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story.lead_photo.caption Grasshopper Bars - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

Christmas and cookies make a predictable combination. For many, an afternoon or two in the kitchen, baking batch after batch of cookies to give to friends, co-workers, teachers and others is as much a part of our holiday celebration as trimming the tree and going to church.

This year we opted to forgo traditional drop and iced cookies and make bars.

Bar cookie tips:

■ Almost any drop cookie recipe can be converted to a bar cookie. For a drop cookie recipe that yields about 36 cookies, press the dough into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or pan. Bake at the same temperature called for in the recipe, but increase the baking time to 20-25 minutes. Larger batch recipes can be baked in a jellyroll (10-by-15-inch) pan.

■ Cool bars completely — at least 2 hours for most bars — before cutting.

■ For easy cutting, transfer the baked slabs to a cutting board and use a large knife.

■ Lining the baking pan with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil with overhang on two opposite sides makes removing the slabs easy and virtually eliminates the need to clean the pan.

■ Coating the knife lightly with vegetable oil, such as a spritz of Pam, will help prevent dried fruit from sticking to the blade.

■ When slicing bars with icing, creamy fillings or layers, wipe the blade clean with a hot damp towel or rinse under hot running water, then quickly wipe dry with a towel between cuts to make clean slices.

■ To cut bars into diamonds, make cuts about 1½ inches apart at a 45-degree angle along the entire length of the slab. Then make cuts 1½ inches apart perpendicular to the bottom edge of the slab, creating diamond-shaped bars.

■ For triangles, cut slab into squares, then cut squares diagonally in half.

■ Sturdy metal cookie cutters can also be used to cut bars into assorted shapes, such as trees, stars or bells.

Brown Butter-Bourbon Chocolate Chip Bars
Photo by Mitchell Pe Masilun
Brown Butter-Bourbon Chocolate Chip Bars Photo by Mitchell Pe Masilun

Brown Butter-Bourbon Chocolate Chip Bars

1 cup butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 tablespoon bourbon

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1½ cups semisweet or dark chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with parchment paper, leaving overhang on two opposite sides.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Once the butter has melted, increase heat to medium to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently until butter foams. Once foamy, watching carefully, continue cooking and stirring, just until butter turns from yellow to golden and has a nutty aroma and the milk solids are golden brown and starting to settle in the bottom of the pan. Immediately remove from heat and pour butter into a heat-safe bowl. Let cool slightly, then stir in the brown sugar, followed by the granulated sugar. Stir in eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Stir in the bourbon and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and stir until moistened with a few streaks remaining. Fold in chocolate chips. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Bake 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out mostly clean. Cool completely in pan.

Once cool, using the parchment overhang, lift bars from pan and cut into squares.

Recipe adapted from The Cookie Book: Decadent Bites for Every Occasion by Rebecca Firth

If you're a fan of chocolate and mint together, these bars will make you swoon.

Grasshopper Bars

Base:

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

5 ounces coarsely chopped 60 to 72 percent chocolate

½ cup butter, cut into 1-inch cubes

¾ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling:

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¾ cup milk

2 tablespoons heavy cream

¾ cup butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes

3 tablespoons creme de menthe OR peppermint schnapps (see note)

1 teaspoon peppermint extract (see note)

Glaze:

6 ounces coarsely chopped 60 to 72 percent chocolate

1 teaspoon light corn syrup

½ cup butter, softened, cut into cubes

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with parchment paper.

For the brownie base: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.

Place the chopped chocolate and the butter in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water and, stirring frequently, cook until completely melted and combined. Turn off heat, but keep the double-boiler intact. Add both sugars and whisk until completely combined. Remove bowl from pan and cool to room temperature. Add the eggs and whisk just until combined. Stir in the vanilla. Sprinkle the cocoa-flour mixture over the egg mixture and, using a rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into the wet mixing as gently as possible. Do not overmix. You should be able to see traces of flour/cocoa. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the back of a rubber spatula. Bake 10 to 13 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. The brownies should be slightly underdone. Cool completely while you make the filling.

For the filling:

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the sugar and flour. Whisking constantly, slowly pour in the milk and cream. Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high until cool. Using a rubber spatula, scrape mixture into a bowl; set aside.

Clean and dry the bowl and paddle attachment.

In the stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth and fluffy and lightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the cooled milk-flour mixture one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the creme de menthe and peppermint extract and continue beating until buttercream is thick, smooth, and creamy, about 3 minutes.

Spread filling over brownie layer. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

For the glaze: In a glass or metal bowl, combine the chocolate, corn syrup and butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until mixture is completely smooth. Remove bowl from saucepan and stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to cool slightly.

Pour the mixture over the chilled creme de menthe layer, tilting plan and using an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Return pan to the refrigerator and chill for 1 hour or until chocolate sets.

To serve, remove pan from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes or until the glaze has softened slightly. Cut into bars with a warm knife. Return any leftovers to the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Note: To prepare the filling without alcohol, omit the creme de menthe and increase the peppermint extract to 1½ teaspoons and add 3 tablespoons MINUS ½ teaspoon milk.

Recipe adapted from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Grandma Grump's Peanut Butter Drizzles
Photo by Mitchell Pe Masilun
Grandma Grump's Peanut Butter Drizzles Photo by Mitchell Pe Masilun

These bars were the second place winner of the Chicago Tribune's annual holiday cookie contest in 2006.

Grandma Grump's Peanut Butter Drizzles

Base:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups quick-cooking oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 eggs

⅔ cup creamy peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:

1 cup confectioners' sugar

½ cup creamy peanut butter

¼ cup whipping cream OR milk, plus more as needed

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, oats, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a separate large bowl, beat butter and sugars with an electric mixer on medium until fluffy; add the eggs, beating until combined. Add peanut butter and vanilla; beat until smooth. Adding 1 cup at a time, stir in flour-oat mixture. Press dough into a 10-by-15-inch jellyroll pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until beginning to brown.

Meanwhile, stir together the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter and whipping cream. If mixture is too thick for drizzling, thin with a tablespoon or so of additional milk; set aside.

Remove pan from oven and immediately sprinkle with the chocolate chips. Using an offset spatula, spread the melting chocolate into an even layer. If chips do not melt completely, return pan to oven for 30 seconds or so and try spreading again. Drizzle or spread the peanut butter mixture over the chocolate. Cool completely on a rack before cutting into bars.

Recipe adapted from Holiday Cookies: Prize Winning Family Recipes from the Chicago Tribune

White Chocolate Cranberry Bars
Photo by Mitchell Pe Masilun
White Chocolate Cranberry Bars Photo by Mitchell Pe Masilun

White Chocolate Cranberry Bars

Base:

¾ cup butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup coarsely chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips

Frosting:

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

¾ cup confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest OR 1 teaspoon orange extract

½ cup chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips, melted, divided use

½ cup dried cranberries

Heat oven to 350 degrees. For thinner bars, line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with parchment paper, leaving overhang on two opposite sides. For thicker bars, use a 9-inch square baking dish.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Pour butter into a medium bowl and stir in the brown sugar. Cool slightly.

Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; stir into butter-egg mixture. Stir in cranberries and chopped chocolate (batter will be thick). Transfer batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake 18 to 22 minutes (for a 9-by-13-inch baking dish) or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

For the frosting: In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and orange zest or extract until smooth. Gradually beat in half of the melted white chocolate; spread over cooled base. Sprinkle with cranberries; drizzle with remaining melted white chocolate.

Cut into triangles. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Food on 12/05/2018

Print Headline: Belly up to the bar

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