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Melts in your Mouth!

Oatmeal-Apricot Blondies

Oatmeal-Apricot Blondies

When it comes to cookies, I think I’m a lazy baker. I’m sure I’ve already mentioned that I love the convenience of a few rolls of refrigerator or icebox cookie dough stashed in the freezer. Bar cookies are a close second as my other favorite type of cookie to bake. There’s no fussy shaping. You bake, cool, cut, and you have cookies for a crowd.

My latest quest is to come up with a few base recipes for my favorite baked goods, recipes that have the texture I prefer, but can be varied with mix-ins based on what I have around or what I crave. I’m still working on scone recipes that makes the grade, one with buttermilk and one with cream or sweet milk. However, I think I’ve struck gold with a chewy bar cookie.

I’ll warn you that this bar cookie is very sweet, but the texture is meltingly good. It uses melted butter, so there’s none of the preplanning involved with recipes calling for room temperature butter. Other than measuring cups and spoons, this can be mixed in the saucepan where you melt the butter, so cleanup is minimal.

I’ve made this with nuts, nuts and chocolate, and, most recently, with oatmeal and dried fruit. I think your imagination can take it in some many different directions.

Blondies

½ cup unsalted butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
Mix-ins of your choice (see below for suggestions)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 13×9-inch pan.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from heat, and add the brown sugar, and stir to combine completely. There shouldn’t be any dry sugar left. Cool for 5 minutes.
Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the flour and salt. Now add your desired mix-ins and stir well.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. It will be stiff, so it probably won’t pour in. Use an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is set and lightly browned.
Cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then remove the entire slab from the pan, and continue cooling on a wire rack.
When slightly warm or at room temperature, cut into squares. I prefer 1½-inch squares, but you could make them bigger, smaller, or even a different shape. Cutting larger squares in half to make triangles are pretty.

Mix-in Ideas (one or more, but no more than 3 cups total)
1 cup chopped nuts. Pecans are particularly good.
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped dried fruit
1½ cups rolled oats (not instant)

Jar: Half-Empty or Half Full?

My refrigerator always seems to have an assortment of jars of jam that were opened, started with enthusiasm, but then forgotten. I like jam on pancakes and scones, but those are special morning breakfasts. My usual breakfast is toast with sliced cheese, no jam. Consequently, these jars tend to languish at the back of shelf.

Jam, once opened, lasts a really long time, but, eventually, something needs to be done with it. If pancakes and scones aren’t on the immediate horizon, what can be done?

The solution presented itself. I volunteered to bring refreshments to my monthly garden club meeting. The Lexington Field & Garden Club, founded in 1876, is the oldest federated garden club in the country. They offer monthly programs about various aspects of horticulture, flower arranging (not my thing), and garden history. This month’s program, the one annual evening meeting, was about pruning trees. I learned quite a bit about the proper way to prune young and mature trees, and how not to. Mostly, I was convinced that pruning trees is best left to professionals.

So, as I said, I volunteered to bring a few dozen cookies, and had half-empty, or is it half-full, jam jars on my mind. I am partial to bar cookies because they don’t involve a lot of fussing. You fill up the pan with sugary goodness, and, once baked, assuming the cookie slab slides out of the pan, all you have to do is cut it into bars. Jam Bars seemed to be the perfect thing.

You mix up a simple dough, and divide it, about one third, two thirds. The larger portion is pressed into the bottom of the pan. Then you spread the dough with jam. I used two different flavors, apricot-ginger on one side and rhubarb-raspberry on the other side. Finally, you mix some oatmeal into the remaining dough and crumble it over the top. Into the oven it goes, and out come the jewel-toned bars!

The plate was empty before the meeting started, and there are two less jars in my fridge! I’d consider this a success.

Jam Bars

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup powdered sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
1½ cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon (or another spice to match your jam flavor)
¼ tsp salt
¾ to 1 cup jam or preserves, any flavor (or use multiple flavors)
¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In the food processor, cream the butter with both sugars until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg, and process until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt, and process again until smooth.

Divide the dough, taking about ¾ cup (about one third of the dough) and setting it aside. Press the remaining dough into an 11×7-inch baking pan. Spread jam over the dough. Now, mix the oats into the reserved dough. With your fingers, crumble it over the top of the jam-spread dough. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the crumble is lightly browned. Let it cool. Turn slab out of the pan onto a cutting board and cut into squares. I cut mine into just less than 2-inch squares, yielding 2 dozen bars.