Life is Sweet: Easy Money Bars
Short tempers … worried looks. Signs of distress are everywhere. It’s income tax time. Hoping that something sweet might ease the anguish, I took a plate of baked goods to the H&R Block office in Frisco, where we get our taxes done. After watching others nibble and eating a few herself, Heather Boynton, a tax associate there, reported that it did provide temporary relief to snack on something rich and tasty. She selected the shortbread bar featured in this column as the best stress-reducer, explaining that a bite of caramel and chocolate on a tender crust made people close their eyes, breathe deeply, and, yes … even smile. While the bar is made in several stages, each step is easy and quickly completed. The recipe is a combination of a crust from “The Good Cookie” by Tish Boyle and toppings from “The Baking Book” by Linda Collister and Anthony Blake. If your business or organization would like to sample and review a baked good for the Life Is Sweet Column, please contact Vera Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.Easy Money Bars
(9×9 baking pan) Crust Ingredients:1 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour mixed with 3 tablespoons cornstarch, or 1 1/4 cups of flour. The addition of cornstarch makes a more tender crust.1/4 teaspoon salt1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter1/3 cup granulated sugar (superfine is best)1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Filling Ingredients:1 14 ounce can of Dulce De Leche (found in the Mexican food section of the grocery store. I get mine at Frisco’s Safeway)OR1 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar3/4 cup of unsalted butter (one and one-half sticks)
Topping Ingredients:6 ounces of good semisweet chocolate, chopped fine (I use Hershey’s Dark Chocolate)2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into small pieces2 ounces of white chocolate, chopped1 teaspoon of mild vegetable oil (I use canola)1. Line a 9×9 inch baking pan with aluminum foil. Grease and flour the foil or spray it with Baker’s Joy. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.2. Make the crust: Put the flour and cornstarch mixture (or only the flour if you are not using the cornstarch), sugar, and salt in a food processor and blend. Add the butter, cut into 8 pieces, and the vanilla and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. To make the crust with a mixer or by hand: Use room temperature butter and beat with the sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla. Combine the flour mixture and salt. At low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just crumbly.
3. Pat the dough evenly into the pan and bake until the edges start to turn color and the dough is firm and set, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and put on a rack to cool.4. Make one of the fillings: If you are using the Dulce De Leche, open the can, stir the filling to soften it, spread it on the cooled crust and refrigerate until it is fairly firm, at least an hour. To make a richer caramel: Heat the sugar and butter in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. Add the sweetened condensed milk, bring to a boil over medium/medium-low heat and boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns a medium gold color (it will not turn dark amber, as some caramel does) and gets quite thick. Pour the caramel over the crust and leave it until it is set and cold.5. Make the topping: Melt the semisweet chocolate, either in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water or by microwaving at power level number 4 for about 1-2 minutes. If microwaving, check after one minute, remove when there are still a few lumps visible and stir until totally melted and smooth.Add the room-temperature butter and stir until the butter is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Spread the chocolate mixture over the cool caramel. Melt the white chocolate (it melts more quickly and burns more easily than dark chocolate, so watch it), stir in the vegetable oil, cool slightly, and drizzle it over the dark chocolate in a diagonal or zigzag pattern.6. Leave until set and firm. Cut into bars or fingers and serve. If you used the Dulce De Leche filling, which is soft, store the bars in the refrigerator. I have frozen these successfully.
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