What’s Baking Red Velvet Round-Up

February was my month to host our What’s Baking blog group. I chose red velvet as the theme because it only seemed fitting with Valentine’s Day.  And, I realized, I haven’t baked anything red velvet and it’s about time I did. I just love the contrast of the bright white cream cheese frosting to the red velvet base- whether it be cake, cookies, brownies or whatever.  And, the chocolate flavor is so mild, even my husband can enjoy it and he did indeed.

Whats Baking Badge

My good friend Eva, of Eva Bakes, made these amazing looking red velvet marble brownies.  I almost made brownies too, but at the last-minute went with cookies instead. These look so crazy delicious that I had to put them to the top of my baking to do list.

Red velvet cheesecake brownies by Eva Bakes

Alison, of Sparks from the Kitchen, made red velvet cookie bars with vanilla bean frosting.  Butter cream frosting is always made better by the addition of real vanilla bean and these look delicious. I have never made the red velvet version, but frosted sugar cookie bars are one of my favorite things to bake. Why?  Because they have the taste of soft frosted sugar cookie with much less work and my family absolutely loves them. My husband has been known to eat most of the pan himself.

Red Velvet Cookie Bars - Sparks from the Kitchen

Nicole, of Seven Ate Nine (can’t help but love this blog name), made Red Velvet Cake Batter Squares.  She had these bars at her rehearsal dinner at The Blue Willow Inn almost 5 years ago and was able to recreate them from the inn’s cookbook. I love how food can bring you back to a day and you can almost relieve that memory as you eat it.  And, I also love that these bars have just 5 ingredients.  I mean really, it can’t get any easier than that!

Red Velvet Cake Batter Squares- Seven Eight Nine

Ange, of The Tiny Tyrant’s Kitchen, made red velvet chocolate chip cookies.  Chocolate chip cookies have always been my favorite dessert to eat. I have never had red velvet chocolate chip cookies before but I’m thinking that should change.  Ange had the same problem I did.  Our red velvet wasn’t as red as we would have liked because of the brown color of the cocoa. But, never mind that because these look delicious.

Red velvet chocolate chip cookies- The Tiny Tyrant's Kitchen

Carrie, from Carrie’s Sweet Life, made a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting for her grandmother’s birthday. Until now, Carrie had the same problem I do, and that is finding a homemade cake that she likes. I have found homemade cake to be too dense or too dry. This is the cake that changed all that for Carrie… as it was moist, the frosting wasn’t too sweet..in other words perfection.  I’ll have to give it a try. I have been meaning to make a layer cake so I can use the beautiful and incredibly thoughtful engraved cake server set my husband gave me for reaching a million views in November.  Awww…

Red Velvet Cake from Carrie's Sweet life

And, I made soft red velvet sugar cookies with cream cheese frosting.  In this house, we love soft, frosted sugar cookies.  So, I thought a red velvet version would be just perfect. And, I was so right. These cookies were amazing. They were really soft, with a hint of cocoa, and the most delicious cream cheese frosting.  Honestly, there aren’t too many recipes I make more than once because there are just so many I want to try.  But, I see more of these cookies in my future. So delicious and pretty too.

Soft red velvet sugar cookies with crea cheese frosting

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Banana Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

As usual, I got a little overzealous buying bananas.  I mean, the baby likes bananas and all, but come on.  I don’t think I really needed twenty.  Although, this time it isn’t entirely my fault.  My parents gave me some when they visited last week.  Alex ate a bunch, but I still had 8 brown bananas to contend with now.  In the past,  I made some super delicious banana cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  But, they start with a box mix.  So this time I wanted to try to make a cake from scratch.  However, I don’t always have such great luck with homemade cake.  They can often be really dense and dry.  But, I figured with the bananas and sour cream, it should be okay.  So I pressed on… I was determined to succeed after a major cinnamon roll coffee cake fail this morning. 😦

The cake batter was easy to put together and it baked up perfectly.  Oh, this was looking promising!  After letting the cake cool, I mixed up the frosting.  Just 4 ingredients, but holy cow, this frosting is crazy delicious!  I almost said forget the cake, let’s just eat this frosting.  But, against my better judgment :D, I went ahead and frosted the cake.  Yeah, then it would have been a good idea to refrigerate it for a bit to cut perfect slices.  Did I? Of course not.  I just had to taste this cake.  The cake is so soft and tender and just bursting with banana flavor.  The frosting is thick and creamy, with a pleasant tang from the cream cheese and just the right amount of vanilla.  Wow!  I don’t know what else to say.  Hands down this is the best banana cake I have ever had.  I still have 6 brown bananas left.  Heck, I just might make another one….

