Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cherry Chocolate Shortbread Bars

Okay, I know I haven't posted for several weeks but I've been busy with my annual Christmas baking marathon and getting all my other winter and holiday prep done.

I've also been working on a tasty new holiday dessert! The original idea came to me while reading another Hannah Swensen mystery by Joanne Fluke. In the 6th book of the series - "Sugar Cookie Murder", there is a recipe for a "Blueberry Shortbread Bar Cookie" I thought it sounded good but at the time I was also looking for ideas for a dessert to serve to my gal pals at my annual holiday gathering. I decided that cherries might be a bit more in keeping with the festive season. That being said, the additional changes that I made to the original recipe would also work well with blueberry pie filling or an apple pie filling. I just haven't gotten around to trying those versions yet!

Ms Fluke and most professional chefs/bakers disdain the use of block margarine. That is all well and good IF you can afford it! However, in my area, butter runs about $5/pound and occasionally you may find it on sale for about $3/pound with a limit of one or two per customer. Even the sale price is more than I can justify on a fixed income - especially when you consider that 3 pound packages of name brands like Imperial or Parkay often go on sale for $3 to $4 a package and can be stored in the fridge for several months. So, unless you and your guests have very sensitive gourmet pallets you probably won't notice the difference between a good quality margarine and butter in most baking recipes.

It should also be noted that the original recipe seems to indicate that the dough is more of a crumb mixture rather than a soft dough. When I made it, I decided that I'd see if it would go to a soft dough which I felt would be easier for me to work with. Once I got past the crumb stage, it was only another minute or so of light hand kneading and it was a lovely soft dough.

The first time I made the bar, I thought they were good but decided to jazz it up and add some additional flavours. Namely, layers of roasted almonds and bittersweet chocolate! I also brushed the bottom and top layers of dough with a bit of liqueur. I used Grand Marnier but Cherry Brandy or Amaretto would also work well. If liqueur is not your thing, feel free to skip it. The choice is yours.

Well, I've made this recipe three times now and those who've tasted it think it is delicious! Hopefully, you and your guests will also enjoy it!

Cherry Chocolate Shortbread Bars

1 cup chopped almonds, roasted
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups block margarine, softened
3/4 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 can (21 ounces) cherry pie filling
8 ounces (227 grams) chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 Tablespoons liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Amaretto or Cherry Brandy

Preheat oven to 350F, rack in the middle position.

Line a 9 X 13 inch cake pan with parchment paper - so that the paper is up to the top on all four sides.

Cut a length of wax paper, slightly longer than the baking pan. With a marker, trace the bottom of the pan onto the wax paper. This will be a template to stretch out the dough for the top. Set the wax paper aside.
Place the chopped almonds in the parchment lined pan and roast for about 5-7 minutes or till lightly roasted and aromatic. Stir the nuts once or twice to prevent burning. Remove from oven to a cooling rack. When the almonds have cooled, transfer to a small bowl or plate for later.

In a large bowl, combine powdered sugar, flour, ground almonds and salt. Cut in the margarine. Mix well - to a soft dough. (Note: I mix the dry ingredients with a fork but once the margarine is added, I use my hands to work it into a soft dough. You can also do this in a food processor using cold margarine cut into chunks, and the steel blade.)
 Divide the dough in half. Place half of the dough into the parchment lined 9 x 13 inch pan. Use your fingers and the palms of your hands to spread the dough evenly in the bottom of the lined pan. Do not press it in too firmly as that will make a tough crust to cut or bite into.

With your fingers and the palm of your hands, stretch out the other half of the dough onto the wax paper template. Set aside.
 (Note: I prefer laying out both halves of the dough before baking the base so that I know I've got it fairly even for both top and base)

Bake the base (in the parchment lined pan) at 350F for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. DON’T TURN OFF THE OVEN!

While the base is baking make sure you have the remaining ingredients organized and ready to go.
 Let the crust cool for 5 minutes.

With a pastry brush, brush 1 Tablespoon of the liqueur over the base.

Sprinkle 1/2 of bittersweet chocolate evenly on the crust. (Don't worry if it starts to melt as the base is still quite warm at this point.)

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the roasted almonds evenly over the chocolate.

Carefully spoon the pie filling over the top of the chocolate and nuts. (Note: I try to spread the cherries around a bit so they aren't all clumped together.)

Sprinkle cherry layer with the other half of the nuts and then the rest of the chocolate.

Carefully turn the top layer of dough (that is on the wax paper) upside down and place it so the dough is lying directly over the final layer of chocolate. Peel the wax paper off. Don't worry if the dough tears a bit - it can be pinched back together or just left as is - as long as it covers the top and is not hanging over the edge of the pan. Gently press it down with your fingers.

Brush the remaining 1 Tablespoon of liqueur over the dough.

Return the pan to the oven and bake the bars for another 30-35 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden. Remove the pan to a wire rack.
Cool thoroughly and then cut into brownie-sized bars. 
Cover and refrigerate any leftovers.

I've never tried freezing these as they've never lasted long enough!