Life is Sweet: High Country baking
Living in Summit County is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the High Country successful.Each recipe has been tested numerous times in my home kitchen in Frisco and, whenever necessary, altered until it works. I’m always looking for baked goods that are quick and easy to make. This recipe for almond toffee bars caught my eye because it meets both of these criteria. But, I wasn’t sure if it would pass the taste test. To find out, I took a plate of the bars to the Frisco Nordic Center. I asked those who work and ski there to try them and tell me if they are good enough to include in this column. I stepped away for a minute and returned to find that most of them were gone. Kristy Johnson, who often skis at the Center with her husband, Joe, ate the last one and described it as a cookie that is perfect to serve after a bit of exercise or with a frothy warm beverage … not overly sweet, with a pleasant aroma and a nutty bouquet. He found the flaky crust reminiscent of fresh powder on top of sun-baked corn snow. Wow! That’s quite an endorsement! Tom Fry, a ski instructor on staff at the Center, agreed, giving the bars an “excellent” rating.
So, if you want to spend the day on the cross country trails and still make something good for dessert at the end of the day, consider these almond toffee bars. This recipe is adapted from one in The King Arthur’s Flour Baker’s Companion, an outstanding all-purpose baking book.
Ingredients:Cookie Base2 sticks of butter (one cup)1 teaspoon almond extract1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar2 cups of flour (spoon into measuring cup and level off)1/4 teaspoon baking powder1/2 teaspoon saltTopping1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
5 1/3 tablespoons butter1/4 cup whole milk or half-and-half1 cup sliced almondsStep One: Preheat oven to 365 degrees. Line a 15x10x1 inch baking pan with aluminum foil, letting it hang over the edges so you can lift the foil to remove the baked bars. While this isn’t absolutely necessary, it makes it much easier to remove the bars when they are ready to serve. You don’t need to grease the foil or the pan.Step Two: Make the base. I do this in the food processor: Combine the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in the processor bowl and process just until mixed. Add the butter, cut into 1/2-inch patties, add the almond extract and process until the dough starts to clump together. Do not let it form a ball. If you don’t have a food processor, cream the butter with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and almond extract and beat until smooth and well combined. Combine the dry ingredients and add slowly to the butter mixture until combined.Step Three: Press the dough into the pan, bringing it up the sides slightly and making sure it is even and smooth. Wet your hands if the dough sticks to them or place a piece of saran wrap over the dough and pat the dough in place through the wrap.Step Four: Bake the base until it is light golden, about 15-20 minutes. Set it aside.
Step Five: Make the topping: Combine the brown sugar, milk or half-and-half, and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the butter is melted and the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. You’ll need to test this by taking a little in a spoon and feeling it between your fingers; it needs to be absolutely smooth, with no graininess at all. Step Six: Spread the topping mixture over the base. The base doesn’t have to cool completely; spread the topping over it while it is still warm. Sprinkle the sliced almonds all over the topping.Step Seven: Turn on the broiler (turn to high if you have a broiler that has high and low settings). Set the pan about 5-6 inches below the hot broiler and watch carefully. The topping will start to bubble and in about 3 minutes or so, the nuts will turn golden. Remove the pan immediately. Don’t let these burn! Step Eight: Cool completely. Lift the pastry out of the pan with the aluminum foil. Because of the length of a 15-inch pan, I cut the pastry down the middle (into 2 bars that are seven and a half inches each) before lifting the foil. This prevents it from sagging and possibly cracking the crust. Cut into squares or into diagonal bars.These bars keep for a couple days and freeze well. Serve the toffee bars with a warm drink and gloat over your great ski day! Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. If your business or organization would like to sample and review a baked good for the Life Is Sweet column, contact Vera Dawson at email@example.com.
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