Monday, June 29, 2009

cherry brown butter bars

cherry brown butter bars

I don’t know what’s happening to me — maybe it’s third trimester dwindling energy levels and an accompanying desire to get the most bang from my feeble bursts of productivity — but all of a sudden, I find myself saying that I don’t want to cook this thing or that because it’s not practical. Practical! Who am I? Certainly not the girl who baked a wedding cake last summer in her tiny, overheated kitchen. Certainly not a person who has [shh, can't tell you]-making and a 12-layer cake on her summer cooking agenda.

sweet cherries

Take this recipe, for example. It was originally a delicious-looking raspberry brown butter tart from this month’s Bon Appetit magazine. And although I usually associate brown butter with winter cooking — hazelnut brown butter cakes, brown butter shorties, pear crisps and brown butter with chestnuts and brussels sprouts, yes please. — and although I’ve never met a dessert tart I didn’t like, all I could think was “these would be so much more practical as a bar cookie!” Practical, there’s that word again. It’s all over for me, isn’t it?

cherry pittingpits and stemscherries a-pittedliquid ingredientscherries, awaiting their gluecherries, brown butter fillingfrom the ovencherry brown butter bars

But really, at least for the kinds of summers I have — lots of rooftop barbecues and pot-luck parties — finger food always trumps things that need to be sliced and plated in the ease-of-use department. So I hacked the lovely tart and turned it into bar cookies, and then instead of raspberries, which were nowhere to be found at my market, I used sweet South Jersey cherries. The end result surprised me — it both looked and tasted vaguely of a cherry clafoutis, except with its pastry crust and brown butter depth, so much better. The only thing I’ve yet to pull off is getting it out of the apartment and into the hands of friends, though once you try them, you’ll understand why.

cherry brown butter bars

One year ago: Zucchini Strand Spaghetti
Two years ago: Everyday Yellow Dal

Cherry Brown Butter Bars
Adapted from Bon Appetit

The recipe I drew inspiration from is a 9-inch fluted tart with raspberries that if early commenters are any indication, is nothing short of delightful. What I’ve hacked it into is something a little more casual and finger-food friendly, or in our case, easier to pack up and share with friends, you know, if we’re feeling generous. As for the fruit you use, no need to limit yourself to either cherries or raspberries — use whatever looks best by you right now, or whatever you have on hand. I bet you could even carry this into fall with apple or pear slivers.

Special equipment: Although not a prerequisite to make these, if you’re the type of person who has cherry pitter or even a removable-bottom brownie pan, this recipe will be even more of a cinch.

Makes 16 2-inch square bars (pictured), or 32 2×1-inch bars, if you, like me, prefer baked goods bite-sized

Crust:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1 pound sweet cherries, which will yield 12 ounces of pitted cherries, which yielded some leftovers, perfect for snacking (alternately, you can use 12 ounces of the berry of your choice)

Make crust: Preheat over to 375°F. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. (It should look like this.) Congratulations! You’ve just faked a square tart pan.

Using rubber spatula or fork, mix melted butter, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl, or if you’re Deb, in the bottom of the small saucepan you used to melt the butter. Add flour and salt and stir until incorporated. Transfer dough to your prepared pan, and use your fingertips to press the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until golden, about 18 minutes (it will puff slightly while baking). Transfer crust to rack and cool in pan. Maintain oven temperature.

Make the filling: Cook butter in heavy small saucepan (a lighter-colored one will make it easier to see the color changing, which happens quickly) over medium heat until deep nutty brown (do not burn), stirring often and watching carefully, about six minutes. Immediately pour browned butter into glass measuring cup to cool slightly.

Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add flour and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture; whisk until well blended.

Arrange pitted cherries, or the berries of your choice, in bottom of cooled crust. Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake bars until filling is puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes (though, of course, this took less time in my hyperactive oven so please watch your baking times carefully). Cool bars completely in pan on rack.

Use the parchment paper overhang to carefully remove cooled bars from pan and place them on a cutting board and cut them into squares with a very sharp knife. The cherries, if they fall over your slicing lines, will want to give you trouble but if you saw a sharp knife into them slowly before pressing down, they’ll cut neatly and with minimum carnage.

Do ahead: Can be made at least a day ahead, and stored at room temperature. Any longer, keep them cool in the fridge.


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