Banana Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: 13 x 9 pan of bars, about 16 pieces

For the bars:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp banana extract
1 cup mashed ripe bananas  Totally smooth or a little chunky..your preference

For the frosting:
8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar    I didn’t sift and it was fine
1 tsp vanilla extract          I used 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

To make the bars:  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter or spray the bottom and sides of a 9×13 inch metal baking pan.  Place 2 pieces of parchment perpendicular to each other, with overhang, and spray/butter again. (This makes it easy to remove the bars from the pan for nice cutting.) In a large bowl: whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer,  with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, ~3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.  Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and stir in the sour cream, vanilla, and banana extract by hand with a spatula.  Fold in the flour mixture and mix until just combined.  Fold in the mashed banana.  Scrape the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Tap lightly on the counter a few times to get rid of air bubbles.  Bake for 22-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.  Mine took more like 28 minutes.  Transfer the whole pan to wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese and butter together until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar.  Mix on low until combined.  Add the vanilla and mix again. Spread carefully on the cooled banana bars.  I found it easier to frost with the bars removed from the pan (by the parchment handles).

Source: Allrecipes  via Sweet Pea’s Kitchen

Triple Citrus Bars

Back in April, I made key lime pie bars and I loved them so much, I ate most of them myself (almost half while taking the pictures). Embarrased smile At the bottom of the recipe, there was a variation for triple citrus bars that also sounded delicious, but I didn’t have the lemons and oranges.  So, I stuck with the lime and bookmarked these to make some other time.   Tonight we had a bunch of people over for a Burbs viewing party (how awesome is that?) and so I made the “god damn brownies”, Baked of course.  I thought these citrus bars would be the perfect non-chocolate dessert to serve with the super rich fudgy brownies. And, that way, I couldn’t eat them all this time.

These bars are really easy to make.  The hardest and most time consuming part is collecting up all the zest and all the juice.  But, I loved the contrast of the tartness from the lime and lemon with the sweetness from the orange.  The flecks of orange, green and yellow zest looked so pretty against the cream colored base.  So, it is well worth the effort.  I really enjoyed the animal cracker crust as opposed to the usual graham cracker. Its more neutral flavor really allows the citrus flavors to sing.  Then you have the creaminess from the condensed milk.  Mmmm…condensed milk.  Am I the only one that could eat a can of this stuff with a spoon?

I’m sure you have had lemon bars a million times.  And, they are delicious, one of my favorites.  But, next time you have a taste for citrus…change things up a bit and try these triple citrus bars. You won’t be sorry.

Triple Citrus Bars

Yield: 8 x 8 pan (9 to 16 bars depending on how you cut them)

For the crust:

5 oz animal crackers

3 tablespoons  brown sugar

pinch salt

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling:

2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime zest

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest

pinch salt

1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk

1 large egg yolk

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

Adjust the oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 F. Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with 2 pieces of foil perpendicular to each other, leaving overhang on all 4 sides.  Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.

For the crust:  Pulse animal crackers in the food processor until broken down, ~ 10 pulses. Process the crumbs until evenly fine, about 10 seconds (you should have about 1 1/4 cups crumbs). Add brown sugar and salt; process to combine, 10 – 12 pulses (if large sugar lumps remain, break them apart with fingers). Drizzle butter over crumbs and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened, ~ 10 pulses. Press crumbs evenly and firmly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling. Do not turn off oven.

For the filling:  While crust cools, in medium bowl, stir cream cheese, zests, and salt with rubber spatula until softened, creamy, and thoroughly combined. Add the condensed milk and whisk vigorously until incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain.  Whisk in the egg yolk. Add the 3 juices and whisk gently until incorporated (mixture will thicken slightly).

Pour filling into crust; spread to the corners and smooth the surface with rubber spatula. Bake until set and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cover with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.

To serve, loosen edges with paring knife and lift bars from baking pan using foil extensions. Cut the bars into 16 squares.  Leftovers can be refrigerated up to 2 days; the crust will soften slightly. Let the bars stand at room temperature about 15 minutes before serving.

