Crisp Toffee Bars

I am a huge fan of a skillet-baked dessert. Irresistible. These blondie-esque, nutty cookies were crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The edges were fabulously crumbly too. In the original recipe, the edges are removed prior to serving… What on Earth?! 😉

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Julia Moskin. I weighed all of the dry ingredients, included both of the add-ins, increased the skillet size, and reduced the baking time. The article cited that the original recipe for these buttery, basic toffee bars belongs to Maida Heatter, the great American dessert maven of the 20th century. It was adapted for a cast-iron skillet by Charlotte Druckman, who wrote a book on cast-iron baking in 2016. Wonderful.

Yield: 2 dozen bars

  • 2 sticks/225 grams unsalted butter, cold but not frozen, plus 1 T more for buttering the pan
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup/210 grams soft-packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 cups/240 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup/100 grams unsalted slivered almonds, toasted
  • 6 ounces/170 grams chocolate chips or small chunks
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection. Place a rack in the middle and place a 12-inch cast-iron skillet on it.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on low-speed for about a minute, until softened. Scrape down the bowl and the paddle.
  3. With the mixer running at low-speed, add salt and vanilla.
  4. Add the brown sugar, then turn the speed up to medium and beat until mixture is the color of peanut butter and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl again.
  5. With the mixer running at low-speed, shake in flour, beating just until dough holds together. Mix in nuts or chocolate just until combined.
  6. Remove the hot skillet from the oven and place 1 T of butter in it. As butter melts, swirl it over the bottom and sides of the pan until evenly coated.
  7. Dump dough into skillet and press it out to evenly fill the skillet. You can use your fingers (being careful to avoid touching the hot pan), a potato masher or the bottom of a measuring cup. Press dough down firmly to make a compact, even layer.
  8. Transfer to oven and bake for 25 to 40 minutes, until the top is walnut brown. You may be tempted to take it out when the edges have begun to darken, but let it continue to cook so the entire surface can take on that color. There may be bubbles visible on top of the dough; that’s a good sign.
  9. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan. If necessary, run an offset spatula or butter knife around the sides of the pan to loosen. Cut into bars, squares or diamonds. (I cut them after they had completely cooled.)
  10. Let the bars cool completely before removing from pan. Store in airtight container; they keep well for up to 1 week.

Note: This recipe can be adapted to bake in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

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Red Velvet Brownies

I think that all I have to say is that I’ve already made these wonderful brownies three times before posting them! They are a great modification of the classic Southern cake- including the essential cream cheese frosting.

The recipe was adapted from Fat Witch Bake Sale by Patricia Helding with Lucy Baker. Fat Witch Bakery is a family favorite NYC bakery, and one of the first we visited after moving to New York. I used semi-sweet instead of milk chocolate chips, lined the baking pan with parchment paper, and modified the baking time for a convection oven.

I contemplated omitting the red food coloring, but it just would not have been as much fun. (…besides the fact that my daughter had a very strong objection!) 🙂 Yummy.

Yield: Makes one 9×9-inch pan 16 square brownies or 32 triangle brownies

For the Brownies:

  • 5 1/2 T (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 T whole milk
  • 1 cup milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp red food coloring

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups Confectioners’ sugar

To Make the Brownies:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Coat a 9×9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper and coat again with cooking spray.
  3. In a small heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat, combine the butter, sugar, and milk. Stir until everything is completely melted.
  4. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the chocolate chips. Stir until everything is melted and well combined.
  5. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl.
  6. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until well combined.
  7. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda directly into the chocolate mixture.
  8. Using a whisk or electric mixture on low-speed, beat until no trace of the dry ingredients remains.
  9. Add vanilla and food coloring and continue to beat on low-speed until everything is throughly combined.
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with an offset spatula.  Bake for 22 minutes on convection, or up to 30-35 minutes in a standard oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with only crumbs, not batter, on it.
  11. Cool in the pan on a rack for at least 1 hour. Make sure that they are completely cooled before frosting.

Note: This is a good time to bring the cream cheese and butter to room temperature before making the frosting.

To Make the Cream Cheese Frosting:

  1. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth.
  2. Beat in the vanilla.
  3. Sift the sugar directly into the butter mixture. Beat until thick and creamy.
  4. Spread the frosting on the cooled brownies.
  5. Transfer to the refrigerator to set the frosting.
  6. Cut the brownies just before serving.

Note: The brownies will keep longer if they are stored uncut. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 days.

