much restraint. Don’t get me wrong–girlfriend knows how to have a good time. A wonderful appetite for life and good food and wine, but when she decides to reel it in, sister goes hard core. I’ve always admired that about her. She doesn’t have a raging sweet tooth like me, so she can be especially good about sweets in strict moderation. I will never forget the time I went to her apartment and saw a huge Toblerone bar sitting on the kitchen table, only a chunk or two gone out of the whole thing, purchased at the movie theater two days before (an obsession with going to the movies alone is another Sara Quirk). I could not wrap my head around how one could have a partially eaten chocolate bar sitting in the same spot for more than a couple of hours, and on top of that, how could she have only eaten a smidgen of it to begin with?! Oh, Sara.
This recipe is the first I’ve tried from a cookbook I recently bought on a whim. I had gone to the bookstore only to buy a birthday gift for a friend, nothing more, and reminded myself of that the whole way there. But because I was at the bookstore in rare form–sans toddler and showered, for starters–I lingered for a longer than I should have. I really don’t need another cookbook, I told myself as I traced my fingertips over the spines of so many culinary volumes that I’ve been eyeing as of late. But with latte in hand and no tiny person yanking at my jeans, the spine-tracing turned to back-cover-glancing and then flipping and then skimming and then “Ooh. Well, THAT looks good”, and so forth. And so it would be: The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook is the newest addition to my cookbook collection.
Cheesetastic subject matter aside, the recipes in this book are the sort that you just know have been tested hundreds of times over, in home kitchens by real people all over the place. Cookies and pies and bars and cakes of family and church gathering lore, the kind of baked goods that are named after people known by a certain dishes in their personal circles. Which is all to say that these recipes are uncomplicated, very transportable and not at all precious, sometimes unusual, and totally delightful. I haven’t been so charmed by a cookbook in a really, really long time. And any book that touts a brownie recipe with hunks of Toblerone bar is all right by me.
A word about Toblerone: the wrapper is not child-proof. If you fail to remove it from your child’s pudgy-knuckled grip to avoid a meltdown in the car on the way home, you may arrive home to find that in your back seat sits a little chocolate-smeared face with shining eyes and leech-like suction on one end of the package, which now looks like this:
Adapted from The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook
I love Ghiradelli chocolates for baking–they’re good quality and easily found in most supermarkets. For the Toblerone, use either the milk chocolate or dark chocolate variety–whatever you like. I like hazelnuts in this recipe, but pecans would also work well, as would almonds to echo the almond nougat bits in the candy bar, but remember to toast them before adding them to the batter for the best flavor. Toast them while you’re putting the rest of the recipe together at the same temperature as the brownies–350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Like most brownies, these keep beautifully in the freezer.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and chopped
1 Toblerone bar (3.52 ounces), milk or dark chocolate variety, chopped (I cut each triangular hunk into quarters)
Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 inch square pan with aluminum foil to make removing the brownies easier. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Place the butter pieces and unsweetened chocolate in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Melt the butter and chocolate together on high power in 30 second intervals, stirring well after each, until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture until well-blended. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and fold in the dry ingredients by hand. Stir in the nuts and candy pieces.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out nearly dry, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the brownies using the foil sleeve and cut into 16 bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.
I’m a sucker for a good heirloom recipe. In fact, I’d venture to say that if I were a Hilton or a Rockefeller or somesuch, I would be apt to say something like, “Forget the jewels and the inheritance, Grandmummy, what I really would like is the family chef’s recipe box!”. I should note that I go to these extremes in my mind because a) I’ve always kind of wanted to be a socialite and b) because my own family doesn’t really have a whole lot of heirloom recipes to speak of. But that didn’t stop me from trying to pry a few out of my Gramma the last time we got to visit with each other out in Denver this past August–she’s always been quite the baker when she gets around to it. You’ve really never had a better sugar cookie in your life. I am very serious about this claim.
Anyway, I’d only been back in San Francisco for a day or two before a cheery card from Gram showed up in my mailbox, stuffed thick with handwritten recipe cards for some of her favorite desserts (doesn’t she have the loveliest handwriting you’ve EVER seen?). I was unnaturally excited by all of this–it was the stuff that schmaltzy food blog entries are made of. But I’ll spare you all of that and just say that within the hour of opening that envelope, I was cranking up the oven and baking up my great aunt Phyllis’s Crusty Butter Pound Cake.
