Down-home and delicious hermit bars | VailDaily.com
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Down-home and delicious hermit bars

Special to the Daily/Vera DawsonA mixture of dried fruits and walnuts give these bars an appealing flavor and texture.
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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.

One bite of these hermit bars and I’m back in the kitchen of my childhood. You see, my mother loved these cookies and baked them often. Soft, chewy, full of complex tastes and varying textures, they are down-home delicious.

Mother’s hermits were a drop cookie and I duplicated her recipe for them with great success at sea level. But, in the mountains, the resulting cookies are a bit dry, even with adjustments. The same ingredients, made into bars, prove to be far more appealing.



My first hermits featured raisins exclusively. I now make them with a mixture of dried fruits … almost anything I have in the pantry … and find the combination enhances both the flavor and texture. Frequently, I top them with a brown sugar glaze. The bars are good without it, but it’s a nice complementary taste and adds even more moisture and richness to the overall effect.

The cookies can be stored for several days at cool room temperature.



Make in an 8-by-8 inch pan

Adjusted for altitude

Ingredients



Bars

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon (scant*) baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon (scant*) cloves

1/3 cup of dark brown sugar, packed

4 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1 medium or large egg

2 tablespoons of molasses

1/4 cup of raisins, dried cranberries, currants, and/or other small dried fruits

1/4 cup of walnuts, chopped medium

*Scant = a little less than

Optional brown sugar glaze

1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

3 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Pinch of salt

1/2 to 3/4 cup of confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line an eight-by-eight inch baking pan with Reynold’s Release non-stick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil. Let the foil extend beyond two opposing sides of the pan to serve as handles when you remove the bars from the pan. If using regular aluminum foil, grease it well or coat it evenly with a vegetable-flour spray.

Check the dried fruits you’ll be using; If they aren’t soft and plump, put them in a small bowl or measuring cup, add one to two tablespoons of brandy, orange juice or water, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave at a medium-high setting for 30 second intervals until the liquid is absorbed and the fruit is soft and pliable. Remove from the oven, take off the plastic wrap, and let the moistened fruit cool while you make the bars.

Make the bars: Place the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg cloves and brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut up the butter into eight pieces, add them to the bowl and pulse until the butter is no longer visible.

Add the egg and molasses and pulse until a dough is formed. Add the dried fruit and nuts and pulse only until combined. To make with an electric mixer: Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a bowl and whisk. Soften the butter, cut it up, and beat it with the brown sugar until creamy. Add the egg and molasses and beat until combined. On the lowest speed of your mixer, stir in the flour just until it’s no longer visible. Stir in the dried fruit and nuts.

Spread the dough in the prepared pan, making sure it is evenly distributed and level. Bake until the top is set, the cake just starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, and/or a tester comes out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes. Don’t overbake; you want these moist and chewy, not dry. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool completely on a rack.

Make the glaze, if you plan to use it: Place the butter, brown sugar and heavy cream in a small saucepan and stir over medium-low hear until the butter and sugar are melted and all three ingredients are smooth and fully combined. Remove from the heat, let cool slightly, then whisk in a fourth cup of the confectioner’s sugar, making sure it is fully incorporated (no lumps of any size). Add more sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time, whisking vigorously until the glaze is smooth after each addition, until it is a consistency suitable for drizzling or spreading. If you want the glaze to slide over the sides of each bar, cut the cake into bars before glazing. If you prefer the glaze only on the tops of the bars, glaze the uncut cake, let the glaze set, then cut into bars. Serve the hermits at room temperature.

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 veradawson@aol.com.


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