Bakers' Dozens: Raising the Bar
Pastries cut into bar-shaped pieces never really go out of style. When one food magazine writes a story about bars, every other food magazine fires back with its own take on these simple-yet-delicious bites of happiness. With a handful of recipes for crusts and toppings, you can easily make bar cookies completely interchangeable.
If you find a crust that you like, let's say a shortbread crust, play around with the topping. Perhaps make a pecan, Key lime or lemon filling, or even a fudgy brownie bar, with an oatmeal brown butter crust.
For example, I love lemon bars and you love rocky road bars. We are limited only by our imagination. Make simple bars, or jazz them up with multiple layers and flavor combinations.
I enjoy walking down the candy aisle at the supermarket looking for flavor combinations that I like. For example, peppermint patties bake beautifully in brownies. Peanut butter cups work great with fresh cherries baked in a vanilla custard. And caramel candy plays well with pecans and a sprinkling of sea salt sitting on top of a crusted pretzel crust.
Just start a list of all the crusts you can think of using a variety of ingredients and techniques.
Will it be a short crust that has been rolled out and placed in the pan, or a pressed shortbread crust that starts out looking like streusel? Do you like nuts, seeds and grains? These are wonderful ingredients that add texture, fiber and flavor to a crust. Will you toast your flour for a nutty flavor — or brown your butter to reinforce that flavor?
Hey, what about adding bacon? Please! I like my bacon really crispy, folded into dark chocolate ganache to top off my pretzel peanut butter bars. Bacon also works wonderfully with cheesecake bars and crushed toffee.
Once your crust list is done, start thinking about flavors for the topping. Do you like salted caramel, black pepper, chili powder or curry?
All of these supporting flavors love to be combined with chocolate.
Pastry chef and cookbook author Hedy Goldsmith is a James Beard Award finalist for the nationally contested Outstanding Pastry Chef category. Her creations grace the menus of The Genuine Hospitality Group of restaurants, including flagship Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami. Her first cookbook, Baking Out Loud, was published by Clarkson Potter in 2012. Hedy has been featured in multiple national media outlets, including NBC's Today show, The New York Times and People magazine. She is in her fifth season of Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets, and her new Food Network blog series, Bakers’ Dozens, appears monthly on FN Dish.