Growing up, it sometimes seemed as if my sisters and I were the only kids around without a grandma. Grandmothers were everywhere: visiting our friends at holiday time, taking children to movies, baking cookies for them. Not us. In my only picture of our grandmother, my mother -- a wide-eyed little girl -- sits beside her, my mother's hair plaited in two neat, thick little braids, wearing her best dress and a hand-crocheted collar. Next to her sits my grandmother, her soft brown eyes with a faraway look in them. My mother was about seven when she and Grampa lost her. They were living in a forced-labor camp under Nazi occupation when she became ill. She was loved and missed by all who knew her.
I grew up eating these buttery, crumbly bars, never suspecting their origin. So when I called my mother for the recipe, and to double-check its source (Betty Crocker? her best friend?), I was surprised and moved to learn that it was my grandmother's -- not that my mother knew the measurements or amounts. She says she watched her mother make them time and again as a very little girl. After my mother (and Grampa) finally escaped and came to this country to start a new life, my mother married and had a family. She reconstructed the recipe from her childhood memory. I'm so happy to have just one "handed down" recipe and to share it here. —creamtea
Test Kitchen Notes
Heavenly! That's the first thing that comes to mind. They were very easy to make; some cooks might need to know that the base and top aren't a dough, and they might wonder if the bars will work -- but they do! Light and not very sweet, they're perfect with a cup of afternoon tea. *I used Dalmatia sour cherry spread (found at Whole Foods), which was the only sour cherry preserve I could find. Also, I used the pastry cutter instead of the fork to blend in the egg. —Kin934
a 9 x 13 or 7 1/2 x 11-inch pan of bar cookies
For the filling:
Morello (sour) cherry preserves (from red -- not black -- cherries), and more as needed
1/2 to 1 teaspoons
For the crumble:
butter for greasing the pan
2 1/2 cups
plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
(1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
In This Recipe
Grease the bottom and sides of a 7 1/2 x 11-inch pan (I use Pyrex). Preheat oven to 350º F.
In a small bowl, combine the preserves with the almond extract and set aside. [Editors' note: We used a full, 13-ounce jar of cherry preserves and 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract.]
Sift the dry ingredients into a medium bowl.
Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture to form lumps that are pea-sized and smaller. Drizzle in the egg, tossing with a fork to combine.
Empty a little more than half of the flour mixture into the pan. Shake the pan to distribute evenly, then pat the dough down lightly with your hands, just enough to compact it a little so it will cut neatly after baking.
Spoon the preserve mixture over the dough along its length. Save a few spoonfuls to drizzle into the corners.
Carefully spread the preserves over the dough using a flexible spatula. This is a little tricky because the dough wants to rise up and bond with the preserves. A "roll with the waves" motion works best: press lightly, lift, travel, repeat. Spoon a little more jam into whatever corners need it. Do not strive for perfection here -- we're talking homey.
When the preserves are spread, tip the bowl with the remainder of the crumbs over top, shake the pan to distribute, and once again, press lightly into place.
Bake about 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden. Do not overbake or the bars will be dry. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool on a rack. Carefully cut into squares. Serve with a steaming cup of tea or coffee .