Baking in Eagle County
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.
Unpretentious but oh, so satisfying, with the haunting taste of butterscotch … these bars are timeless and universally appealing. I don’t think I’ve come across anyone who doesn’t like them.
Butterscotch is the height of simplicity, just the combination of real butter and brown sugar. In this recipe it’s featured in a moist and chewy cookie topped with a rich glaze that provides a second punch of butterscotch flavor.
You’ll appreciate more than just the taste of these bars when you discover how easy they are to make. The unglazed bars are ready for the oven in about 10 minutes and the glaze comes together in half that time. If you’re in a hurry, you can skip the glaze; it adds a lot, but the bars are still good without it.
Two things contribute greatly to their success: Toasting the walnuts before adding them to the batter and baking the bars ONLY until they are set. They become hard and dry if overbaked.
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Bake in a 9X9 inch baking pan
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup of dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 generous teaspoon of vanilla
3/4 cup of chopped toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tablespoons of heavy cream
A pinch of salt
About a heaping 1/3 cup of confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. (I usually toast the walnuts in the oven while it is heating.) Line the 9X9 inch baking pan with Reynold’s Release aluminum foil or with regular aluminum foil. Let the foil hang over the edges of the pan on two opposing sides so you can use it as handles when you remove the bars from the pan. If you use regular foil, grease it well.
Combine the baking powder, salt and flour in a small bowl and whisk to mix well. Set the bowl aside.
Cut the butter into at least six pieces and place them in a medium saucepan. Melt the butter over low heat, stirring often. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the light and dark brown sugars until moistened and combined. Add the egg and the vanilla and stir again until the batter is smooth and shiny. Add the flour, about one quarter cup at a time, and mix gently after each addition only until the flour is absorbed into the batter. Gently stir in the toasted walnuts.
Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread it into an even layer. The batter will be thick and sticky; I find the easiest way to spread it is with a rubber spatula or the back of a serving or soup spoon which I wet before smoothing the dough. The water keeps the dough from sticking to the utensil and evaporates quickly once the pan is in the oven. Bake until the top is dry and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. DON’T OVERBAKE ” you want these to be soft and chewy.
Start checking when the pan has been in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool completely before glazing and cutting the bars.
Make the glaze: Combine the butter, brown sugar and cream in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the butter and sugar are completely melted (check to see that the sugar has melted by rubbing a bit of the mixture between your fingers; there should be no graininess). Remove the pan from the heat, whisk in the pinch of salt, and start mixing in the confectioners’ sugar, a tablespoon at a time. Whisk vigorously after each addition, so all the sugar is absorbed and the glaze is smooth. Keep adding sugar until the glaze is the right consistency to drizzle across the uncut bars. It should be thick enough to hold its shape but thin enough to drip easily off the whisk. Drizzle the glaze prettily over the bars. Let the glaze set up (to speed this up, stick the pan in the refrigerator).
Using the foil as handles, carefully remove the pastry from the pan and cut it into bars. You can serve them immediately, store them for several days at cool room temperature, or freeze them if wrapped airtight.
This recipe is inspired by one in “The Four Sided Cookie.”
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 email@example.com.
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