Saturday, December 8, 2012

Apricot-Almond Streusel Bars for the Holidays

I finally finished all eight (!) of the recipes for my upcoming Christmas Cookie class. I have been working on the class off and on for a couple of months...a little more "on" during the past few weeks. (I love cookies, but think I'm ready for a break.) The final recipe was for a cookie that I didn't specify in the class description—Apricot-Almond Streusel Bars.

For the most part the recipes promised in the cookie class description are for little, hand-formed cookies—some with lots of detail work. These are the kinds of cookies that I truly love to make at Christmas. But the time required to make these special little cookies isn't always available. So, for my class, I wanted to be able to offer at least one cookie that had a festive feel and at the same time could be made quickly and easily for a last minute gift or pot-luck party contribution. These Apricot-Almond Streusel Bars fill the bill perfectly. They are simple to make—the same dough is used for the press-in crust and the crumbly topping—and to me, the almond and apricot flavors are very Christmas-y.

There are many similar recipes for these kinds of bar cookies floating around the web. For my recipe I am indebted most heavily to a recipe that ran in Bon Appétit a few years ago and another from Fine Cooking. If you look at these recipes, I'm sure you will see the things I borrowed as well as the changes I made.  Very observant (and mathematically inclined) readers will notice that I have reduced the quantity of dough used in the bottom crust in both recipes; I thought this produced a more balanced ratio of cookie to filling.  I loved the addition of the almond paste and almonds in the Bon Appétit recipe—but preferred the lighter texture that resulted from the addition of egg yolk to the dough in the one in Fine Cooking. I also preferred the cookies when the crust was partially baked before the filling and streusel were added.  This method produces a light and tender crust that is slightly crisp and not at all dough-y.  And baking the bottom crust first doesn't really add to the time required to make the bars since it can be done while the filling cooks.

Fillings other than apricot are of course possible. I particularly like dried fruit fillings, but the fresh cranberry filling used in the Fine Cooking recipe also appeals to me (you will only need about half of the recipe). Most recipes for bars like this call for a filling of fruit jam or preserves. If you would like to try something like this, use a little less jam than you would of the dried fruit filling—maybe 3/4 of a cup. In addition, make sure the jam is of highest quality (preferably with more fruit than sugar).  It should also be nice and thick. As I mentioned in my Jam Tart post, too much jam—or one that is thin and drippy—will give a gooey or soggy result.

If you are looking for a festive cookie that is quick and easy, I hope that you will give these a try. But more than that, I hope that during this busiest time of the year you will find the time to slow down for an evening or two and make some of the truly special and beautiful little cookies of the Almond Crescents, Walnut Acorns, Cucidati...or one of your own traditional family favorites.

Apricot-Almond Streusel Bars

6 oz. dried apricots (1 c. firmly packed), chopped
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. water
1 to 1 1/2 t. lemon juice

12 T. unsalted butter, room temperature (6 oz.)
1/2 c. sugar (100 g.) plus 2 T. sugar (25 g.)
1 egg yolk
1/2 t. almond extract
1 3/4 c. all purpose flour (210 g.)
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. sliced almonds (50 g.)
1/4 c. (packed) almond paste (75 g.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan; line bottom and two sides with a strip of parchment paper, extending over sides. Butter parchment. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the apricots, sugar and water. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook, stirring and mashing the apricots, until the excess liquid has evaporated or been absorbed and the filling is thickened. Stir in lemon juice to taste and set aside to cool. You will have a generous cup of a coarse apricot purée.

While the apricots cook and cool, briefly cream the butter and 1/2 cup of the sugar together until smooth. Beat in the egg yolk and the almond extract. Add the flour and salt and mix until the flour has been absorbed and the mixture is clumpy.

Transfer 1 1/3 cups of the clumps of dough (200 grams) to another bowl and toss in the almonds and the remaining 2 T. sugar. Chill until ready to build the bars.

Press remaining dough evenly onto bottom of prepared pan. Place the pan in the middle of the oven and bake until the crust is just set and beginning to turn pale golden along the edges (the dough will puff and then sink)—about 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust the oven rack so it is in the upper third of the oven.

To build the bars, spread the cooled apricot compote over the crust—spreading almost all the way to the edge of the crust. Coarsely grate the almond paste over the apricot. Scatter the chilled streusel evenly over all and press lightly.

Place the pan on the rack in the upper third of the oven and bake until the streusel is tinged with golden brown—about 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool completely in the pan on a rack. Using the parchment paper as an aid, lift the cookies from the pan. Cut into 4 equal strips, then cut each strip crosswise into 8 small bar cookies (or 4 larger cookies).

(Can be prepared ahead. Store in single layer in airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.) If you like, dredge the finished cookies with some powdered sugar. Makes 32 small (or 16 large) bars. 

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for citing your inspirations! I've lost that Bon Appetite recipe and needed it for my friend who is allergic to egg. She is thrilled to take this to her relatives today. I'll try yours another time and I love the idea of the tenderness of the yolk.