Source:  More Best Recipes

Lemon Thyme Bars

Jill, from JBean Cuisine, chose baking with fresh herbs as this month’s theme for What’s Baking.  I have never cooked with, let alone baked with, a fresh herb, so I was excited for the challenge.  I had my husband pick me up some thyme because originally I was going to add it to some cheddar biscuits.  But, I made scones for breakfast that morning and since biscuits are similar, I really didn’t have a taste for them anymore.  I definitely want to make those biscuits later (Of course I’ll share :D), but what do I do with the thyme now?   Dessert to me seems a bit weird.  I know that adding herbs to desserts has become quite popular, but I haven’t tasted one yet.  So, why not go the dessert route and try something totally new.  I also had some lemons and from what I have read, thyme and lemon are a great flavor combination.

In my search for a recipe, I came across Giada’s glazed lemon thyme bars that got great reviews and they looked delicious.  The dough is kind of like a shortbread, though less crumbly, scented with lemon and thyme.   The thyme was interesting to work with since I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it.  I tried to run my thumb and index finger first up the stalk and then down the stalk, but either way, they just kept breaking.  So, I just pulled the leaves off one by one…which took forever.  I’m sure there is a better way.  If anyone has any good tricks, I’d love to know!  The leaves are so tiny, they weren’t so easy to chop either.  So, I just kept mounding them up and running my knife through them.  It seemed to do the trick.  The glaze is simply lemon juice and powdered sugar, so it has a nice pucker to it.  What you end up with is a pretty,  grown-up tasting bar- the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea.

Lemon Thyme Bars

Bars

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves   I used 1 TBSP

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

I added the zest of about 1/2 a lemon.

Glaze:

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish.  I used a metal 8 x 8 pan, sprayed with Pam for baking.  Next time I would add a parchment liner to make them easier to remove and cut evenly.

In a small bowl combine flour, thyme and salt. Set aside. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together 1 stick of butter and powdered sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture. The dough is very sticky, so using damp fingers (dip your fingers in a bowl of water), press the dough into the prepared pan. I also used a wet butter knife to make them as smooth as possible. Bake for 30 minutes until golden. Cool for 30 minutes.   Because I used a metal pan, I baked them at 350F for about 25 minutes.

Glaze:

In a medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice and powdered sugar together until smooth. Spoon the glaze over the cooled crust. Allow the glaze to harden, at room temperature, for at least 1 hour.

Using a metal spatula, remove the crust from the pan. Cut into 1 1/2-inch square bars and arrange on a serving platter or store airtight in a plastic container at room temperature.

Source:  Food Network, Giada De Laurentiis

Back in the Day Bakery’s Drunk Blondies

Who doesn’t like blondies?  I love them because chocolate chip cookies are my favorite and sometimes when I have a hankering for them, I just don’t have enough time or I am too tired or too lazy to make individual cookies.  Heck, these are so easy, you don’t even need to pull out your Kitchen Aid mixer.  Just mix the batter by hand with a spatula, spread them in a pan, bake them, and they are done.  It really is that simple.  And, these are not your usual blondies.  No.  These are made better with a little kick from a hit of bourbon whiskey.   It’s only 2 tablespoons, but I could definitely taste it.  Though, I am not a fair judge, since I don’t really drink.  But, my husband, who let’s just say has had his fair share of alcoholic beverages, says the bourbon is very present.  My final taste tester, my daughter Sammie, says she can’t taste the alcohol…as if she knows how bourbon tastes.  I think she associates alcohol with tasting bad (please continue to believe this in 10 years :D) and since she loved them, she thinks she can’t taste it.   They were delicious, a nice change from the usual blondies and a great base for a variety of your favorite mix-ins.

Drunk blondies

Yield: 13 x 9 pan of blondies

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

2 cups packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons bourbon

1/4 cup chopped pecans   I omitted

1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted (See tip)   I omitted

1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips    I doubled to 1/2 cup

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan and line with parchment, allowing the ends of the paper to hang over two opposite edges of the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

Put the butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl and stir with a spoon until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and bourbon, and mix until thoroughly combined. Stir in the flour mixture, followed by the pecans, coconut, and chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack. Cut the blondies into bars. The blondies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Tip: The easiest way to toast coconut is in the oven. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the coconut in a baking pan and bake for 5 to 8 minutes, tossing every couple of minutes with a heat-resistant spoon to ensure even browning. Keep a close eye on the coconut, because it can burn easily.”

