In my first blog post ever, I established that I went to college and then graduate school in one fell swoop. At the same institution. I think I also established, maybe even in that same paragraph, that I’ve seen Sir Ian McKellen’s twig and berries. The part about seeing Gandolf’s private parts really has nothing to do with the fact that I spent eight straight years at UCLA. I just like to bring it up whenever possible. And it did happen in Royce Hall. But I digress.
What does have to do with going to college for eight years is that, at least in my case, I got very comfortable with not ever having any disposable income. I remember I walked to school for a year because I didn’t want to spend the extra five-bucks each day on parking. And come on, nobody walks in L.A.
One of the upsides of being relatively fund-free is that you get pretty okay with simply eating for sustenance. I am fairly certain that during the year I was finishing up my dissertation I existed almost entirely on Kashi Good Friend’s cereal, Trader Joe’s vegetarian pot stickers, $1 pint night beer and the business school café’s raspberry bars. What do you mean raspberry bars don’t really fall into the base of the food pyramid? You are right, they don’t. But one can get away with it when one is 25 and runs eight miles pretty much every day. And then walks to school. AND goes to graduate school in the field of education where often, one’s only chance of seeing an age-appropriate member of the opposite sex is to wander over to the business school under the auspices of procuring a snack. I may or may not have also taken courses in the business school to meet the same end. But, you can’t prove it.
Anyhow, back to the raspberry bars. They were really good. Even, well, especially, to my abused palate. The buttery and crumbly shortbread base was a nice counterbalance to the tart of the fruit jam. They had a certain nuttiness whose origin I could never quite figure out. And, they were cheap.
Being the classy girl I am, I threw myself a kegger when I finished graduate school (really though, as far as keggers go, this one was classy). Of course, the raspberry bars were on the menu. Still being poor and having spent what little cash I had on the beer, I found a recipe for my beloved fruit bars. It is a classic and according to me, perfect as written. Save for changing the dimensions of the baking pan, I have stayed true to the original Martha Stewart recipe.
That nuttiness I couldn’t quite put my finger on? It came from the shortbread. Ground, blanched almonds help make-up the bar’s base.
When Bessy makes an appearance, you know it’s going to be a good day.
The original recipe provides instruction for hand-cutting the shortbread dough. I don’t do that because I’m lazy and I have Bessy. A food processor is fantastic for just pulling together shortbread and pie doughs. In this recipe, half of the crumbly dough goes into the pan and half gets reserved for the topping.
Here is where my one recipe adjustment comes in. The original calls for a 10X14 pan. This makes much too thin a bar for this girl. I prefer a 9X13. Then again, I like my bars super strueselly. If you don’t, opt for the larger pan.
Have we talked about how I don’t like to get things on my hands? Well, I don’t. I know Ina says clean hands are a cook’s best tool, but I draw the line at sticky stuff. Like shortbread dough. This is a protracted way of explaining that to mold the dough I use parchment and a spatula. Of course I didn’t take a picture of it. It works, trust me.
And, into the oven the base goes until golden brown.
Go ahead and let the cookie cool completely.
Then, things get really fun. Add a layer of preserves.
And finally, the strussely [sic] topping. To that you can sprinkle some caster sugar over the top for a little sparkle. And really, who doesn’t need a little sparkle in their life?
Back into the oven until the top gets nice and golden. I admit my personal preference is to over-cook the topping. I don’t usually do it though since I generally like other people to consume at least one or two of the finished product.
Once out of the oven, let everything cool completely and cut.
Mmmmm…just like the Anderson School cafe used to make.
Raspberry (or any preserve) Bars, Martha Stewart
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and line a 9X13 inch baking pan with parchment.
2 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 3/4 cup blanched almonds (about 11 ounces), finely ground in a food processor
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups raspberry jam
In food processor (or if you are a purist and care what Martha Stewart thinks about you), in a bowl, combine ground almonds, sugar, salt and flour. Add butter a few cubes at a time and pulse to combine (or cut-in butter with a pastry blender or fingers). Dough should barely just almost come together.
Press 1/2 of dough into pan and bake for 20 minutes. Cool completely. Add an even layer of jam and top with remaining dough. Then back into the oven until topping is golden. Let cool and cut.