A versatile, dried-fruit dessert
Vail, CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO ” Versatility… that’s what I’m looking for in a baked good during the busy holiday season. I want something I can make quickly and serve to anyone for just about any occasion.
I didn’t expect this recipe to meet those criteria the first time I made it; I thought it would produce a cookie and only a cookie. But I was pleasantly surprised. These dried fruit bars are rich and satisfying but they aren’t overly sweet, so they can be served with coffee in the morning, tea or sherry (yes, sherry… after all, it’s the holidays) in the afternoon, and as a dessert with the evening meal. I’ve been delighted with them and so has everyone who has tasted them. The feedback has been nothing but positive.
There are three major steps to their preparation. The crust is baked without filling. While it bakes, the filling is made. And, finally, the two are baked together.
If you don’t cut the bars until you’re ready to serve them, you can alter their size as needed, making larger ones for dessert, tiny ones to sit on a saucer next to a cup of coffee, or middle-sized ones to serve as a cookie.
This pastry keeps for about a week in the refrigerator or in a cool spot (I keep mine in an unheated pantry). It is at its best served warm, but is also very good at room temperature.
Adjusted for altitude
Make in a 9X9 inch baking pan
For the Crust
1 1/4 (one a fourth) cups of flour
1/2 cup of confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (one stick)
2 1/4 teaspoons of vanilla
For the Filling
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 of light cream or half and half
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 1/2 (one and one half) cups of a mixture of dried fruit (I used dried apples, pears, Bing cherries, cranberries, raisins, and peaches)
1 cup of pecans, chopped medium
Preheat the oven to 350-degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the 9X9 inch baking pan with Reynold’s Release foil or regular foil, allowing two ends of the foil to extend beyond the pan to be used as handles when removing the bars. If not using the non-stick release foil, grease the foil well.
Step Two: Make the crust: Pulse the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor to combine. Cut the butter into pieces and add them to the food processor along with the vanilla. Pulse until the dough is evenly moistened and starts clumping together but stop before it forms a ball. (To make by hand or with a mixer: Soften the butter and beat it with all ingredients but the flour until well combined.
Gradually add the flour and mix just until combined.) Press the dough into the prepared pan, smoothing and leveling it as you do so. Bake for about 13-15 minutes, until set and very lightly browned. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. The crust does not have to cool completely before filling it.
Step Three: While the crust bakes, make the filling: Cut all the dried fruits into uniform pieces about the size of a raisin. This is done most easily with a pair of kitchen scissors. Oil the scissors if the dried fruit sticks to them. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, light cream, salt and sugar. Stir over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil. Keep on a low boil for about 6 minutes or so, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the dried fruit and the nuts. Spread the filling evenly over the warm crust and bake for about 16 minutes, until the fruit topping is bubbly.
Step Four: Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a rack to cool. After about 10 minutes, run a table knife around the edges of the pan, between the foil and the pastry, to loosen any fruit that may be sticking to the foil. Cool and cut into bars.
This is a variation of a recipe from The Bakers’ Catalogue.
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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