Rainbow Cookies.

This post is being written in secret. It wouldn’t have to be a stealth mission, but something bad happened. Something really awful has struck this kitchen in these times of holiday glow and glory.

All the Rainbow Cookies are gone.

For the holidays we’ve gone east, to that big noisy place that sometimes goes as New York. Where the snow is always yellow, there’s dog excrement all over the ground, and everyone’s in a big, great hurry somewhere. But oh, yeah. It’s also that fantastic place where there’s always something going on, there’s museums and culture coming out of everywhere—buildings that go on for miles, an obelisk or two—there’s a whole world’s worth of cuisines and people on one island, and there’s something about that park in the middle. Right. It’s beautiful in the snow. It’s a pretty good place, second only to California if I may add a little bit of bias. Which—revelation number two, here it is—I can. A blog, what a wonderful thing.

So why, in this winter wonderland, am I hiding out? Why am I sitting in the cupboard? It has to do with the cookies. Those seven-layered, rainbow hued cookies. What do you find at the end of the rainbow? Not a pot of gold that’s for sure. But some cookies, in this family? That’s what everyone’s chasing light for.

Peanut Butter Caramel Brownies.

Brownie1

Sorry for the delay, but I’ve been away from the oven for a while.  School and such, you know, it’s a little time consuming.

During my little break from baking and cooking, I began to experience what I think may be signs of addiction.  After a couple days I began to have vivid and slightly disturbing dreams about batters and doughs, chocolates and folded egg whites.  I spent more and more time perusing food blogs so that I could ‘bake’ and ‘cook’ vicariously.  Local bakeries probably began to wonder why this poor college student was showing up daily, pushing her nose against the display case, and then leaving with *cough* more than one pastry.

Lemon Bars.

Lemony4Lemony1

There are very few desserts I like that do not contain chocolate.  When I eat vanilla cake with some kind of pale, lackluster frosting I immediately think ‘oh!  This would be sooo much better with a little sixty-two percent bittersweet.’  White chocolate macadamia nut cookies? Man, would they be more delicious if there was a little of the dark stuff thrown in.  Shortbread cookies, sugar cookies, any kind of ice cream really—I always insist that the addition of chocolate would make the yum-factor increase tenfold.

So what, exactly, am I to do?  It is impossible, and just slightly unhealthy, to include chocolate at every meal.  There’ just not enough mole to go around.

Brown Butter Turtle Bars with Macadamia Nuts.

Turts2

Someone once told me that ‘the almond is the Cadillac of all nuts.’  Out of context, yes, it makes absolutely no sense that an almond is the nutty equivalent of a Caddie.  But as a well behaved little food blogger—schooled in the house of proper explanation etiquette—most if not all the goodies come with a little bit of a back story.  So here goes.

Back to the nut-cars.  As my friend explained, a peanut, salted and delicious yes, but run of the mill, it the Honda Civic of nuts.  A salted and jarred cashew is also more of the Toyota and Subaru variety.  A walnut, maybe roasted and dressed for a salad, is more like a Lexus or a Peugeot.  And finally the almond, versatile in sweets and savories, delicious raw or toasted, salted or sugared, as marzipan or almond butter, is the Cadillac.  Makes sense, no?

Here though, is where I have to ask, why have a Cadillac when you could have a Ferrari or a Mercedes, a BMW or my personal over-seas favorite, an Alfa Romeo.  Really, why settle for the Caddie when there are so many more luxurious options available?

Turts1

Peanut Butter Krispie Bars.

Peanut Butter Krispie Bar

“They’re magic,” said my sister after her afternoon Peanut Butter Krispie Bar, possibly the first of a few afternoon-bars.  My reaction was similar after first tasting one of these chocolate and peanut butter topped caramel rice krispie miracles from a neighborhood bakery near my school in Evanston, IL.  One bite into a three-by-four-inch bar, my previous plan of saving it for later was completely forgotten.  That bar was gone before I left the building.

It takes no stretch of the imagination to comprehend why these bars are so addictive.  Literally, it’s a fresh sugar caramel rice krispie bar layered with peanut butter milk chocolate fudge and a dark chocolate topping.  Perhaps what makes them even better is that they’re so easy to make.  Take a little bit of friendly Snap, Crackle, and Pop, mix with melted sugar and then pour over some chocolate and peanut butter.  Cool and enjoy.

Peanut Butter Krispie Bars

Sure, they’re a little unhealthy.  Yes, there is some butter thrown in for good measure.  But butter never hurt anyone—ignoring, of course, that little bit of fat butter tends to carry around—and it’s all for a much improved Rice Krispie Bar.  Hey, one could even pretend to be ten again and eating rice krispies.  And then all the butter and chocolate, the sugar and peanut butter, wouldn’t even matter.

Because that would definitely work, right?

