Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Let the baking begin: Cran-Almond Bready Bars

As you can see, I baked something. That might seem like a "so what?" but I hinted at my Achilles heel in the potato soup entry. I hate to admit it, but I don't really bake. I have "successfully" baked two things in my life: pumpkin cheesecake (and I almost smoked us out of the apartment on that one, but it was delicious) and chocolate-raspberry cheesecake bars. They were great and I enjoyed them both thoroughly, but the key was they did not involve the normal baking ingredients, you know flour, baking soda, baking powder, etc.

My main deterrent from baking was that I was always afraid to bake because I didn't want to screw it up. When you cook, you can throw in what you want, and as long as the ingredients 1)taste good together and 2)are in somewhat reasonable proportion to each other, you end up with something edible and hopefully amazing. Baking is just more finicky. I was the little girl who wore overalls, and baking seemed to belong in the domain of the little girls who wore flowered dresses and patent leather shoes, if you know what I mean.

I learned most of what you need to know about the basics of cooking from my Mom, Mommom, and Grandmom Julie, when I was growing up. Armed with that knowledge, I feel confident experimenting with my cooking. But baking? Well, none of the aforementioned cooking mentors really baked all that much. I give my Mom credit, she made birthday cakes, but I remember her painstaking decorations on top more than the cake inside (she's an artist). And once a year, around Easter, my mom made sweet bread in the shape of a bunny (again sculpture emphasized more than baking), and Grandmom Julie made the infamous cheese bread. But once or twice a year does not a baker make.

My secondary baking deterrent was that I would rather eat a bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy for dessert than a cookie. I like sweets, I really do, but I prefer my highly-fattening carbs savory most of the time.

But now that I have a blog and my own kitchen, I felt like I needed to conquer my fear of baking. Sometimes things will turn out, sometimes they won't. (When they don't, obviously I will not post them, except for maybe to lament my failure, but with a clear disclaimer NOT to try this at home.) And I do have at least a few baking genes in me. My Poppop is a great baker; he was a baker in the Navy during WWII. And since he has entrusted me with the family cannoli recipe, which will make an appearance here around Christmas, the least I can do is try to become half the baker he is.

And maybe it was beginner's luck, but my first effort turned out awesome. Cran-Almond Bready Bars. Moist, crumbly, lots of texture from the cranberries and the chopped almonds, and a tangy, sweet, smooth touch of cream cheese icing. Why not call them cake bars? Because I was trying to make cranberry almond bread, and then realized I didn't have a bread pan... because I don't bake, or rather I didn't bake. So when in a pinch, make due with what you have. I had a baking dish, hence the bars. And once they were in bar form, I figured some icing wouldn't hurt. So obviously, if you do have a bread pan you can try this recipe in that, which is what I will do next time I make it.

As an aside: this is an original recipe, but I looked around online for awhile to figure out the right proportions of flour to sugar to wet ingredients and so on. Not that I'm claiming this is rocket science or a break through in baked goods, but I'm not plagiarizing. (I'm a journalist for goodness sake!)

For the cake bars
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground all spice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup chopped cranberries
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup apple sauce

For the cream cheese icing
8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8X11 baking dish.
-Add together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, all spice and cloves in large mixing bowl. Mix in cranberries and almonds.
-In a separate bowl mix egg, oil and apple sauce.
-Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well.
-Pour mixture into baking dish and bake on 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
-Cool in baking dish for ten minutes, then remove to wire rack to continue cooling.
-Whip together cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla until it is light and fluffy.
-Ice and slice!

*NOTE: These received a warm welcome at the office. Success!


MK said...

These look soooooo tasty! Yum!

Anonymous said...

These look FABULOUS! LOVE the flavor combo!