Almond Joy Shortbread Bars

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsI don’t want to write about baking today—I want to write about how much I love the Olympics. I’ve watched the coverage every night and had it on in the background while I’ve baked during the day. This isn’t a recent habit—I grew up in a family that gathered to watch the games (summer or winter) every night they were on, and I even once had a wall of my teenage bedroom dedicated to the decorated short track speedskater Apolo Ohno.

Yeah…when it comes to the Olympics, I’m a real big nerd. I’m also a baseball nerd and an Oscars nerd, so…well, maybe I just watch too much TV. That’s probably it.

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsAnyway, this isn’t an Olympics blog. It’s a baking blog. So, let’s talk about baked goods, specifically Almond Joy Shortbread Bars.

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsIf you’re going to try to improve on the practically perfect combination of chocolate, almonds, and sweet coconut filling, layering it all onto a buttery chocolate shortbread crust is a pretty good way to start.

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsAll the layers in these bars make them look like they take hours to prepare, but in reality, they take about 90 minutes from start to finish and are nearly no-bake. That easy chocolate shortbread crust is the only layer that has to spend time in the oven.

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsIt’s topped with a thick layer of coconut filling and dotted with whole roasted almonds…Almond Joy Shortbread BarsAlmond Joy Shortbread Bars

…and a layer of milk chocolate. You can use dark chocolate if you like, but apparently Almond Joys are made with milk chocolate. I’ve been wrong for two years. Oh well.

Almond Joy Shortbread BarsAlmond Joy Shortbread BarsBut back to the bars. Slice ‘em up and admire your handiwork. #thoselayerstho

The flavor is everything you love about sweet, chewy, crunchy Almond Joys, but better because they’re homemade. Oh, and because they have a crispy layer of chocolate shortbread offsetting all their sweetness. After sinking your teeth into one of these, you’ll never be able to go back to the mass-produced candy bar.

Y’all, these are seriously good. I know I say that about everything on this blog, but I really mean it today. These are a gold medal recipe for sure.Almond Joy Shortbread Bars

Almond Joy Shortbread Bars
makes one 9-inch square pan, about 16 bars

Chocolate Shortbread Crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder (natural or Dutch process)
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes

Coconut Filling:
1/2 cup whole raw almonds
5 fluid ounces (10 tablespoons) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Chocolate Topping:
6 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil and grease well with butter. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, light brown sugar, and salt. Use your fingertips to rub butter into dry ingredients until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. It will be powdery, but should hold together when pinched. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Spread it around to cover the bottom of the pan before using your hand to pack it down into an even layer. Prick several times with a fork. Bake 14-15 minutes, until no longer wet-looking. Let shortbread crust cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Make the filling. Place almonds on a dry baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk, confectioners sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold in coconut. Mixture will be very thick. Drop filling in spoonfuls over the cooled crust and spread across the entire surface. Arrange almonds in lines (or as desired) over the top of the coconut and press down to adhere. Freeze full pan for 15 minutes.

Make the chocolate topping. Combine chopped milk chocolate and butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 15 second increments, stirring in between, just until melted. Drop chocolate over filling one spoonful at a time. Use a small offset icing knife (or a silicone spatula) to carefully spread it over a section of the filling. Continue dropping and spreading chocolate until it’s all used and the almonds are covered. Freeze until chocolate has hardened, about 15 minutes.

Use foil overhang to remove bars to a cutting board. Carefully peel foil down the sides. Use a lightly-greased sharp chef’s knife to slice bars. Lift bars from foil with a thin spatula. Serve.

Bars may be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days. Layer them with wax paper if they are to be stacked.

Almond Joy Shortbread Bars

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-Scones

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesOver the weekend, I posted a picture of my Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese Scones to my social media. I guess y’all had forgotten about them because I got all sorts of kind responses, the most enthusiastic of which was in-person, hilarious, and completely unprintable (unless I want to change the tone of this entire website).

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesAnd so, I’m bringing you more scones today—my first since that meyer lemon version last year. I can’t believe I’ve gone that long without a new variation!

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesThese are made with cream cheese too, but also vanilla bean. My dear friend, David, *gave* me a package of vanilla beans on New Year’s Day and I’ve been dreaming up uses for them ever since.

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesIn case you are wondering, giving me a surprise package of vanilla beans is a very good way to become my favorite person 🙂

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesBut back to the scones. I made them miniature—small food just tastes better, amiright?!

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesEach mini-scone is about half the size of a traditional scone. That means you can have two, right?

