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Bars, slices, squares, whatever you call them, are almost like a bride who needs something old, new, borrowed and blue. For good bars you need something crusty for the base, something crunchy for the middle, something gooey for the topping and a finishing touch of chocolate, icing or at least icing sugar.
My building exercise starts with simple shortcrust base, but not too flakey – you need to a/ cut them neatly and b/ grab them without a danger of disintegration. Pasta frolla is fancily (because Italian) named shortcrust pastry and I’ve found Gina DePalma’s (Dolce Italiano) recipe that uses a little cream in the mix, which makes it a bit more cohesive. Tick.
Crunchy – that’s dead easy: pecans, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, the world is your nutshell. I went for almonds because I like them best but chop up any nuts you like, or throw in pumpkin or sunflower instead for the crunchy factor. Tick.
The gooey element in my recipe is completely unbeatable; I dare you to think of something gooier than the ooey gooey St Louis cake topping. Stuff caramels and fudges – this is gooey central with raisins for a good measure. The added beauty is, you can control the gooey factor by adjusting the baking time. Bake with the topping on for about 20 minutes and you’ll get soft and wobbly texture; bake for close to 40 for a crust on top. Tick.
And the finishing touch? Yes, you can drizzle melted choc over baked bars; you can swirl some lemon icing to match the lemony base or you can dust everything with icing sugar. I didn’t. Come on – they are LETHAL calorie-wise as they are.
gooey barsServings: 12-24, depending how you cut themTime: a couple of hours
- For the shortcrust base:
- 290g (2 1/3 cups) plain flour
- 40g (1/3 cup) icing sugar
- ½ tsp baking powder
- zest grated from a lemon
- 170g (¾ cup) salted butter, cold and diced
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 60ml (¼ cup) double cream
- For the topping:
- 90g (6 tbsp.) butter, softened
- 150g (1 ¼ cup) caster sugar
- ½ tsp fine salt
- 1 medium egg
- 30ml (2 tbsp.) light corn syrup (can be replaced with golden syrup)
- 1 tbsp. water
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 75g (½ cup plus 1 tbsp.) plain flour
- 50g (½ cup) blanched almonds, roughly chopped
- 150g (1 cup) mixed raisins, sultanas, glace cherries and dried cranberries
1. First make the shortcrust pastry, it can be made a day ahead and kept in the fridge. Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and zest. Add the diced butter and process or rub in until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
2. Mix the egg, yolk, vanilla and cream in a separate bowl, pour into the flour mix and stir together just until combined. Give it a quick knead to shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and chill at least an hour.
3. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Beat the wrapped pastry with a rolling pin to soften, then roll it out and press into the bottom and 1 ½ cm /1 inch up the sides of a square 23 x 23cm (9 x 9in) tin with removable bottom. You may well not use up all the pastry – the base should be about 1cm (½in) thick. Any leftover pastry will make great shortbread fingers.
4. Bake the base loosely covered with parchment and weighed down with baking beans/coins for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
5. In the meantime make the topping: beat the butter with the sugar and salt until smooth; add the egg and beat well in. Mix the water with corn syrup and vanilla in a small cup and beat into the mix in two goes, alternating with the flour. The batter will resemble buttercream.
6. Sprinkle the almonds and dried fruit over the shortcrust base. Spoon the topping in blobs over the fruit, no need to spread it evenly as it will melt all over the base. Return it to the oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes until browned, wavy and crusty around the edges.
7. Cool completely in the tin, run a sharp knife around the sides to release the crust, remove from the tin and cut into bars, squares or slices.