Source:  Back in the Day Bakery

Chocolate Crumb Bars

Soon after my daughter was born 5 years ago, we decided that our townhouse was too small and we should put it on the market.  So, we packed up a bunch of stuff to put into 2 storage lockers, trying to declutter the house, making it more attractive to sell.  Sadly, this included packing up some of my kitchen stuff and cookbooks that I don’t use often.  Well, the house was up for 1.5 years, and because of the economy, we couldn’t sell it.  We grew tired of keeping the house spotless with a toddler and a baby, so we finally gave in and took it off the market.  A few months ago, we realized that keeping 2 storage lockers is really expensive (I know, duh).  So we decided to go through them, selling and donating enough stuff to combine them into one.  In the process, I came across 4 boxes of cookbooks that I totally forgot about.  For me it was like Christmas!  I had a whole box of those little food magazines that they have at the grocery checkout that always seem to find their way into my cart.  I was looking through Nestle’s Very Best Baking cookbook and these chocolate crumb bars caught my attention.  The bars have a shortbread crust, a buttery crumb topping, sandwiched together with a creamy chocolate filling.  Shortbread and creamy chocolate?  Well, now there’s a winning combination to me! 😀

Chocolate Crumb Bars

Yield: A 13 x 9 pan of bars, the number depends on the size you cut them.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels, divided
1 can (14 oz.) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts, optional         I omitted
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch baking pan.Beat butter in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Beat in flour, sugar and salt until crumbly. With floured fingers, press 2 cups crumb mixture onto bottom of prepared baking pan; reserve remainingmixture. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.Combine 1 cup morsels and sweetened condensed milk in a small, heavy-duty saucepan. Warm over low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract. Spread over hot crust.Stir nuts and remaining morsels into reserved crumb mixture; sprinkle over chocolate filling. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

A few weeks ago, I was looking through Baking For All Occasions for a recipe to use up my ripe bananas.  I found one for banana streusel snack cake and I also found this recipe for chocolate chip cookie cake.  I made sure to bookmark it, because I just had to make it!  And soon! This is a really easy recipe, that to me, is more like a blondie than a cake.  Cake? Blondie?  It really makes no difference what you call it.  Bottom line is, it’s delicious.  I didn’t add the nuts because my husband is allergic, but this would be a great base for a variety of different mix-ins.  M & Ms, mini peanut butter cups, and those new mini Rolos- all of them would be a fabulous addition.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

Yield: 13×9 pan of bars

2 1/3 cups (300g) all purpose flour
2/3 cup (130g) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (130g) packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon optional  (I omitted)
½ teaspoon baking soda
8oz (225g/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (340g) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (115g) chopped walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts, or a combination

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.  Have ready a 13 x 9 x 2in baking pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle, combine the flour, sugars, salt, cinnamon (if using) and baking soda and mix on lowest speed just until blended. Add the butter and continue to mix on low just until small, moist crumbs form (they are larger than crumbs that don’t clump together) that look like streusel, about 1 minute. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on low speed until the mixture begins to form a cohesive dough. Increase the speed to medium just as you add the chocolate chips and nuts (if using) and beat just until they are incorporated into the dough, 20-30 seconds.

Spoon dollops of the thick dough evenly over the bottom of the baking pan, and then spread the dough over the pan with a rubber spatula.  To distribute the dough evenly, lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough and pat it evenly with your fingertips.

Bake the cake until it is golden brown and feels more solid than soft when pressed in the center, 37-40 minutes. My cake was ready in 30 minutes, so start checking at about 25 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake; it will firm as it cools.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cook in the pan for 30 to 35 minutes.

Slip a thin metal spatula between the still warm cake and the pan and run the spatula carefully along the entire perimeter of the pan.  Lift the pan, tilt it slightly, and tap it on the counter to help release the cake.  Invert a large wire rack on top of the cake, invert the cake onto it, and carefully lift off the pan.  Invert another rack on top, invert the cake so it is right side up, and remove the original rack.  Let cool completely.

If serving within 2 days, wrap the cake tightly in foil and store at room temperature.  For longer storage, you can store in the freezer for up to 1 month.  Thaw in the wrapping at room temperature for 3 hours.

