A friend of mine, who is a wonderful chef/caterer, asked me to try out a new dessert that she had made. Because my friend is a fabulous cook, I happily skipped my way into her ‘office’ (a/k/a commercial kitchen). I am always game to be a guinea pig for anyone who enjoys cooking and/or baking.
In front of me was a bar cookie/brownie covered in nuts and dried cranberries. My mouth started watering right away. I took a bite but realized, immediately, that I was feeling conflicted: I loved the topping with its sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, dried cranberries and sesame seeds. Yet, the crust was lacking one of my favorite ingredients – butter.
My friend’s kitchen is kosher, which means that milk and dairy may not be prepared together or served within the same meal. The dessert I tried was a pareve one, meaning no dairy is allowed in it. As one of the world’s biggest ‘butter’ fans, I was now on a mission.
Sunday morning, I put together a buttery shortbread crust, lined it with apricot jam and then topped it with sunflower seeds, sliced almonds and chopped dried cherries. Sesame seeds were then sprinkled over the nuts and dried cherries. I, anxiously, watched the timer, adjusting the baking time until I thought the bars would be done.
Finally, like Rocky Balboa jumping up and down with excitement, I pulled the baking pan out of the oven. I was thrilled to see little hints of apricot jam bubbling up. I was a tad nervous about whether or not I had ‘gently’ pushed all of nuts/cherries into the jam enough so that they would stay on the bars. However, after the bars cooled I cut into them and, sure enough, everything stayed exactly where it was supposed to stay.
The only other challenge I had was figuring out a name. I called my friends over to borrow their taste buds and creative brains. Unfortunately, they brought their taste buds, which loved the bars, but left their creative thoughts at home, because everyone was at a total loss for a name. The one suggestion, Apricherrynut Bars, seemed like more of a mouthful than the bar, itself.
It was another friend of mine who came up with ‘Harvest Bars’ after she tried one. And that pretty much sums up how so many of my desserts evolve: I see something I MUST make, I make it, I use my friends as my personal guinea pigs and then turn to the really creative ones to help come up with a name. Kind of my version of a bountiful harvest.
- ¾ cup sliced almonds
- ¾ cup sunflower seeds
- 5 ounces dried cherries, chopped
- 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2¾ cups all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup apricot jam
- 1½ teaspoons sesame seeds
- For the harvest bars:
- Preheat oven to 325°. Line a 9” x 13” baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- Combine the sliced almonds, sunflower seeds and dried cherries into a small bowl. Set aside.
- Place the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl. Beat for 3 minutes, scraping the bowl down as needed. Blend in vanilla. Add the flour and salt and mix on low speed just until combined.
- Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Use the palm of your hand to evenly push the dough out. Pour the jam over the dough and use the back of a spoon to distribute it evenly.
- Spoon or pour the nut/cherry mixture onto the jam. Gently press it into the jam. The mixture will not go in completely, but you want to press the nuts together. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top.
- Bake at 325° for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into bars.
- Betsy's tidbits:
- Dried cranberries may be substituted for the dried cherries.
- Other flavors of jam may be substituted for apricot jam.