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesI’d be lying if I said I have never eyed the Petit Vanilla Bean Scones at Starbucks. They are adorable, but they are sort of dry and spongy and absolutely not worth the calories.

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesVanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesThese Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-Scones are nothing like that mass-produced version though—they’re worth all the calories. All of them.

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesThey’re super tender from the combination of butter, cream cheese, and heavy cream, and the edges are crumbly and nubbly and totally delightful.

That’s to say nothing of their huge vanilla flavor, which comes from a combination of vanilla bean and vanilla extract. I love the little black flecks of vanilla bean all over the place ❤

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesAnd the thick, luxurious glaze. Be still my vanilla-loving heart.

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-SconesYep. I’d say these were worth the wait.Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-Scones

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-Scones
makes 16 mini-scones

3/4 cup heavy cream + more for brushing, very cold
1/2 scraped vanilla bean
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into pieces
4 ounces (1/2 brick) full-fat brick-style cream cheese, very cold, cut into pieces

Glaze:
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1/2 scraped vanilla bean
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5-6 tablespoons heavy cream

Place oven rack at the center position. Preheat oven to 425F. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup, use a fork to whisk together heavy cream, vanilla bean, and vanilla extract. Refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add cold butter and cream cheese. Use a pastry blender or two forks to cut them into the dry ingredients until the largest pieces are the size of peas. Fold in heavy cream mixture. The dough should clump when pinched together.

Flour a surface and your fingertips. Turn dough onto the surface and divide it into two equal pieces. Pat each into a 1-inch thick circle. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice each circle into 8 wedges. Place scones at least 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared pan. Brush tops with heavy cream. Bake for 7 minutes. Rotate pan back-to-front and bake an additional 3-4 minutes, until just turning golden at the edges. Let scones cool in the pan on a rack while you make the glaze.

Combine confectioner’s sugar, salt, vanilla bean, vanilla extract, and 5 tablespoons heavy cream. Use a fork to whisk ingredients together until smooth. For a thinner glaze, add 1 tablespoon more cream.

Move cooled scones to a rack set over wax paper. Dip scones in glaze and set back on the rack. Glaze will set after about 20 minutes.

Scones are best served the day they are made, but will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 48 hours.

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Mini-Scones

Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter Blondies

Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesIf you scroll back through my Instagram to before October 21, 2015, you’re going to find a string of mediocre photos of A LOT of baked goods. In an effort to learn as much as I could about baking, I posted a new baked good almost every single day for a full year before I began blogging.

Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesThere were a few repeats and many variations (so. many. scones.), but I feel like that year was crucial to my development into the baker I was when I first hit publish. At the time, I felt most confident about my cookie baking skills and had just formulated my beloved Cream Cheese Pie Dough.

Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesIn turn, all the recipes and photos I’ve posted since that first day as a blogger have helped me evolve into the baker I am right now. These days, I’m very excited about yeast doughs and non-traditional layer cakes, and thinking very hard about adding to the doughnut section of my Recipe Index.

Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesOreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesOreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesOreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesThat’s all well and good, but sometimes I can’t decide what to blog about or I’m testing a recipe that’s more complicated than I anticipated. Those are the moments when I am very glad I have that year of photos to serve as inspiration and remind me of what I was really excited to bake when I was just getting started, before I learned new skills and started complicating things.

Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesOreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesOreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesI rarely look at that old section of my Instagram these days, but it’s full of simple, solid recipes that I was once totally jazzed about. Luckily, I was smart enough to write down almost all of them (even the ones that didn’t work) so that Future Me would know where to start when I revisited them.

Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesOreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesLet’s all give a quick shout-out to Past Me for filing away the recipe for these Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter Blondies. The version I posted to Insta three years ago was damn good, but with all the experience I’ve gained, it’s even better now. I didn’t even know it was possible to improve upon the combination of peanut butter and Oreos!

Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesThis easy, no-mixer recipe comes together in under an hour and is far more than the sum of its parts. The peanut butter blondie base is soft, chewy, and studded with melty mini chocolate chips. Oh, and it’s stuffed with a layer of Oreo cookies. I’m totally obsessed with the cross-sections of cookie on the sides of every blondie ❤

Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter BlondiesYeah, I was pretty psyched about these when I posted them to Instagram on April 2, 2015, and I’m still pretty excited about them on February 16, 2018. I hope you are, too.Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter Blondies

Oreo-Stuffed Peanut Butter Blondies
makes 16 blondies

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (not natural)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 cup mini chocolate chips
16 Oreo cookies

Preheat your oven to 350F. Line an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish with aluminum foil, leaving some overhang on two sides. Grease with butter. Set aside.

