Spring cleaning just got real — real tasty that is.
I don’t know about you, but both of my fridges are bearing the weight of too many experiments and whims; jars of curry pastes and marinades and sauces and nut oils and condiments clutter the shelves (four different olives, five mustards and six different kinds of hot sauces? really?).
I think nothing of opening up a new bottle or jar if I think it’s a new path to nirvana — but then later freak out when I realize that I barely have enough for all those groceries coming in.
Here’s just a tiny portion of the items cluttering my shelves.
Yesterday I was looking through some old paperwork when I spied a recipe I’d clipped years ago and I realized that I could combine a little cleaning out of the fridge with some baking I wanted to do.
The recipe (adapted by Martha Holmberg from Patricia Heyman in Fine Cooking) uses up any opened up jars of preserve or jam you have on hand– whether it’s a little or a lot.
When I looked at my fridge, I realized that I had no small amount of real estate devoted to open jam jars, so I got out the rest of the ingredients and started to pull the simple recipe together.
Room temperature butter and eggs are a must, and be sure to whip together the butter and sugar long enough that it’s really fluffy and light, so it looks something like this.
I’ve made this recipe twice this week, and the second time I added almond paste to the butter/sugar combo, and I love how it added a touch of nutty sweetness to the dough (if you care to do the same, 2-3 oz. should be enough).
After you make the dough, it’s a breeze to pull together.
Two-thirds of the dough is spread out, and then the jam goes on top.
The genius of this idea is that you can use as many different flavors as you want, spread out alongside.
All my jams were the Bon Maman brand and my bars this time included peach, apricot, strawberry, and just a small amount of blackberry and cherry jam.
After you spread out the jam, you top with the last of the dough.
I also added some grated tangerine zest atop for a citrusy finish.
Into the oven it goes for almost an hour (mine was done in 50 minutes); you’ll know it’s done when the top is slightly golden and no longer looks wet.
I loved how the jam got bubbly and caramelized at the corners (dibs on the corner piece).
I pulled the pan from the oven and once they’d cooled slightly, I cut them into squares and dropped some off to a few neighbors.
A handful of people who live around my ‘hood got to-go packages.
I like giving treats in little aluminum tins that they can reuse with a fresh bake or use for storing small baking supplies, and the napkin cover is something they can use after nibbling on these gooey bars.
Wouldn’t you like to come home to find this on your doorstep?
I’d say that another great thing about this recipe is it that it gives you that sugar cookie satisfaction without the fuss of rolling it out or having to use multiple sheet pans, making this perfect for a crowd or a picnic.
I also love how the tartness of the jam sets out the springy sweetness of the butter/sugar base; next time I’ll expressly buy a darker, inkier fruit for the middle filling as I think the contrast of the jam color with the pale layers is more striking (blueberry or blackberry jam would be gorgeous here).
And one more thing: the recipe doesn’t call for salt (which I thought odd) but I tried a bite of the cooked bars but with and without a little Maldon salt and I far prefer the former version. Just a little makes a quantum difference in terms of brightness and complexity, but I will leave that up to you.
My favorite part of this baking interlude was the call I got yesterday afternoon from a friend who’d received one of these delivered treats.
She said she walked up to her front door to find the little metal tin (minus the gingham napkin top wrapper) with just two bars inside — and one empty cupcake liner.
She thinks a squirrel tore off the napkin wrapper, sat on her porch and ate one of the bars right there (there was a small mound of buttery crumbs on the edge and no napkin in sight).
So there you have it.
Buttery Leftover Jam Bars.
Mom Made. Squirrel Approved.
- 13 oz. (3 sticks plus 2 Tbs.) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1⅔ C. granulated sugar
- 2-4 oz. almond paste (optional)
- 2 eggs
- 3¾ C. all purpose flour (spoon the flour into your measuring cup, don't scoop it up)
- 1½ finely chopped hazelnuts or almonds (optional)
- 2 C. berry, peach or apricot preserves (I liked the blackberry and cherry jam best here)
- flaked salt to finish (optional)
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Butter a 9 X 13 inch pan.
- In an electric mixer or with a wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar (plus almond paste if using) until fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating until the first one's incorporated before adding the next.
- Add the flour and mix just enough to blend in. Add the nuts and mix a little longer until just blended.
- Press about ⅔ of the mixture into the baking pan. Spread with the preserves and then crumble the remaining dough to make an even top layer (don't worry if all your preserves are covered).
- If desired, sprinkle lightly with your best salt and then bake for about an hour, until the top is lightly browned (mine only took 50 minutes to cook perfectly).
- Let the bars cool in the pan, then cut into 1½ inch squares. If you want to freeze these, you can freeze the whole pan or cut into bars and freeze however many you'd like.