Source: Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker

Back in the Day Bakery’s Lemon Pie Bars

I have a huge cookbook collection.  They are my biggest weakness, probably even more so than chocolate.  Okay, well maybe it is a toss up.  What is my favorite kind of cookbook? Hands down it is a bakery cookbook.  If a book has bakery in the title, it must be mine!  I think this obsession stems from two things.  One, I especially love to bake delicious, but not so fancy cookies, brownies and bars.  Bakery cookbooks are always chocked full of these kinds of recipes.  And, if I wasn’t a pharmacist, I always dreamed that I would be running the cutest little bakery. Maybe someday…. But, until then, I will continue to research, try recipes, and blog them in preparation. 😀 So, the latest bakery book I picked up is The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook.  While flipping through it, there were so many recipes I flagged, that I finally gave up because it’s kind of silly to bookmark the whole book!

I very recently developed a new love for anything citrus and Back in the Day Bakery’s lemon pie bars looked incredible.  Of course,  I have had lemon bars many times.  But, those always have a shortbread crust and a lemon curd filling.  These are different in that they have a graham cracker crust and a creamy, opaque lemon filling.  The bars are slightly tart, which pairs perfectly with the sweetened whipped cream.  Just to warn you, this recipe does make a whole lot of bars.  But, there a lot worse problems to have.

Lemon Pie Bars

Yield: one 13 x 9 pan  ( a whole lot of bars)

For the crust
3 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 24 crackers)
12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp sugar

For the filling
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 cup fresh lemon juice
Two 14 oz cans sweetened condensed milk
6 large egg yolks

Fresh Whipped Cream (optional)

Position a rack in the middle of  the oven and preheat the oven  to 350° F.  Grease a 9 X 13 inch baking pan and line with parchment, allowing the ends of the paper to hand over two opposite edges of the pan.  I also greased the parchment paper.

To make the crust:  In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, butter,  and sugar and blend with a fork until the crumbs are evenly moistened.  Press the graham cracker mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Use a piece of parchment to press on the crust with the palm  of your hands to make sure it is completely level.

Bake the crust for about 8 minutes, until lightly golden.  Let cool completely before adding the filling. Turn the oven temperature down to 325° F.

To make the filling:  In a large bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, sweetened condensed milk,  and egg yolks.  Pour the filling over the cooled crust.

Place the baking pan  inside a larger baking pan and pour enough hot water into the larger pan to come halfway up the sides of the smaller pan.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is puffed at the edges and no longer jiggles in the center when the pan is tapped.  Remove the pan from the water bath and set it on a rack to cool for 1 hour, then refrigerate until cold.

Cut the bars into squares and serve chilled, with the whipped cream.  The bars will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

To make fresh whipped cream: 

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the cream on medium until it starts to thicken.  Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until the cream holds nice soft peaks.

Source:  The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook

Key Lime Pie Bars

I enjoyed the bright, refreshing flavor of the lemonade sugar cookies that I made recently so much, that I was kind of hankering for some more citrus.  But instead of lemon again, I decided to go with lime this time.  I was thinking key lime pie.  But when I was looking through my Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, I saw this recipe for key lime pie bars.  The crust is unique in that it uses animal crackers instead of graham crackers because their more neutral taste allows the lime to sing.  The filling is thickened with both cream cheese and an egg yolk so it is firm enough to hold together when you pick up a bar.  Surprisingly, this recipe recommends using supermarket limes (Persian) over true key limes.  Why?  There are a few reasons.  ATK says that most people can’t distinguish the flavor difference, they are easier to find and there are much fewer to juice.  I think the bars are perfect as is or with a touch of sweetened whipped cream.  But if you want, you can top them with sweetened, toasted coconut.

These bars are surprisingly easy to put together.  The hardest part is squeezing the limes.  My hands were aching a bit and burning from the acid.  Oh, and I can’t even tell you how much it hurt to get a big squirt of lime juice in my eyes.  This is a time when I wish I had a juicer!  I bought 4 limes as the recipe stated and 2 of those limes were so dry, they only provided a few drops of juice each.  I had baked the crust and I was already halfway into making the filling.  I did not want to run to the store then with Sammie and Alex.  But, I only got a little over 1/3 cup of juice from 4 limes.  Luckily I thought to check in the crisper drawer (crossing my fingers)  and I found 2 more limes that I bought recently for iced water.  Phew!  I got the 1/2 cup of juice needed for the recipe exactly.  I am usually a chocolate girl, but I honestly cannot stop eating these bars.  I ate a whole row while taking these pictures.  In fact, I ate so many that the cake plate above is only half full, hence the picture of half the plate. 😀

Key Lime Pie Bars

Yield:  an 8 x 8 pan of bars, about 16 squares.