Place butter and peanut butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Melt together in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until smooth. Transfer to a medium large mixing bowl. Stir in light brown and granulated sugars, followed by egg and yolk and vanilla. Stir in flour and salt. Fold in mini chocolate chips.

Spread half the blondie batter in prepared pan. Arrange Oreos in an even layer over the top. Carefully spread remaining batter over the top. Bake 25-30 minutes (mine took 27 minutes), or until golden at the edges. Center may look a bit underdone. Let blondies cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Use foil to lift blondies out of pan. Peel off foil and transfer blondies to a cutting board. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice bars. Serve.

Leftover blondies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days.

Banana Pecan Sticky Buns

❤ Happy Valentine’s Day! If you’re looking for holiday-appropriate treats, see here, here, here, and here. ❤

Banana Pecan Sticky BunsMy only issue with today’s recipe is that I wish it were easier to photograph. I don’t hate these photos, but they just don’t do these Banana Pecan Sticky Buns any sort of justice.

Banana Pecan Sticky BunsBut really, what prop or angle could? Banana Pecan Sticky Buns are everything that’s wonderful about banana bread rolled into cinnamon rolls, baked into a gooey pecan-studded butterscotch and, quite literally, flipped on their heads.

Banana Pecan Sticky BunsI can wax on and on about the soft pastry (my favorite sweet roll dough!), the buttery cinnamon-sugar filling, the toasted pecans, and the slivers of overripe banana.Banana Pecan Sticky Buns

Banana Pecan Sticky BunsBanana Pecan Sticky BunsI could really talk your ear off about the easiest butterscotch ever, flavored with dark brown sugar, honey, and vanilla, and topped with 1 1/2 cups of chopped toasted pecans.

Banana Pecan Sticky BunsAnd I can show you all sorts of prep photos, from slicing the rolls…

Banana Pecan Sticky Bunsto arranging them over the sticky butterscotch and pecans…

Banana Pecan Sticky Bunsto an hour later, when they’re soft and puffy…

Banana Pecan Sticky Bunsto when they’re golden and bubbly, fresh from the oven.

Banana Pecan Sticky BunsBut none of that can do justice to the moment the pan is inverted to reveal a dozen warm Banana Pecan Sticky Buns dripping with butterscotch and clustered pecans.

Banana Pecan Sticky BunsOr that moment when you take a bite and the combination of pastry, cinnamon, banana, pecan, and butterscotch is almost enough to make you cry. But not really. Banana Pecan Sticky BunsBanana Pecan Sticky Buns

(Although I’m not ruling out sticky bun-related spiritual experiences.)

Banana Pecan Sticky BunsBanana Pecan Sticky BunsI guess you’ll just have to make them for yourself. Then you’ll understand.Banana Pecan Sticky Buns

Banana Pecan Sticky Buns
makes 12 rolls

Topping:
2 cups chopped pecans, divided
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup honey
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Dough:
1 3/4-2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bread flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast (I use Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast)
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, beaten, room temperature

Filling:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans (reserved from the topping)
2 medium bananas, very ripe, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease a 9×13 pan with butter. Set aside.

Make the topping. Place pecans on a dry baking sheet. Toast for 5-7 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside 1/2 cup pecans for the filling.

Combine butter, dark brown sugar, whole milk, honey, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Stir constantly while mixture boils for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour mixture into prepared pan—it will seem thin. Tilt pan slightly to coat evenly. Scatter 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans evenly over the topping. Refrigerate full pan while you prepare the rolls.

Make the dough. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, bread flour, sugar, instant yeast, and salt. Set aside. In a small saucepan, heat whole milk and butter until they reach 115F and are hot to the touch. Stir milk mixture into dry ingredients, followed by beaten egg and yolk. Stir in remaining flour in 2 tablespoon installments, just until a smooth, soft dough forms. Dough is ready when it pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Knead dough on a floured surface for 5-6 minutes. Form into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes at room temperature.

Make the filling. In a small bowl, mash together softened butter, dark brown sugar, and cinnamon.

On a floured surface, roll dough into an 8×14-inch rectangle. Leaving a 1/2-inch perimeter around the rectangle, spread cinnamon-sugar mixture over the dough. Scatter reserved 1/2 cup pecans and sliced bananas evenly over the top. Starting at the long edge furthest from you, roll the dough into a tight roll. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice 12 even rolls.

