So this is where it becomes apparent that I’ve boarded the crazy train. I’m pretty obsessed with looking at recipes, especially online. In the past when I found a recipe online that I was interested in I would print it out and put it into a folder, but that folder kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It finally got to be just too unwieldy and too hard to find recipes. So instead I started bookmarking recipes I wanted to try. At first they just went into one big bookmark folder, but then, just like the printed recipes, the folder got too big to find anything. So then I created subfolders. This finally seems to be working, but there are only so many hours in a day, and so many days in a week and only so much two people can eat. The recipes are piling up, and I’ve come to realize I’ll never get around to making them all – this is where the crazy comes in – I will die someday with tons of unmade recipes and it freaks me out. In an effort to tackle the ‘problem’ I’ve come up with a couple of strategies. First, I’ve decided to have a monthly theme and to try to make something each week based on that theme – this primarily applies to baked goods. Second, if I buy a cookbook or magazine in a given month I have to actually make something from that cookbook or magazine during the same month. Third, each month I have to pick out a cookbook I already own (there are lots to choose from!) and make at least one recipe from that book each week. I know – crazy. But I’m pretty much a type A, right brain kind of person, so this works for me. July was my first month trying out my new strategies, and although I didn’t do so well on numbers 2 and 3, I kicked ass on number 1. July’s theme was bar cookies, and I managed to make four different kinds – raspberry streusel, brown butter peach, blackberry bliss and blueberry crumb. Here’s a recap of each…
Raspberry Streusel Bars
Last summer I made a ton of strawberry and raspberry freezer jam. But it turns out Jimmy doesn’t really eat jam and despite doing my best there were still a few jars tucked away at the back of the fridge. I knew it wouldn’t last forever so I started thinking about recipes that would let me use it up quickly. The first thing that came to mind was some sort of fruit bar cookie. After looking around at a bunch of different recipes I settle on one from Gourmet Today for jam walnut streusel bars. Technically I made these at the very end of June, but it set the theme for July so I decided they counted.
Following is the original recipe from Gourmet Today:
For crust and filling:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 raspberry, blackberry or apricot jam or preserves
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/3 packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick cold unsalted butter (4 tablespoons), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Make the crust:
Put rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with two crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two opposite sides, and butter foil (I used parchment paper instead of foil). Combine butter, flour, brown sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until mixture begins to look crumbly with some small (roughly pea-sized) lumps of butter. Press into bottom of baking pan. Bake until crust is pale golden and beginning to set, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then spread jam over warm crust.
Meanwhile, make the streusel:
Stir together flour, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a bowl until combined. Work in butter with your fingertips until mixture comes together in clumps. Sprinkle streusel evenly over jam. Bake until crumbs and edges of crust are golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely on rack. Lift bars out of pan using foil overhang, peel off foil and cut into 15 bars.
Brown Butter Peach Bars
I got the recipe for these cookies from The New York Times. They were pretty darn fussy – you make homemade peach jam and brown butter (twice!). Between the jam and the brown butter and waiting for all the different parts and sums to cook and cool they took an entire morning to make. (The fact that I almost ruined the jam didn’t help. I decided I could multitask and make the jam and brown butter at the same time, but I was so worried about burning the butter that I ended up burning the jam instead. Luckily I was able to salvage it – as soon as I realized what was happening I poured it out and all of the burnt bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. However, it didn’t reduce down as much as it should have and as a result the final cookies were probably a little bit squishier than they should have been.) But I’m a sucker for brown butter, and I think these were worth the effort. If you’re in a rush I think you could easily substitute store bought jam and un-brown butter and these would still be good, but if you have the time and the patience I would recommend giving this recipe a try. I did make a couple of small changes. I was afraid that the orange zest would overpower the peach so I cut back and used the zest of just one orange (half in the jam and half in the filling). Also, since the jam didn’t cook down as long as it was supposed to, I pureed it in the food processor to break down the peach chunks a bit.
Blackberry Bliss Bars
I’m not sure what made me try these. I had already done raspberry and peach, and I guess I was just looking for a recipe that used a different type of fruit or jam. The combination of nuts, coconut, white and dark chocolate, toffee bits and blackberry jam of all things initially seemed kind of odd. But I took a leap of faith and they were actually really good! I did make a few minor changes (I can’t seem to help myself) – I used pecans instead of walnuts and bittersweet chocolate chips instead of semisweet.
Following is the original recipe from Cook’s Country:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted (see note)
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 1/4 cups seedless blackberry jam
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (see note)
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup Heath Toffee Bits
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 13- by 9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, allowing excess foil to hang over pan edges. Grease foil. Pulse flour, butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and cinnamon in food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and stir in coconut and oats. Reserve 3/4 cup and press remaining mixture into prepared pan. Bake until light golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.
2. Spread jam over warm crust. Sprinkle with walnuts, semisweet and white chocolate chips, toffee, then reserved crumb mixture. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack, about 1 hour. Using foil overhang, lift cookies out of pan. Cut into 24 pieces. (Bars can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for 3 days.)
Blueberry Crumb Bars
This recipe came from All Recipes via the Smitten Kitchen. Again, I was just looking for something that wasn’t raspberry or peach or blackberry. I actually followed the recipe as written for once. These were good, but my crust turned out a little soft. If I make them again I might try prebaking it a bit before adding the blueberries etc.