Aunt Phyllis was my Grampa’s sister, from the Foropoulos side (Greek, much?) of the family. Most of this branch of the family live in and around Memphis, Tennesee, so I’ve never really known any of them very well, just from stories that my mom and aunts would tell or a few fuzzy memories from when they’d come up to visit us Yankees in Chicago when I was really little. I do know I have a second cousin down there who is about my age and who has always had a freaky resemblance to me. And now I also know that I really should have been going down there to visit more often if these people are turning out baked goods as fantastic as this pound cake.
Now, I know what you’re thinking–um, pound cake? Snore. But! Before you click-click away from this post to find something that involves chocolate or cream cheese and is generally more food porny, let me make a case here. First, you can never really try enough pound cake recipes. Everyone should have a no-fail favorite pound cake in their repertoire. Because with a good pound cake as your foundation, you dessert options are seriously limitless. It’s the chicken of the dessert world.
Secondly, and maybe this is one of those things I should keep to myself, but I always sort of marvel with childlike amazement at how many different results can come out of the simple combination of butter, sugar, flour and eggs, which is what every pound cake is based upon. Whether you settle on this one being your very favorite ever or not, every recipe you try helps you figure out what your idea of pound cake perfection is. Are you after super moist? Buttery? Eggy? Dense? Light and airy? Almost chewy? Crust, no crust? Have I blown your mind with how much their is to consider with the humble pound cake, here, people?
This particular recipe, as you may have guessed from the name, is of the buttery, crusty variety. It’s basically the most awesome kind of pound cake, because the buttery flavor and crunch of the crust make it interesting and delicious enough to stand on its own, but it’s not so absurdly moist and dense that its overkill to add some fruit, chocolate sauce, a syrupy coulis or ice cream (or hey, maybe all of those things–I won’t tell if you won’t).
The light and fluffy batter, with its fabulous use of cake flour instead of all-purpose and a good dose of sour cream, gives you a clue as to how tender this cake is, but don’t let it trick you into thinking that it’s at all precious–this is a sturdy, no-nonsense cake. Bake sale material of the highest order, I’m telling you. It also is the perfect blank canvas on which to put your own twist–cinnamon sugar, citrus zest, a scrape of a vanilla bean, chocolate chips, berries of all sorts–very little would ruin this workhorse of a cake. Double the recipe, freeze one cake to “have one on hand” and feel like a champion of domestication–you’ll be searching for ways to use it up before you know it.
Aunt Phyllis’s Crusty Butter Pound Cake
I’ve reworked this recipe a bit–note that it calls for the flour to be spooned into the cup and then leveled. The original recipe makes one large cake in a Bundt pan or angel food cake pan, but you can also divide the batter and bake it in two standard loaf pans (or halve the recipe for one loaf). I recommend making the full recipe in two loaf pans because this cake freezes beautifully. So bake one and freeze one–you won’t regret it.
Makes 1 large Bundt cake, or 2 9x5x3 inch loaves
3 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream (not lowfat)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan, angel food cake pan, or two 9x5x3 inch loaf pans.
Sift the flour, then sift it again with the salt and baking soda. The easiest way to do this is to first sift the flour onto a large sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil, set the sifter over a large bowl, then use the sheet to help pour the flour back into the sifter. Add the salt and baking soda to the flour in the sifter, then sift all the dry ingredients together into the bowl.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and beat in the eggs one and a time. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and stir in the sour cream and vanilla on low speed. Add the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time on low speed until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 90 minutes for a Bundt-size cake, and about 60-70 minutes for loaf pans. Cool completely in the pans on a wire rack before inverting and slicing.
In the last POC tip, I professed my undying love for cooking spray. And that love will stand until the end of time. So imagine my disappointment when I come across a recipe and I can see that cooking spray just won’t fit the bill for pan greasing purposes. Quelle horreur!
Well, there are times when a pan really does benefit from being buttered instead of misted with oil, like when a batter or dough is so thick that it will just absorb the sprayed oil or push it all around the pan while its being spread or pressed into place. Or when greasing a pan with butter lends flavor and browning to the crust of the baked good, and that’s the recipe writer’s intention. Despite the fact that I knew these truths to be self-evident, I still would sigh at the thought of having to mush perfectly good butter all over the place. Until I discovered this little trick.