Peanut Butter Krispie Bars
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking and Kim’s Kitchen in Evanston, IL

Krispie Layer

3 cups Rice Krispies (puffed rice cereal)
1 ½ cups white sugar
¾ cup water
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Peanut Butter Layer

4 oz. milk chocolate chips
1 cup creamy, non-natural peanut butter (reduced fat peanut butter is a little thicker and sweeter, which I find works well in these bars)

Dark Chocolate Layer

8 oz.  bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter

1.  Place Rice Krispies in a metal bowl.  Butter an 8 by 8 inch metal baking pan on all sides and the bottom.  Mix the white sugar, water, and light corn syrup in a saucepan over medium-high heat until dissolved.  Once dissolved, heat until sugar mixture begins to boil swirling the sides of the pan.  Continue boiling until the sugar begins to turn a light golden brown.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Stir in butter and then pour mixture over cereal and combine very quickly.  Turn out into prepared pan and push down until the cereal mixture covers the entire pan and is flat.  Put aside.

2.  Melt the peanut butter and milk chocolate in a double boiler.  When melted, stir until combined.  Pour over krispie layer and spread evenly with a knife.  Place in freezer.  While the bars are in the freezer, melt the bittersweet chocolate, light corn syrup, and butter in a double boiler.  When melted and combined, pour over the bars and spread evenly with a knife.  Return to freezer until chocolate layer has set, then bring to room temperature before slicing.  Can be served room temperature, but I prefer them refrigerated.

Handpies.

Cherry Handpie

If there were a most perfect food, it would be some form of finger food.  In all aspects, finger food is perfect.  While with silverware one avoids a little mess here like stained fingers and surprise stains found later long after that laundry detergent or aggressive super bleach can do anything about it, and maybe silverware is a bit more civilized, there is something very remote about using a knife and fork.  One can’t shove French fries into their mouth with a fork and, after all, isn’t part of potato chip induced joy the greasy-salt residue left on the fingers?

Pie in hand
Cookies are finger food, as are burgers, ribs, dumplings, dips, nachos (the real stuff), brownies, ice cream sandwiches—obviously there is a pattern here.  The best foods are the kind eaten with hands.

And the best 4th of July fare?  Pie.  Specifically, pies.  Apple and cherry.

The cherry pies were more of a result of having cherries around at the time of pie filling, unlike the premeditated apple filling.  These apple handpies are unique because the filling is grated, not sliced or chunked.  Long ago—‘long ago’ is a relative term when you’re 19 years old—there was a corner bakery Grace Baking where the most delicious apple turnovers and blueberry tartlets were baked.  These turnovers weren’t like other turnovers found in lesser bakeries—these had a real pie dough crust and deliciously soft grated apple filling.  They were handpies, and better for it.

Handpies

Pate Brisee
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

3 ¾ cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher or coarse salt
¼ cup white sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
½ cup ice water, plus more if needed

1.  Pulse flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor until well blended.  Cube the butter into the flour mixture and pulse until just barely combined.  Be sure not to over pulse—there should be nice chunks of butter still visible which ensure the flakiness of the pastry.  Mixture should resemble coarse crumbs.  Add water in a little bit at a time, pulsing slowly until dough just holds together when squeezed.  Separate into four discs and refrigerate covered in plastic wrap for at least one hour.

Apple Handpie Filling

5 large Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, and quartered
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons flour

1.  Grate the apples using the grating attachment of a food processor, (yes, this is a food processor reliant recipe as the best recipes are….), or a box grater.  Mix in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients.  Either refrigerate until use or use after 15 minutes of resting.

Cherry

Sweet Cherry Handpie Filling

2 ½ cup Bing cherries, pitted
½ cup white sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup water

1 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon water

1.  Mix the first seven ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir and bring to a boil, boil for 10 minutes then reduce to a simmer stirring occasionally.  Mix the cornstarch and remaining water in a separate bowl in slurry.  Add a little bit of the slurry at a time to the cherry filling until all the slurry is used.  Simmer until the mixture is a deep crimson color and there is no floury texture to the filling.  When mixture has thickened and reduced, approximately after 10 minutes, remove from heat.  Cool before use.

To assemble:
Yields eight six-inch diameter handpies

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Flour a large flat surface and let the dough discs warm a bit.  This dough is hard to handle fresh from the refrigerator.  Work the dough one or two time and then roll out to about ¼ inch in thickness.  Each dough disc should result in two six-inch handpie rounds.  I used a medium soup bowl as my dough cutter.

2.  Spoon about a ¼ cup of filling onto one half of the dough round, leaving an edge for crimping.  Fold the other half of the dough round over the filling and press close, being sure to leave no cracks in the edge.  The filling amounts above yielded 5 apple handpies and 3 cherry handpies, as well as two delicious little ramekins filled with apple and cherry crumble.  Baking leftovers..mmmm.

3.  Crimps the edges of the handpies with a fork and then slice air vents in the top of each handpie to avoid explosion.  Brush with heavy whipping cream and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or sanding sugar.  (Or both).  Bake for 50-50 minutes or until till golden brown and bubbly.

Oh Almond.

Almond Butter Bars

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.

Stack of Bars

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.