Sunday, January 1, 2012

We Never Suspected the Dog!

Dried fruit has a long and illustrious history.  It is one of the earliest methods of food preservation, and has been used for millennia in the regions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. (Date palms were one of the first cultivated trees, and became economically important in the Ancient Near East.)  Dried fruits have a very long shelf life and retain most of their nutritive value after drying, making them a stable and desirable source of food.  They also have bioactive properties important for maintaining nutritional health and preventing chronic illness. 

Until this year, I had not paid much attention to how prominently dried fruits figured in our holiday baking traditions.  They go into fruitcakes, cookies, bars, confections, stuffings, puddings, appetizers—and more, but you get the idea.  Brandied Almond Fruit Bars are a particular favorite of DH’s.  A few years back, Bella and I were assembling the cookie plates we deliver to friends.  When we reached the layer in the tins where the Fruit Bars were stored, there was nothing but crumbs.  The guilty look on DH’s face was a dead giveaway—we never suspected the dog!

The recipe for Brandied Almond Fruit Bars has been in my box for many years.  It has been altered significantly from the original and tinkered with endlessly.  A few years ago it finally settled to its current form with which I am greatly pleased.  These are delicious, nutritious and beautiful to behold.  Enjoy!

Brandied Almond Fruit Bars

Crust:
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 c. flour
¾ tsp. salt

Fruit layer:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. corn syrup
½ tsp. vanilla
½ c. flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. golden raisins or sultanas
1 c. dried cherries
1 c. snipped apricots
1 c. raisins
¼ c. apricot brandy
1 c. sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan and set aside.


To prepare the crust:  In a medium-sized bowl beat the brown sugar and butter until pale and light. Scrape the bowl. Add the flour and salt and mix until crumbly.  Use your fingers to finish the dough.  Press evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Set aside.


For the fruit layer:  In another bowl cream the butter and brown sugar until light.  Scrape the bowl.  Add the corn syrup and vanilla and beat to combine.  Add the flour, baking powder, and salt stirring to combine.  Fold in the dried fruits and brandy.  Gently fold in the
almonds.





Scrape the fruit mixture into the pan on top of the crust and spread evenly.





Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and fruit is set and beginning to brown.  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  Score and cut into 1 inch squares.  Store in a wax paper lined airtight container for up to two weeks.  Separate layers with waxed paper.

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