Saturday, May 14, 2011

Belly Up to the Bar

Oh, the days when we used to frequent those singles bars!

But now that I'm an old lady (sigh), my bars these days revolve around the cookie variety instead.

Bar cookies have been around forever - in fact, I’ll bet you have fond memories of the ones your mom made when you were a kid. I certainly do. My mom’s Coconut Bars were off the charts in my estimation and her Chocolate Chip Bars weren’t far behind (sure hope I never find out she made them from a box). Oh, and do you remember those 7-Layer Bars which were made with everything but the kitchen sink, including chocolate chips, coconut, nuts, condensed milk and butterscotch chips? I have an old recipe that refers to these things as Heart Attack Cookie Bars. Yep.

That old bald man I live with has a penchant for rhubarb. I would say it ranks up there with capers as one of his favorite things (as opposed to maple syrup which he abhors). Can’t say I agree with him (except for capers) as I adore good maple syrup and am somewhat ambivalent about rhubarb. Nonetheless, when it shows up every spring, I buy it for him and sauté it with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon until it is reduced to a stew-y mess that he can eat for breakfast, topped off with yogurt. Have at it, Henry. The stuff is safe from me!

I cannot say the same for Rhubarb Crumb Bars, however. Of course, since they are made with a delicious streusel, along with cream cheese and sour cream, what’s not to like? Even if you don’t love rhubarb. Trust me, people!

RHUBARB CRUMB BARS (adapted from Mary Evans)

For the crust:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
¾ cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
½ cup rolled oats, either old-fashioned or quick-cooking
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with heavy duty foil to overhang sides and grease well.

In electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat until fluffy and well-blended, scraping down sides of the bowl several times. With mixer on low speed, add flour, oats, salt and cinnamon and mix until just combined.

Reserve ½ cup of the mixture and press remaining firmly into the prepared pan in an even layer. Bake for 10 minutes until it just starts to firm up. Do not overbake. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

For the filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup sour cream
2 eggs (I used extra-large)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger root
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups fresh rhubarb (4 – 6 stalks, trimmed), cut into ½-inch pieces

Wipe bowl of electric mixer clean. Add cream cheese and beat with paddle attachment until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until smooth, scraping down bowl several times. Beat in sour cream, then eggs one at a time. Add vanilla, ginger root and salt.

Layer rhubarb over cooled crust. Pour cream cheese mixture over and use a small spatula to even it out and reach the corners. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes then remove from oven and sprinkle reserved crumb mixture evenly over top. Return to oven and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes or until just set.

Remove to a baking rack and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate several hours or overnight. Using foil handles, remove from pan and cut into bars.

Yield: 16 2-inch squares

*  If you are like me, you will occasionally buy fresh ginger root and store it in the vegetable bin in your refrigerator.  Then you will forget it's in there and when you finally remember, it has shriveled up and turned moldy in places and you will be thoroughly ticked off because you don't want to make a run to the store JUST FOR FRESH GINGER!  Instead, store it in a plastic bag in the freezer and it will be ready when you are.  Just grate up what you need and return what's left to the freezer. Works everytime!

I have never met a Lemon Bar I didn’t like. Oh sure, some are better than others; to me it depends upon the tartness of the lemon in contrast to the sweet, flaky crust. I use the recipe that we made at Star Provisions and I swear by it. Hope I don’t get in trouble by giving you the recipe! Shhhh…….

For the crust:
3 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
12 oz. cold butter, diced

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Line a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with heavy duty foil to overhang sides. Butter foil or coat with cooking spray.

Place flour and confectioner’s sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process briefly to blend. Distribute butter over top and process until mixture is just combined and crumbly. Press into the prepared pan, then place in oven and bake for 20 minutes until just set but not browned or cracked. Remove from oven and cool.

For the topping:
2/3 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
4 cups granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
8 eggs (I used extra-large)
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 ½ cups fresh lemon juice (8 – 12 lemons)

Place flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl and blend with a large whisk. Whisk in eggs, then lemon zest and lemon juice until mixture is smooth. Pour over cooled crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until just set. Do not overbake. Mixture should be set but still slightly wobbly in the center, but not browned or cracked. Remove to a rack to cool, then refrigerate several hours or overnight until well-chilled.

To serve, remove from pan, using foil handles. Place on a cutting board and cut into squares as desired. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

Yield: 64 1 ½-inch small squares

*  Carla Tomasko is the pastry chef at Bacchanalia and Quinones Room here in Atlanta.  She is as sweet as she is talented and you won't find better desserts anywhere in this city.  You can trust me on that one, too!

*  By the way, if you were wondering why I haven't posted anything recently, it's because Blogger was down for several days recently.  I couldn't believe it!  Quite a shock to try and access the site, only to see the message "Blogger not available."  Nothing like a forced "blogcation."  Sorry about that!

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