Look to your butter wrappers, people! They tend to have the perfect amount of butter for greasing still clinging to them after the butter sticks are unwrapped. Especially if the recipe calls for the butter to be at room temperature (which is so often the case). It’s a most frugal little trick that not only makes buttering pans easier and faster, it keeps hands clean, too. And I need clean hands to keep a firm grip on things like my beloved can of cooking spray.
Aside from the occasional whimsical celebration cake or all-or-nothing recipe involving crazy things like corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk, most recipes that come out of the Piece of Cake kitchen are relatively simple, without a whole lot of complicated stuff going on. As much as I like a culinary challenge, my favorite treats are the kind that sit quietly on the counter and softly call to you all day long as you pass through the kitchen. You know–a sliver here, a nibble there, until all that’s left is crumbs and you wonder where the whole thing went. But some things don’t fit so neatly in to either category. Like a humble, chunky, apple-studded bar cookie made fancy with a slick of decadent icing.
When I first saw this recipe, I thought, Sweet Lord! That’s a whole lotta concepts going on. I mean, these bars are basically a chewy apple pie-oatmeal cookie-cheesecake hybrid. And if you can think of any more delicious things to cram into one sentence, please report to me. Because after I wrapped my brain around the recipe, I could not get it out of my head. With a few tweaks to the add-ins and more sophisticated icing than the original recipe called for, these bars emerged as one of the more addictive things to come out of the Piece of Cake kitchen in recent months.
If you’re looking for a great dessert for a tailgate or a pumpkin-carving get-together or just a little something to take over to a friend’s house for coffee and Oprah on a rainy day, look no further. The nubbly bar cookie base is crowd-pleasingly familiar, but the white chocolate and cream cheese frosting dresses it up just a bit and adds an amazing punch of flavor. Dusted with cinnamon and cut into two-bite-sized bars, they’re autumnal party perfection.
And a quick word about cinnamon: have you ever gotten your hands on some good Vietnamese cinnamon? Because it will completely Blow. Your. Mind. In fact, you may question what kind of lie you’ve been living using that drab, dusty brown powder from the supermarket all these years. Vietnamese cinnamon is like cinnamon on steroids. It smells and tastes exactly like Red Hots candy, people–hot and so intensely spiced and sweet that you’d think it couldn’t possibly come from nature. But it does! And if you’re me you trek regularly to a bulk foods emporium with a spectacular spice section to buy it by the cupful while people look at you suspiciously. And then once you get it home, you shove the filled spice tin under every nose that enters the house while being a Vietnamese cinnamon-raving lunatic. It’s really something. With high baking season upon us, there’s no better time to track some down.
Chewy Apple-Oat Bars with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing
Loosely adapted from the Land O’ Lakes website, of all places
Refrigerating the bars after icing them will set the icing as well as make for easy, clean cutting of the bars. Their taste and texture actually improve a day after baking, so make them a day ahead whenever possible. For a less decadent variation, skip the icing, and swap out the white chocolate chips for toasted walnuts.
Makes about 20 two-bize-sized bars
For the apple-oat bars:
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup diced apple (about one small apple, I like Fuji or Honeycrisp)
4 ounces white chocolate chips
For the white chocolate cream cheese icing:
2 ounces white chocolate chips
2 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar (more or less, depending on your sweet tooth and how stiff you want the icing to be)
Ground cinnamon, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil (with a few inches of overhang on all sides) and spray the foil lightly with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and oats and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth and lightened in color. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat in the egg and vanilla until well-blended. On low speed, blend in the dry ingredients. On the lowest speed or by hand, stir in the apple chunks and white chocolate chips.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake just until a toothpick comes out clean, about 35-38 minutes. Do not overbake. Let the bars cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then use the foil “handles” to remove the slab from the pan. Let cool completely on the rack in the foil sleeve, at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the icing. In the microwave, melt 2 ounces of white chocolate chips in a small microwave-safe bowl in 30 second bursts at 50% power, stirring after each interval until smooth. In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. Add the melted white chocolate and beat until smooth. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar until the icing is slightly thickened and sweetened to your liking.
When the bars are completely cool, spread the icing in an even layer over the bars, using the foil to create a dam of sorts that will keep the icing from dripping down the edges of the bars. Refrigerate the bars with the foil sleeve until the icing is firm, at least 1 hour.
Remove the slab from the foil to a cutting board and dust with cinnamon. With a large, sharp knife, cut into about 20 bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
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