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Milk Bar Sugar Cookie-Cake Squares

My word. These were yummy. Easy too. We had them as part of our Memorial Day cookout along with a skillet chocolate chip cookie– and ice cream, of course! All-American, right? 😉

This recipe was adapted from Milk Bar Life by Christina Tosi, via the Washington Post. Apparently, these cookie squares are known as “The Greta” (named after Tosi’s mother) at Momofuku Milk Bar. They would be perfect with red (or even red, white, and blue!) sprinkles for the Fourth of July. I opted to top them with cinnamon sugar which is another tasty option. 🙂

Yield: 2 dozen 2-inch cookie-cakes

  • 2 sticks, 16 T, unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 to 4 T decorative sprinkles or sparkling sugar OR 1 T granulated sugar mixed with 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Generously grease a 9 x 13-inch deep sided baking pan with butter. Line with parchment paper- hanging over all sides of the pan. Coat the parchment paper with cooking oil spray.
  3. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high-speed for 3 minutes, until fluffy and homogenous. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
  4. Add the eggs, oil, and vanilla extract. Beat on medium-low speed for 1 minute, or until just combined. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
  5. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda. Beat on medium-low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds, then add the milk and beat for about 30 seconds to form a soft dough.
  6. Using an offset spatula, spread the dough evenly in the pan, making sure it gets into the corners.
  7. Scatter the cinnamon-sugar or sprinkles on top generously.
  8. Bake on the center rack for 20 (if you desire a slightly under-baked in the center cookie) to 30 minutes (for a firmer cookie), or until the cookie slab has puffed, lightly browned and is firm to the touch.
  9. Cool completely in the pan.
  10. Using the parchment paper, remove cookie the cookie from the pan. Cut into 24 two-inch squares.

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Whole Wheat Gooseberry & Almond Squares

Gooseberries were completely new to me this summer. When I received my second batch of gooseberries in my CSA share, I was stumped. I thought I had peaked with my Gooseberry & Blueberry Galette. 😉 I searched far and wide for a special way to use them. This crumbly, shortbread-like bar was a perfect choice! We ate them for dessert with ice cream, and then ate leftovers for breakfast. They were great with a cup of coffee. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from Good Food Magazine, via BBC’s Good Food.com. I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of white self-rising, light brown sugar instead of muscovado, and granulated sugar instead of caster. Earthy and nice.

  • 250 g (2 sticks, 1 cup) chilled unsalted butter, chopped
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 125 g ground almonds (almond flour)
  • 125 g light brown sugar
  • 350 g fresh gooseberries
  • 85 g granulated sugar, plus 1-2 T extra for sprinkling
  • 50 g slivered almonds
  1. Heat oven to 325 F (convection) / 170 C fan. Line a 9 x 13-inch (27 x 18-cm) baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Rub the butter into the flour mixture, ground almonds, and light brown sugar to make crumbs, then firmly press two-thirds into the base and sides of the prepared pan.
  4. Toss the gooseberries with the granulated sugar, then scatter over the top.
  5. Mix the flaked almonds into the remaining crumbs, then scatter over the gooseberries.
  6. Bake for 45 minutes or up to 1 hour, until golden and the fruit is bubbling a little around the edges.
  7. Sprinkle with the remaining granulated sugar, then cool in the pan.
  8. Cut into squares and enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea or serve as a dessert with ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

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Peach-Pie Crumble Bars

It is going to be really difficult not to make these cookie-like pie bars with my next batch of CSA share peaches. They were really good. The thick bottom crust has a nice crumb but is also a little bit brown and crisp on the bottom. A great combination of textures. The center is a fruity, jammy, and chunky pie filling… Mmmmm…. I also love that the peaches don’t have to be peeled! The only downfall is how long it takes to cool before being sliced. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. I used a blend of my CSA share yellow peaches and white donut peaches. I also reduced the baking time for a convection oven and covered the pan halfway through baking to prevent over-browning. (I may reduce the temperature to 350 degrees next time and increase the baking time? This would allow the top to brown more evenly without over-crisping the bottom of the crust.) The original recipe suggests replacing the peaches with other seasonal fruit such as nectarines or apricots, and, in the fall, apples. I’m looking forward to trying it with apples. Great!

I’m bringing this summer treat to share at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #83 hosted by Elaine @FoodBod and Jhuls @The Not So Creative Cook. Enjoy! 🙂

For the Crust:

  • 1 stick plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt

For the Filling:

  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds peaches, pitted and cut into a 1/2-inch dice (3 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-by-2-inch cake pan. Line with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides; butter parchment. (I used cooking oil spray.) (Consider baking at 350 degrees and increasing the baking time.)
  2. Make the Crust: Beat butter with sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down bowl. Add flour and salt; beat until dough forms clumps but does not completely hold together. Press 2 1/2 cups flour mixture into bottom and 1 inch up sides of prepared pan. (I used the bottom of a dry measuring cup.)
  3. Make the Filling: Stir together peaches, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and salt in a bowl.
  4. Pour the filling into the crust.
  5. Crumble remaining flour mixture evenly over top, squeezing to create clumps. Bake until bubbling in center and crust is golden, about 1 hour on convection or up to 1 hour, 10 minutes in a standard oven. (If browning too quickly, tent top with foil- I covered mine after 35 minutes in the oven.)
  6. Let cool 20 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares.

