Archive for the ‘Cookies – Bar Cookies and Brownies’ Category
A perfectly ripe mango should have a firm, creamy texture that almost seems to melt in your mouth. They’re so good on their own, that many people don’t bake with them and prefer to eat them as-is. I usually put myself in that category, but I’ve had many mango desserts – from mousses to cakes – that made me re-think that position and start to do more baking with my mangos.
These Mango Bars are a riff on lemon bars, with a custardy topping that is packed with fresh mango – and lots of mango flavor. I started with very ripe mangos and pureed them in the blender (a food processor will work just as well) until they were very, very smooth and then mixed them with sugar, eggs and a little bit of lemon juice to make the mixture for the topping of the bars. The lemon juice doesn’t take away from the mango, but adds just enough acidity to keep the bars from being too sweet and actually highlights the mango flavor even more. As a result, the bars taste like biting in to a ripe mango – but with a slightly more custardy texture. The topping is thicker than you would find on a typical lemon bar, with the color of a bright, ripe mango.
The base for these bars is an easy to make shortbread, which you can simply press straight into your pan with no rolling required. The shortbread is tender and buttery, but it is firm enough to stand up to the mango topping and holds together well when you are slicing it. The bars are good at room temperature and chilled. The recipe makes a fairly large batch, so I typically store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator once they’ve cooled, where they will keep well for several days.
Marmalade is a popular fruit preserve typically made from sugar and orange juice that has pieces of orange or orange rind suspended it it. Seville oranges, also known as bitter oranges, are the standard citrus used in marmalade, but you can actually make it with any kind of citrus and I’ve had some lovely marmalades made with blood oranges and grapefruits before. Marmalade has a very strong flavor and while it makes a lovely topping for scones and toast, it is also a great ingredient to bake with because it can add a ton of flavor to a dessert.
These Marmalade Crumble Bars showcase marmalade in between two layers of buttery shortbread. The same shortbread mixture makes up the top and bottom of the bars, so it is very easy to put these bars together. You simply pack down a portion of the shortbread mix into the bottom of the pan, add a layer of marmalade and top it off with the reserved crust. The finished bars have a wonderful sweet-bitter flavor from the marmalade that contrasts very well with the slightly sweet, buttery shortbread. The shortbread topping is slightly crispy after baking, but these bars are more tender and slightly chewy thanks to the filling. Any kind of marmalade will work (I used blood orange for these bars), but be sure to choose one that you like the flavor of, since it will only intensify during baking.
Since the bottom crust is very crumbly before baking, it can be difficult to spread the marmalade out – especially if you have a fairly thick marmalade. I like to drop small dollops of marmalade all over the bottom crust (think polka dots), then use a knife to gently spread the marmalade from one dollop to another. This makes it very easy to cover the whole crust without pulling up many crumbs. The same technique also comes in handy when working with other crumbly things, such as graham cracker crusts.
Allow the bars to set and cool completely before slicing and use a sharp knife to get clean slices. I like to cut these bars into small rectangles, making about 24 bars from each batch. Feel free to cut them into large (16) squares for larger servings or bite sized pieces (36) for smaller snacks. The bars should be kept stored in an airtight container if you’re not going to eat them all right away.
When I think of combining sweet and savory flavors in a dessert, I usually think about increasing the salt so that there is more of a contrast with sweet ingredients like sugar, caramel or chocolate in a recipe. I don’t usually think about adding pepper to make things even more savory, but I recently tried some Organic Stone Ground Salt and Pepper Dark Chocolate from Trader Joe’s and was very pleased (and surprised) at how well all of the flavors came together. I liked it so much that I was inspired to use it as the base for a little baking, and I featured it in these Salt and Pepper Brownie Bites.
The bite sized brownies are baked in a mini muffin pan, making them a perfect one bite snack. They’re slightly fudgy (small brownies are rarely as fudgy as full sized ones) and very tender, so they quickly start to melt in your mouth as you bite into them. They have a good dark chocolate flavor – and they also have a hint of salt and spice to them. Don’t worry: the salt and black pepper notes in these are mild and they don’t overwhelm the chocolate. Instead, the salt adds a nice contrast to the sweet brownie batter and the pepper adds a little kick that makes the dark chocolate seem more complex. I added a few grains of coarse kosher salt to the tops of my brownies to highlight that sweet-savory contrast a bit more, as well.
The chocolate I used to make my brownies already had a distinct salt and pepper flavor, since I used salt and pepper chocolate from Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have this particular chocolate on hand, you can easily the effect by using regular dark chocolate and doubling the amount of salt and pepper given in the recipe below (increasing each to 1/2 tsp). I wouldn’t skip the sprinkle of salt on the top of these brownie bites, even if you’re hesitant about the pepper, since those few grains of salt will make your mouth start to water right away and will make the brownies that much more addictive.
If you want to bake a full batch of these, the batter can also be poured into an 8×8-inch baking pan and baked for 30-35 minutes, following the directions for my Fudgy One Bowl Brownies.
Not everyone is a big white chocolate fan, but even people who don’t generally like white chocolate find that it is a great combination with macadamia nuts. Creamy white chocolate is a great compliment for crunchy, buttery macadamia nuts because the flavors work extremely well together and neither one dominates the other. Other kinds of chocolate can sometimes overwhelm the delicate flavor of macadamia nuts. I happen to be a fan of white chocolate, so it goes without saying that I like the combination, but these White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies are good enough to win anyone over.
The blondies are dense and almost fudgy, just with a very brownie-like texture despite the fact that there is no chocolate in the bars themselves. They are, however, packed with chopped macadamia nuts and white chocolate chips. The bars are rich without being too heavy, and they have a good butter and vanilla flavor to them that showcases the white chocolate and nuts very well. I used slightly more macadamia nuts than white chocolate chips, simply because I wanted a little extra crunch in my blondies, although you can boost the amount of white chocolate a bit if you want a little extra in your batch.
I also used toasted, salted macadamia nuts for my blondies. You don’t need to use salted nuts if you prefer not to (and even untoasted work well), but I like the slightly savory edge that the salt gives to the nuts and think that it creates an even nicer contrast with the white chocolate. Cut these bars into any size slice you like. I usually opt for about 16 pieces, but you could serve smaller bite-sized bars or huge and indulgent ones. They will keep well for a couple of days when they are stored in an airtight container, too, so you you can make them ahead of time.
Peppermint is often paired with dark chocolate, but it can be an excellent match for white chocolate, too. White chocolate is creamy and sweet, and can serve as a very nice counterpoint to strong, bright peppermint. This is exactly how these flavors come together in these White Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Blondies. The easy to make bar cookies are buttery, chewy and tender, with a creamy sweetness from white chocolate and a bright flavor of peppermint that pops without overwhelming the other flavors in the bar.
I made the bars with chopped up peppermint bark, Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips (full review coming soon) specifically. Many types of peppermint bark, including the Andes chips that I used, include a bit of chopped up peppermint that gives them a bit of a crunchy texture. This alone will add a subtle hint of crunch to the blondies that give them a little texture, however it’s a much more subtle crunch in a blondie than it is when eaten plain, so I opted to add some sliced almonds to the bars to give them a little more texture. The thin almond slices add crunch and a hint of almond flavor without taking away from the mint or chocolate.
Any peppermint bark – so long as it has white chocolate and a generous amount of peppermint – can work in this recipe, so you can use what you have on hand or any brand that you pick up in the store. If you don’t have peppermint bark, however, you can easily substitute it by combining a few tablespoons of crushed peppermint or candy canes with a cup of white chocolate chips.