Crust

5 ounces animal crackers
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lime zest plus 1/2 cup juice (4 limes)
pinch salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg yolk

Garnish:    Optional  (I did not use)

3/4 cup (2 1/4 oz) sweetened shredded coconut, toasted until golden and crisp

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 F.  Make a foil sling by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so they are as wide as an 8 inch baking pan. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to one another, with extra foil hanging over the edges of the pan so you can use them to lift the bars out after they’ve baked.  Push the foil into the corners and up sides of the pan, smoothing foil flush to the pan.  Grease foil.  I used Pam spray.

For the crust:  Pulse the animal crackers in food processor until they are broken down, about 10 pulses; process crumbs until evenly fine, about 10 seconds (you should have about 1 1/4 cups of crumbs).  Add the brown sugar and salt; process to combine,  10 to 12 pulses (if large sugar lumps remain, break them apart with your fingers).  Drizzle the butter over crumbs and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten pulses.  Dump the mixture into the prepared baking pan and press the crumbs evenly and firmly to form the crust in the bottom of the pan.  Bake until golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes (I did 15 minutes).  Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack while you make the filling.  Do not turn off the oven.

For the filling: While the crust cools, in a medium bowl, stir the cream cheese, lime zest and salt with a rubber spatula until softened, creamy and thoroughly combined.  Add the sweetened condensed milk and whisk vigorously until fully incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain.  Whisk in the egg yolk.  Add the lime juice and whisk gently until it is incorporated (mixture will thicken slightly)

Pour the filling onto the crust, spread it into the corners and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. Bake until the filling is set and the edges begin to pull away slightly from the sides, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.  Use the foil handles to lift the bars out of the pan; cut them into 16 bars.  Sprinkle with toasted coconut if using, and serve.  Store the bars in the refrigerator up to 2 days.  The crust will soften slightly.

Source:  Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook:  2000 Recipes from 20 years of America’s Most Trusted Food Magazine

Oatmeal Carmelitas

I was going through my baking cabinet and I found a bag of caramels that I bought last Halloween to make candy apples, but I never got around to it.  I was about to toss them, but then I saw the expiration date was March 22nd, so they were still good.  So, I wanted to use them right away.  I found this recipe for Oatmeal Carmelitas and I decided it would be the perfect way to salvage the caramels.   These bars have a butterscotch flavored oatmeal crust, with a chocolate chip and gooey caramel center, topped with oatmeal crumbs.  They sound difficult to make because of the three layers.  But, really they aren’t because the crumb mixture serves double duty as crust and crumb topping.  Actually, the hardest thing about making these bars was unwrapping all the caramels.  😀 But, I enlisted the help of my daughter Sammie and together we made a quick job of it.  When the bars are hot from the oven, while they don’t slice well, they are delicious with all the melted chocolate and gooey caramel.  What a great topping this would be for a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!   But, if you can be patient and wait for them to cool, the center will set and they cut into nice bars.  I suggest eating these cookies over a plate or napkin because with all that topping, crumbs go everywhere.  But, I think that is part of their charm.  With two sticks of butter, these may not be the healthiest bar.  But, they do have a good deal of oatmeal.  Doesn’t that make them at least a tiny bit healthy?  I think so. 😀

Oatmeal Carmelitas

Yield : 13 x9 pan  ~ 24 one inch bars

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

11/2 cups packed light brown sugar

2 cups quick-cooking oats

1 (14-ounce) bag Kraft soft caramel candies, unwrapped (about 50)

1/2 cup evaporated milk

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips  I added about 1/4 cup extra

1 cup chopped pecans (optional)   I omitted

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish (or use nonstick baking spray). I lined with foil with an overhang and then sprayed it. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until creamy. Slowly add the flour mixture and blend until incorporated. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to fold in the oats. The mixture will be crumbly. Transfer half (about 3 cups) of the mixture to the baking dish. Use your fingers to gently press and spread the mixture evenly on the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes to set.

While the first layer is baking, place the caramels and milk in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramels are melted. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Remove the crust from the oven. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and pecans (if desired) evenly over the top. Carefully pour the caramel mixture on top of the chocolate chips and nuts, and spread evenly. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until the bars are set. Cut into 2-inch squares.

Source: Sugar, Sugar:  Every Recipe Has a Story

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