Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Cherry Birthday To You


Among my friends I'm known for my baking. Most possibly because in the past year or two, I've been making more cookies and other treats that are easy to transport and share. So when I asked my friend last week what she would like me to make her for her birthday, her reply was "Not cupcakes." Which let me with far too many possibilities and far too many ideas. I asked her for a direction - something more specific, an ingredient, a flavor, a color, anything! A few days later, she came up to me and said, "Cherry." It took me a second to realize what she meant, but it worked out. I had a jar of cherries at home.

The first thing that came to my mind was cherry cheesecake, but I needed something more portable and fridge free. I remembered the cream cheese blondies with kumquats that I made a month or two ago, and since we had cream cheese, I figured I could make a thicker and less cakey version of them. So I tried. And failed. Well, the first time at least. They didn't cook all the way through, and the graham cracker crust seemed to insulate the insides. So the next day, I tried again. Only that time I had to go to the store. I traded the jarred cherries with frozen ones (practicality) and lost the graham cracker crust (it wasn't necessary, and I was out of graham crackers.)

I would say the results the second time were better. Gooey from the cherries, chewy from the cream cheese and brown sugar, and portable though sticky. And my friend, well, she told me she liked them, so I'd say they achieved their purpose.

Gooey Chewy Cherry Bars
8 ounces frozen cherries
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick, 3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pistachios

In a small saucepan, combine cherries and 1 Tablespoon sugar. Cook over medium heat until thick and syrupy (not watery!),about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Line a 9x9 inch pan with foil (optional) and butter. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, cream cheese, granulated sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until the sugars have dissolved and the mixture is smooth and thick, about 2-4 minutes, scraping sides of bowl as necessary.
Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated, followed by pistachios. Spoon half batter into prepared pan, spreading gently to corners. Top with cherries. Top with remaining batter.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is light brown and toothpick or tester comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Set the pan on a rack to cool for at least 30 minutes.

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