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Fourth of July S’mores Bars with Marshmallow Meringue

IMG_4822

I love the 4th of July. Love fireworks. Love celebrating with friends. Love all-American desserts and an excuse to make them too! 🙂

This morning we ate breakfast outside listening to Pandora’s Patriotic station courtesy of my son. The music inspired my kids to come in and play patriotic music- my son on the cello and my daughter on the piano. Great! The celebration begins…

But now we may have a new July 4th tradition in my house… this dessert! A graham cracker crust topped with a rich Valrhona chocolate layer and then fluffy (and pretty!) marshmallow meringue- a genius upgrade of all-American s’mores! This recipe was adapted from a Food and Wine “staff-favorite” recipe, contributed by Cheryl and Griffith Day.

I’m sharing this deliciousness at Fiesta Friday #75‘s J & J show this week which I am co-hosting with Julie of Hostess at Heart. Happy Independence Day!!

Yield: 30 bars (or up to 60 bites!)


For the Crust:

  • 3 cups graham cracker crumbs (12 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

For the Brownie Filling:

  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I used Valrhona 71% Cacao Dark Bittersweet Chocolate)
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature (I put in a bowl of warm water)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For the Meringue:

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

To Make the Crust:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° (on convection, if possible).
  2. Line a 9-inch-square baking pan with foil, allowing 2 inches of overhang on two sides.
  3. In a medium bowl, using a fork, mix all of the ingredients until evenly moistened. Press the crumbs evenly into 
the bottom of the prepared pan. (I used the bottom of a dry measuring cup.)
  4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, just until lightly browned. Let cool completely. Leave the oven on.

To Make the Filling:

  1. In a heatproof medium bowl set over 
a saucepan of simmering water, melt the butter with the chocolate over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 5 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, vanilla and salt. Whisk in the eggs until smooth, then stir in the flour until just incorporated. Spread the batter evenly over the cooled crust. Bake for about 22 minutes on convection or up to 25 minutes in a standard oven, until the edge is set but the center is still slightly jiggly. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

To Make the Meringue:

  1. Preheat the broiler, if using (I used a kitchen torch.).
  2. In a heatproof medium bowl (I used my stand mixer bowl) set over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk the egg whites with the sugar until the whites are warm and the sugar is dissolved, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Transfer the egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk. Add the vanilla and cream of tartar and beat at medium speed until firm.
  4. Increase the speed to high and beat the meringue until stiff and glossy, 5 to 7 minutes.
  5. Mound the meringue on top of the filling, swirling it decoratively. Broil the meringue 8 inches from the heat until lightly browned at the tips, about 1 minute. (or use a mini kitchen torch instead.)
  6. Cut into bars and serve.

Note: The bars can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

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Tate’s Shortbread

My way of celebrating a friend’s birthday is to bake something for her… This is difficult for one of my buddies because she isn’t really a fan of desserts. It’s terrible. 😉 (One year I actually just gave her butter! – it was special butter…) Well, lucky for me, I was able to find the recipe for her absolute favorite cookies this year. Yay! Shortbread from Southampton, New York’s Tate’s Bake Shop.

This super simple recipe results in perfect, slightly crunchy, crumbly cookies. The recipe was adapted from Baking for Friends by Kathleen King, owner and founder of Tate’s Bake Shop, via redtri.com. I used unsalted butter and coarse salt instead of salted butter. Delicious!

Yield: Makes 32 cookies

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 3/4 lb (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 3/4 to 1 tsp coarse salt
  1. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (on convection). Line the bottom and 2 short ends of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper or a 20-inch length of aluminum foil, pleating the foil as needed, and letting the excess foil hang over the ends. Butter or lightly spray the parchment with cooking oil.
  2. In the bowl of a standing, heavy-duty electric mixer, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and mix with the paddle attachment on low-speed until the mixture looks crumbly, about 1-½ minutes. (Add any of the variation flavorings listed below at this point.) Press firmly and evenly into the prepared pan. (I use the base of a dry measuring cup.)
  3. Bake until the shortbread is golden brown on top and slightly darker around the edges, about 1 hour. Cut into 32 pieces while still warm. (If cooled before cutting, the shortbread will break.) Let cool completely in the pan on a wire cooling rack.
  4. Run a dinner knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the shortbread. Lift up the parchment or foil “handles” to remove the shortbread from the pan. Cut through the previously cut marks into 32 pieces.

Other variations:

Lemon Ginger Shortbread: Add 1 cup chopped crystallized ginger, 1 cup minced candied lemon peel (or the grated zest of 1 lemon), and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.

Brown Sugar Ginger Shortbread: Substitute 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar for the granulated sugar, and add 1 cup crystallized ginger.

Chocolate Chip Shortbread: Add 1-cup (6 ounces) miniature chocolate chips

Pecan Shortbread: Add 1 cup toasted and finely chopped pecans.

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