Food & Drink

Need a portable dessert? 13-by-9 pan to the rescue

Blondies with bittersweet chocolate offer an alternative to brownies.
Blondies with bittersweet chocolate offer an alternative to brownies. Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS

Picnic to-do lists should always include the following instructions: Dig out 13-by-9-inch pan.

Bars – also known as squares – are ideal picnic fare for so many reasons.

First, ease. Who wants to spend a lot of time in the kitchen when the weather is this glorious? Bars can be a quick, easy way to pull together a home-baked dessert.

The rectangular baking pan is a particularly useful tool when meals are on the go. You’ve got a portable dessert in its own handy carrier without all the fuss of actually making cookies. Once they’re cut, bars are generally sturdy enough to be enjoyed without plates or forks.

Bars also have the hit-the-sweet-spot thing down to an art form.

Sure, they’re familiar chocolate-delivery vehicles. But instead of brownies, think about turning to blondies, each butterscotchy bite packed with bittersweet chocolate chunks. Or consider brightening up that classic chocolate-and-nuts combination with a jolt of locally sourced honey.

Bars can also be eloquent showcases for just-picked berries and fruits.

Blueberries? Cherries? Absolutely. Hand me that 13-by-9 pan, pronto.

Blondies

From “The New Classics Cookbook” by the editors of Saveur.

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for pan

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for pan

2 cups (approximately 12 ounces) roughly chopped dark or white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt, and reserve.

In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until smooth. Add butter and whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate and spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to cool.

Per serving: 238 calories, 12 g fat, 66 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrates, 7 g saturated fat, 41 mg calcium, 3 g protein, 32 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber

Yield: 24 bars.

Blueberry Cheesecake Crunch Bars

Adapted from “Donna Bell’s Bake Shop: Recipes and Stories of Family, Friends and Food,” by Pauley Perrette, Darren Greenblatt and Matthew Sandusky.

For streusel topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small dice

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick-cooking)

For cheesecake filling:

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups fresh blueberries

For shortbread crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small dice, plus extra for pan

To prepare streusel topping: In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour and 1 1/2 teaspoon salt. Whisk in brown sugar and cinnamon. Add 12 tablespoons butter. Using a pastry blender, cut until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in oats and reserve.

To prepare cheesecake filling: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese and 3/4 cup granulated sugar until smooth. Reduce speed to low and add egg, vanilla extract and lemon juice, and mix until thoroughly combined. Add 3 tablespoons flour and mix for 30 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl and mix until creamy and smooth, about 30 seconds longer. Carefully fold blueberries into filling and reserve.

To prepare shortbread crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

Place 2 cups flour, 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add 1 cup butter and pulse a few times until mixture resembles coarse meal (alternately, whisk together flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and, using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal). Spread crust evenly into prepared pan, and pat down lightly with your hands. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from oven. Immediately spread blueberry filling carefully over top of baked crust. Sprinkle oat streusel over filling. Return pan to oven and bake until streusel is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, transfer pan to a wire rack and cool.

Per serving: 345 calories, 20 g fat, 260 mg sodium, 38 g carbohydrates, 12 g saturated fat, 37 mg calcium, 4 g protein, 64 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber.

Yield: 24 bars.

Cherry Squares With Crumble Topping

From “The Summer Table,” by Lisa Lemke.

For batter:

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla sugar (see note) or granulated sugar

4 eggs

14 ounces pitted fresh cherries

For crumble topping:

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

To prepare batter: Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter, granulated sugar and vanilla sugar until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Fold flour mixture into butter mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan and distribute cherries evenly over batter.

To prepare crumble topping: In a medium bowl, combine 10 tablespoons butter, 1 1/2 cups flour and brown sugar. Using a pastry blender, cut until mixture resembles coarse meal (alternately, combine in a food processor and pulse a few times until mixture resembles coarse meal). Distribute topping evenly over cherries. Bake until lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, transfer pan to a wire rack and cool.

Note: To make vanilla sugar, bury a vanilla bean in granulated sugar for about a week, then remove vanilla bean (bean can be re-used). The vanilla gives it a nice fragrance and flavor.

Per serving: 254 calories, 13 g fat, 83 mg sodium, 33 g carbohydrates, 8 g saturated fat, 28 mg calcium, 3 g protein, 62 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber

Yield: 24 bars.

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