Monday, June 18, 2012
Well, I feel like it's officially summer now. The weather's been astoundingly pleasant. Robins and sparrows convene daily for a splash in our bird bath. Jittery black squirrels, which seem to have multiplied overnight, dash in circles around our backyard every morning, just like little kids.
My husband, who likes to paint in his precious spare time, has lately been setting up his easel in the backyard. He looks so calm and content with a paintbrush in his hand.
This kind of thing, taken in total, gives me a quiet sense of confirmation that, for the moment at least, all is perfectly well in our little nest. However fragile, however fleeting, these delicate moments of complete satisfaction with life are what it's all about. Maybe it's a mom thing. Or maybe not . . . do you find that to be true as well?
And despite the increasingly warm weather, I find myself in the last week or so more interested than ever in baking. It's like something about the four of us being all together again has suddenly caused my nesting instincts to ramp up, so I figure I'm just going to go with the flow.
Gonna bake whenever the spirit moves me, and if I want to bake something odd or old-fashioned or outrageous or boring, well, that's all fine. This summer, as a baker, I think I'm just gonna let my freak flag fly.
Adapted from this Hungarian apricot bar recipe on Chowhound, this makes a big, big pan of bars! I added candied ginger and ground cinnamon, used toasted pecans instead of walnuts, and fiddled with the method somewhat. I also added a little lemon juice and sugar into the apricot filling formula. This recipe is kind of labor intensive for a bar, what with the rolling out of the three soft dough layers, but I thought it was worth the time and effort.
Layered Apricot Bars with Candied Ginger
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)
Yield: 1 half-sheet pan (18" x 13") lined with parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan without extending up the sides
Ingredients for the apricot filling:
12 oz. dried apricots, chopped small
12 oz. good quality apricot preserves
1 cup water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Ingredients for the dough:
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
8 oz. unsalted butter, softened but not warm
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
Yolks of 4 large eggs
1 cup thick sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
Ingredients for the mixture of sugar and nuts:
1 and 3/4 cups toasted pecans, chopped small
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped candied ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Make the apricot filling first:
Simmer all of the filling ingredients together in a medium size saucepan until thick and bubbly. Keep the fire medium-low so it doesn't burn, and stir the contents frequently. Set aside to cool.
Prepare the sugar and nut mixture next.
In a small bowl, stir together all ingredients for the sugar and nut mixture; set aside.
Make the dough:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In the large bowl of your mixer, on low speed, mix together the butter, shortening, egg yolks, sour cream, and vanilla until well combined. Add all of this into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir it in. Divide the dough into equal thirds. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Take one piece of dough from the fridge and roll it out onto the parchment paper from your pan. Try to roll the dough as close to the edges of the pan as you can. Use flour on your rolling pin and sprinkle it lightly on the dough as needed. The dough may be quite soft and sticky.
After the dough is rolled out, place it, still on the paper, into the pan. Spread about two thirds of the sugar and nut mixture evenly over the top. Remove another piece of dough from the fridge. Scatter chunks of it on top of the nut layer. Flour your rolling pin again (reflouring it as needed), and roll the chunks of dough out as best you can over that; this layer of dough may look patchy here and there (as shown in the picture below) but that's okay.
Spread all of the apricot filling evenly on top of the layer of dough.
Now, on a well floured piece of parchment, roll out the remaining piece of dough. Make it the same size as the sheet pan; this is the piece you will end up cutting into strips to make the faux-lattice design. Once rolled out, use a pizza/pastry wheel to evenly divide the strips length-wise. Try to make each strip about one inch wide; try to get about 16 strips in all. Carefully lift the strips evenly lay the long ones first atop the apricot layer; use about 6 of them. Cut the remaining strips so they're about 14 inches long, and lay about 10 of them, perpendicular, over the long strips.
Over the top of the lattice, scatter the remainder of the nut and sugar mixture.
Bake the bars for about 30 minutes, until they're nicely golden on top.
Cool them completely on a rack before cutting them and attempting to remove them from the pan. They'll hold up well for a few days, if you keep them covered, before they start to dry out. (Store any leftover bars, as soon as they're cool, well wrapped in the freezer.)
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