First there were marzipan chocolates. Then there were Seven-Layer Rainbow Cookies and frangipane tarts. But now, now there are Almond Butter Bars. The faint lingering of almond delight left behind by the others pale in comparison to the inch and a half stack, unadulterated pure goodness of these bars. What’s that, you like those others? I’m sorry to say, but they don’t, and will never compare.
My introduction to marzipan chocolates occurred in my Nana’s apartment in San Francisco, and the perpetrator was a little white box with a tiny black and white picture portrait of a little old lady named Mrs. See’s. Oh, Mrs. See’s with your black and white checkered floors, the free samples just for crossing threshold of the store, and the perfectly wrapped chocolate boxes. Out of all your chocolates, the dense and chewy lightly scented marzipan dark chocolates were the best.
After Mrs. See’s came Rainbow Cookies and frangipane tarts. The harshly vibrant red, yellow, and green of the Rainbow Cookie, were more cake-like than marzipan chocolates, but still pleasantly flavored with almond. But I have to tell you, that funky apricot or raspberry jam really distracts from your better qualities. Then came frangipane tarts on the road to the pinnacle of almond flavor. Swirling among blueberries and poached pears and nestling tart apples in a moist and golden dry custard-like coating, frangipane was close to perfect. If only the fruit and the tart shell would fall away.
But then came the Almond Butter Bars. Perhaps epitome is too strong a word for a sweet pastry, but if there existed an epitome of almond flavor– sweet, slightly alcoholic and addictive almond—these bars would be just it. With the consistency of a perfectly underdone brownie and a crispy topping of sugar and toasted nuts, these bars are the most intense bits of almond pastry ever.
Essentially it’s a full pan of moist and chewy frangipane. And as it happens, it’s oh so easy to just dip them in chocolate.
Almond Butter Bars
Adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle
3 sticks (1 ½ cups) unsalted butter
2 cups white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ½ cups flour
½ cup almond flour, (found in supermarkets, or grind a cup of blanched almond slivers in a food processor to make your own)
A pinch salt
½ cup sliced almond
4 tablespoons white sugar
8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with heavy foil, allowing foil to extend over 2 opposite ends. Lightly oil foil. Yes, there is a lot of butter already so, one would ask, how could these bars possibly stick? Well, if you are truly patient, and can resist these bars until they are absolutely cool and possibly even refrigerated, then by all means, skip the oil. But really, waiting until cold is near impossible
2. Melt butter in a large metal bowl set over a pot of boiling water. (A double boiler. Yes, it’s a lot of butter. But worth it, I promise.) When melted, remove from heat and stir in sugars, reserving the 4 tablespoons. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until pale golden in color and completely blended. Stir in almond and vanilla extracts and salt. Mix in the flours until batter is smooth and slightly shiny. It will be very thick.
3. Put into prepared pan, smoothing the top. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons sugar over the top and then sprinkle with almonds, pressing them in slightly so that they won’t fall off after baking. Bake 35-50 minutes or until dark golden on top, making sure not to burn the almonds. Bars will not be completely set in the center and will not test clean with a knife or wooden skewer. It’s okay. Let cool completely before removing and slicing.
4. If dipping in chocolate, freeze bars for at least 30 minutes. Melt 8 oz. semisweet chocolate in a double boiler—when melted, bring the boiling water down to a simmer. Dip the frozen bars in the chocolate and place on a tray to either set out to cool or freeze. Let come to room temperature before eating.