Remove pan with topping from the refrigerator. Place rolls close together over the top of the pecans. Cover pan loosely with foil and allow rolls to rise for 60-90 minutes in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375F. Uncover rolls and bake for 25-30 minutes, tenting with foil if anything begins to brown too quickly.

Let cooked rolls rest in the pan on a rack for 3 minutes. Run a small, thin knife around the edge of the pan. Place a large serving plate upside down on top of the pan. Wearing oven mitts, tightly grab the plate and the pan and flip them over, inverting the rolls onto the plate. Remove pan. Nudge any leftover topping onto the rolls and smooth to distribute evenly. Serve warm.

Banana Pecan Sticky Buns are best the day they are made. Leftovers will keep covered in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Banana Pecan Sticky Buns

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter Shortbread

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadAs with everything else in life, patience is a huge part of being a food blogger. For instance, I first made a version of these cookies for an order last April and knew immediately that I wanted to put them on the blog…but who eats shortbread in April?

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadI’m sure someone does, but most everybody I know reserves it for Christmas, so I waited. And then December came and went, and nary a shortbread made an appearance on this blog. I suppose I could have held out for the end of the year, but instead I’m making shortbread for Valentine’s Day and you should too.

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadChocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadI mean, all shortbread is good—it’s basically a vehicle for eating copious amounts of butter and sugar in polite company. But this isn’t just any shortbread.

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadChocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadChocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadChocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadThis version is made with brown butter. It’s one of my very favorite ingredients (see here, here, and here), producing baked goods with a nutty aroma and incomparable depth of flavor.

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadChocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadChocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadChocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadChocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadBrown butter is good in basically everything, but it really shines in these simple six-ingredient cookies. See those dark specks? Those are browned milk solids—tiny bits of flavor alllllll over the place, y’all!

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadChocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadAnd then, as if things could possibly get better, the baked shortbread are dipped in melted dark chocolate.

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadTender, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth brown butter shortbread dipped. in. chocolate.

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadOh my word.

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadYou could certainly leave the chocolate half plain, but I am not the sort of baker who leaves things plain. I used my fanciest chocolate sprinkles here (they’re called hagelslag—try ‘em on buttered toast). Coarse salt works too, if you didn’t run out over Christmas and then totally forget to replenish your stash for two months. I wouldn’t know anything about that though. Nope.Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter Shortbread

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter ShortbreadThere’s something luxurious about the name of this recipe, and they certainly look fancy, but I assure you that these Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter Shortbread are as easy as they are delicious. I made them five times this week (and in multiple shapes!), so I know.

Another thing I know? If someone presented me with a batch of these, I’d definitely feel loved.Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter Shortbread

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter Shortbread
makes about 36 2-inch cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
4 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Chocolate Dip:
8 ounces pure dark chocolate, chopped
chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) or coarse salt, for garnish (optional)

Brown the butter. Place butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Let butter melt. Butter will bubble and crackle as the water content evaporates. Swirl the pan frequently for 5-7 minutes, keeping an eye on the color. When the solids are turning brown and the butter is nutty and fragrant, remove the pot from the heat and immediately pour the brown butter into a small bowl. Let it cool a bit before refrigerating until solid (a few hours or overnight). When you are ready to bake, soften the solid brown butter to room temperature

Place softened brown butter in a medium-large mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to beat it until light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Add dark brown and confectioners sugars and mix until fluffy. Mix in vanilla and salt. With the mixer on low, beat in flour. Dough will be crumbly looking, but should hold together very well when pinched. Divide dough in two parts.

Working with one half at a time, sandwich dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll until 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to the freezer (on a baking sheet, if desired) for 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough. It is okay to stack the sheets of dough in the freezer.

While the dough is freezing, place racks in the center positions. Preheat the oven to 300F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Remove one sheet of dough from the freezer. Peel on of the pieces of parchment off. Use a lightly floured 2-inch cookie cutter to cut cookies. Place them close together on prepared pans. Repeat with remaining dough. Scraps can be re-rolled, frozen, and cut.

Bake cookies for 21-23 minutes, or until no longer shiny. Let cool on the pans for 7 minutes. Use a thin spatula (not your fingers!) to remove cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.

Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave (30 second increments, stirring in between). Dip each cookie halfway and place on prepared pans. Scatter sprinkles or coarse salt over the top. Repeat with remaining cookies. Chocolate will set after a couple of hours at room temperature, or a few minutes in the freezer.

Shortbread will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

Chocolate-Dipped Brown Butter Shortbread