Date Nut Squares

When I was a kid my mother sometimes bought cereal that had dates in it. I used to pick them out, making a neat pile of hard, dried dates next to the bowl. I thought they looked like cat treats and their chewy texture interrupted the enjoyment I got from the otherwise delicious bowl of flakes and raisins.

Many years later, I realized dates came in a larger, fresher form that could actually taste good. I also grew to respect the role of the mighty date in the dessert archives, since dried fruits used to be one of the only affordable and reliable ways to bake with something sweet year-round.

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Biscoff Bars

Biscoff Bars

Biscoff Spread Bars

In my recent Key Lime Pie post, I mentioned that my cousin Jaime opted to use Biscoff cookie crumbs instead of graham cracker crumbs for the crust, which showcased their signature caramel flavor.  I have since realized that not everyone knows what Biscoff cookies are, but they should, because “Europe’s favorite cookie with coffee” is a title worth celebrating!

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Gooey Layered Everything Bars

I was the kind of kid that ordered bubble gum ice cream and actually ate the Peeps in my Easter Basket.  I complained loud and long whenever my mother put nuts in her brownies and cookies (which earned me the classic mom line, “Someday when you make your own brownies and cookies you can put whatever you want in them!”) and you couldn’t get me near a raisin if there was a chocolate chip nearby.

As an adult, I am delighted to say I now crave the “grown-up” flavors of bittersweet chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, and toasted coconut.  I appreciate the natural taste and texture each of them brings, and I give them their due credit.

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Raspberry Walnut Shortbread Squares

Bar cookies are my favorite of the cookie family.  I have a tiny apartment oven and I am prone to clutter.  This means most varieties of cookies are not ideal because I can’t fit as many in the oven at once, can’t see them cooking, and can’t find enough clear surfaces to cool them on once they are done….provided I haven’t burned them.

None of this matters with bar cookies.  In they go, out they come.  Cool, lift, cut. 

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No-Bake Peanut Butter Squares

These peanut butter squares are my original signature dessert.  I have been making them for years, and they have served me well.  My mom got the recipe from my first grade CCD teacher and they were an occasional treat in our family, until I got to college and started making them all the time.

Peanut butter, powdered sugar, butter, and cookie crumbs are blended together into a delicious base, which is then topped with creamy, melted chocolate.

I always made them using plain graham cracker crumbs for the cookie component, until I was living in Scotland and realized that they don’t have graham crackers there.  Determined to have them anyway, I turned to my favorite digestive biscuit…the almighty Hobnob…and was delighted with the oat-y, hearty addition to the bar’s texture.

When I tasted Peanut Butter and Co.‘s line of fancy peanut butters at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival last year (in varieties such as maple, white chocolate, honey, spicy, and cinnamon raisin), I knew I wanted to incorporate new flavors into future versions.  Unfortunately, I think I ate the cinnamon raisin jar I bought with a spoon before I had the opportunity to bake with it…so when I made them recently I used cinnamon graham crackers instead.

The cinnamon grahams contributed to a delicious base.

That was then covered with melted milk chocolate chips.

Spread smooth and made festive with the addition of some delicious candy corn before chilling in the fridge.

My new venus fly trap from Kayte approved.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Squares

2 cups cookie crumbs (2 “sleeves” if you’re crushing your own graham crackers)
2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, softened
1 ½ cups smooth peanut butter
1  bag of chocolate chips (milk or semisweet) – you can use less than the whole bag, but it makes for an easy clean up to just use the whole darn thing

  • In a large bowl, combine the peanut butter, cookie crumbs, sugar, and butter. 
  • Once combined, press firmly into a 13×9 inch pan and set aside.
  • In a double broiler or in the microwave on low power, melt the chocolate chips.  Once melted and smooth, pour on top of peanut butter mixture and use a spoon or rubber spatula to distribute evenly.  Add seasonal sprinkles if you are feeling festive.
  • Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or until chocolate hardens. Then allow to come back to room temperature, and cut into squares. Put squares in pretty cupcake liners.
  • Serve with something to drink.  These things are deadly!

Lemon Bars

Sometimes the dessert picks you.  I recently found myself in the following situation: 

  1. I was finally in possession of a proper lemon squeezer/juicer.  It was $1.99 at Marshalls (yes!) and the orange matches my Tupperware measuring cups, which cost way more than $1.99 on Etsy. 
  2. I had an upcoming dentist appointment, and my dentist is near my Nana’s house, and Nana loves lemony sweets. 
  3. I was the proud secondhand owner of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Christmas Cookie Book.  It cost $1 and contained a recipe called “The Ultimate Lemon Butter Bar”.

Clearly it was time to make Lemon Bars…a wonderful combination of cool, citrus lemon curd and buttery shortbread.  No chocolate necessary, thank you very much.

The shortbread process was simple enough.  Butter, flour, sugar…blend, press, bake.  The lemon curd was trickier.  I needed my candy thermometer.  I needed two hands.  I needed to remember what hollandaise sauce looks like as a comparison.

But for once, getting and measuring the lemon juice was easy.

My shortbread was a little on the crumbly side so I am looking forward to another shot at that using my hands instead of a mixer, but I was very pleased with the lemon curd.  I think this could also be done very well with a pressed crust using Walkers shortbread cookie crumbs as a base.

Nana gave me her nose, so I give her lemon desserts made with love!

Lemon Butter Bars
Adapted from “Rose’s Christmas Cookies” by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Shortbread Crust
8 tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick) – room temp
2 tbsp powdered sugar
2 tbsp granulated sugar – superfine if possible
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • Place 1 oven rack in the middle of the oven.  Preheat to 325.
  • Line an 8×8 baking pan with nonstick or heavy-duty aluminum foil so the foil hangs over 2 sides.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the sugars until combined.
  • Add the softened butter and cream together until light and fluffy.
  • Using your fingers or a mixer, slowly add in the flour until incorporated.
  • Pat the dough into the lined pan and prick holes all over with a fork.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes until edges are lightly browned.

And while it’s baking…

Lemon Curd Filling
4 large egg yolks (use the whites to make an omlette!)
3/4 cup sugar
3 fluid oz. lemon juice (2 1/2 large lemons)
4 tbsp unsalted butter – room temp
pinch of salt
2 tsp lemon zest

  • Before you begin, place a strainer over a large bowl near the stove.
  • In a heavy saucepan, blend the egg yolks and sugar with a wooden spoon.
  • Stir in the lemon juice, butter, and salt.
  • Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and resembling hollandaise sauce – around 6 minutes or to 196 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Do not allow mixture to boil, and if it begins steaming, lift it up from heat for a few seconds to prevent boiling.
  • Once thickened, pour the curd at once into the strainer and press it with the back of a wooden spoon until only residue remains.
  • Stir in the lemon zest.
  • When the shortbread comes out of the oven, lower the temp to 300.
  • Pour the lemon curd on top of the shortbread and return it to the oven for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
  • Once cooled, refrigerate for an additional 30 minutes to completely set the lemon curd before cutting into squares.
  • Lift foil to remove shortbread from pan and place on a cutting board.
  • Cut into squares and cover with sifted powdered sugar.

Man, that was a long one…but they were delicious!