It is easy to add layers to bar cookies and that gives you a lot of options when it comes to flavor and texture that you don’t quite have when you’re working with other types of cookies. These Coconut Topped Shortbread Bars have a tender shortbread base that is topped with a slightly custardy coconut layer that adds just the right amount of contrast and flavor to the vanilla shortbread base. Coconut and vanilla is a wonderful flavor combination in most things and I, for one, never get tired of putting them together.
The shortbread base is a recipe that comes together very easily in the food processor. It can also be mixed by hand, but I like to use the food processor because it speeds up the process. The topping for this recipe is also made in the food processor and you don’t need to clean out the bowl between steps, so it cuts down on overall cleanup as well as on prep time. The buttery base is flavored with vanilla extract and is very tender, with an almost melt-in-your-mouth quality to it. The dough is simply pressed into the pan and baked. The topping is added while the crust is still hot and returned to the oven for a few more minutes of baking.
The topping is reminiscent of a coconut macaroon – but in a much thinner layer. It is moist, slightly custardy and has a really nice coconut flavor to it, thanks to both shredded coconut and coconut milk. Most of the coconut in the topping is ground in the food processor (or finely chopped by hand) so that it is very fine. This makes the bars easy to slice and ensures that you get the same amount of coconut in every bite. I sprinkled some un-chopped shredded coconut on top before baking to give the bars a little extra texture.
These bars are simple, but surprisingly addictive, just as they are. Coconut is a very versatile flavor, though, and there are lots of variations that you can put on these bars for a change of pace. Lemon, lime and even orange zest would all be nice additions to the topping, and a little splash of rum or a sprinkle of diced dried pineapple could give these a pina colada flavor.
Coconut Topped Shortbread Bars
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled
2 tbsp water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened), divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×9-inch square baking pan.
In a food processor, make the crust. Combine flour, sugar and salt and plus to combine. Cut the butter into 6-8 chunks and add to the flour mixture. Pulse until butter has been very well incorporated and the mixture looks like fine, wet sand.
Add in water and vanilla and pulse until dough resembles coarse wet sand. Transfer dough into prepared pan and press into an even layer.
Bake crust for 18-20 minutes, until it is a light golden brown.
While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. In the bowl of the food processor, combine eggs, sugar, salt, coconut milk, 1 1/4 cups of shredded coconut and vanilla extract. Whizz until mixture is very well combined and coconut is extremely finely chopped.
When crust has baked, pour filling into hot crust. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup shredded coconut.
Bake filling for about 20 minutes, or until set. Filling may be very lightly browned around the edges.
Allow bars to cool completely in the pan before slicing.
Makes 25 bars.