Raspberry Bars and a little nostalgia

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.

Oh my, there is someone out there reading this little blog

This is by far the coolest thing that has ever happened to this blog:

Ann Mah

Be aware though–read through a couple of Ann’s blog posts and you’ll soon be greener than green with envy.  Ann is an American  writer currently living in Paris.

I know, sigh.

Ann published her first novel, Kitchen Chinese this year.  If you haven’t already, read it!  Kitchen Chinese is the perfect melange of  cross-cultural shenanigans and drool-worthy food descriptions. It’s also really fun!  This just a guess, but I’m thinking the sequel will take us from Beijing to Paris.

Photo credit: Scottsdale Community College (via Google).

Chocolate Chip Cookies (or Bars) Cockaigne

That’s right…I said cockaigne.  Sounds dirty doesn’t it?

I originally found this cookie recipe while thumbing through the Joy of Cooking and thought it was a nice alternative to the classic chocolate chip cookie.  It has some additional ingredients like ground oatmeal and a second kind of chocolate that make it kind of special.  Kind of cockaigney don’t you think?

Okay, okay, I had no idea what cockaigne meant when I first came across the recipe. Though, I did have a fantasy that the recipe was developed in a tiny village in the South of France where the baker lived alone save for her trusted and loyal pet rooster.  A little research revealed no such romantic tale.  In fact, my little research revealed very little about the word and its relationship to food.  According to the OED, the term refers to a mythical land of plenty and good (not the other way around).  Another source revealed that at some point in the last 200 years, it was used specifically to describe the city of London.  As in cockney.


Not real sure what all that has to do with a cookie recipe, gov’ner.

A little more digging and I’ve come to suspect that the use of the word cockaigne is related more to the authors of the Joy of Cooking than the recipe’s origin as it appears in a couple other recipe titles.  So in a culinary context, I suppose the adjective cockaigne is a little something like “supreme” or “surprise.”

Works for me.

In the photos below, I’m making them as bars and have one-and-a-halved the recipe. I needed to make a lot of bars.  The same principles apply to the bar version as they do to the original cookie version.

I started at the end because it involved the food processor (that’s right, Bessy was in the house).  First, I ground up some quick oats.

Then I ground up some white chocolate.  The original recipe calls for milk chocolate but I thought I’d be rebellious and go white (if white chocolate is actually really chocolate at all…it’s kind of like a panda bear in that way).

I then looked around for something else to grind.  Alas, finding nothing but my teeth (oh come on, you knew I was going to say this), I moved on to creaming together butter and sugar.  I then added in the dry ingredients…but obviously didn’t take any pictures of it.

No need to rest or refrigerate the dough.  Right into the pan (or onto the sheet it goes).

Into the oven and out it comes golden brown and definitely cockaigne.

Let cool and cut as desired.  I realize this blog has been very bar heavy as of late.  I’ve got two more bar recipes to share and then we’ll move on.  Perhaps to the rhombus.

Chocolate Chip Cookies Cockaigne

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¾ C sugar
  • 2/3 C golden brown sugar
  • 1 egg (I use extra large)
  • 1 1/2 TBS milk
  • 1 TBS vanilla
  • 1 2/3 C flour
  • 1 ¼ t baking soda
  • ¾ t baking powder
  • ¼ t salt
  • 1 1/3 C ground quick oats (grind them in the food processor)
  • 1 C chocolate chips
  • 3 oz grated milk chocolate (I use ground white chocolate…though its good both ways)

Cream butter until light and fluffy.  Add in sugars and cream. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla.

While butter is creaming, in a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt.  Set aside.

Once wet ingredients are thoroughly mixed, add in flour mixture and combine until dough just comes together. Stir in oats, chocolate chips and milk/white chocolate until just combined.

For cookies: spoon on to parchment-lined baking sheets, two inches apart and bake until golden, 8-12 minutes.

For bars: oil and line with parchment 9X13 baking pan.  Spread-out dough evenly (I find that the parchment likes to scrunch around.  To keep it from moving, I hold it in place in one corner with a finger and the carefully spread the dough using a spatula with the other hand)  Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown.

The Bella Bar

You are going to wish I didn’t post this.  Even with the last of them dispersed to hungry college students and absolutely not-a-one left for my own consumption, I regret that I’m posting this.  Because thinking about them just makes me sad that they are all gone.  It makes me want to make more.  Which I won’t.  At least not tonight.

Remember the Flying Hills Elementary School Bars of Excellence?  Well.  I did something very naughty to them.  Very bad indeed.

I’ll give you a clue.  It started with this:

And then this happened:

Which, who are we kidding, was just the gateway to this:

And resulted in this:

And of course, this:

Bad, BAD Nutella!

But why call it the Bella Bar you ask?  You may remember a character from some of the way-back posts who went by the nickname ‘Petting Zoo.‘ She earned a reputation for chewing on gingerbread and coconut flakes.  She was even featured in a certain Alumni Magazine for her misdeeds.  Well, when she isn’t terrorizing baked goods, Petting Zoo goes by the alias ‘Bella.’

In addition to gnawing on inappropriate foodstuffs, Bella does imitations.  Here she is doing Lindsey Lohan.

Bella the Cat is the Kitchen God’s occasionally better behaved sister.  The markings on her fur also look suspiciously like the pattern created when peanut butter and Nutella mate.  The Bella Bar is their love child.