Sugar Cookie Bars

What do you do when you want sugar cookies, but you don’t have time for all the rolling and cutting? You bake sugar cookie bars, complete with delicious whipped buttercream frosting.

This recipe comes from Brown Eyed Baker, another Pittsburgh baking blogger, and yields a delicious and very low-maintenance treat. If you think the frosting is going to be too much, trust me, it’s not. It’s a whipped vanilla buttercream, and it complements the bars perfectly. Fear not: this frosting is not that whipped cream frosting you get on grocery store cakes that nobody likes – it’s made with butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla, and is whipped for several minutes to a light and fluffy texture while maintaining delicious buttercream flavor. These were a huge hit at our family visit in Maryland this week!

Ingredients

For the bars

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the whipped vanilla buttercream

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Rainbow sprinkles, for decorating

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper (or lightly grease the pan).

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, beating to combine. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add flour mixture until just combined; I used my hands to finish the mixing to ensure there were no pockets of flour.

Press into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is very light golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in the pan completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, use the whisk attachment to whip the butter in your mixer for 5-7 minutes, scraping the bowl a few times, until very smooth. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the powdered sugar, whipping to combine completely. Add the vanilla extract and continue whipping at medium-high speed for another 2-4 minutes, until frosting is very light and fluffy.

To frost: remove bars from pan and carefully peel off parchment, then return bars to the pan. Spread frosting in an even layer, then add sprinkles. Cut into 24 bars and store at room temperature for up to 3 days (bars will also last in the fridge up to 1 week).

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Fudge Bars with Peanut Butter Chips

As I’ve mentioned before, I love the recipes that come on packages. This recipe comes from a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter baking chips, and can be baked either as cookies or bars.

I chose to bake mine as bars, and I have an important caveat for you, my fellow bakers. These definitely baked over the edges of my jelly roll pan, so the next time I make them, I’ll place some parchment beneath the pan to catch the overflow. Mike proclaimed these very fudgy, with a nice hint of peanut butter. They’re coming to work with me tomorrow for a video shoot, and I’m hoping they’ll be a hit.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 10-ounce package Reese’s Peanut Butter baking chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 15 x 10 x 1 baking pan.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda; set aside.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat to combine.

Add flour mixture in two batches, beating well and scraping the sides of the bowl between each addition. Stir in peanut butter chips.

Spread dough in prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, until set. Allow to cool completely before cutting; use a bench knife to cut into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days.

Makes 36.

Cinnamon Bars

In addition to my bread baking endeavors, I’m working my way through the Better Homes & Gardens Fall Baking magazine. These delicious cinnamon bars are one of many creative treats therein, offering an interesting and spicy alternative to the blondie.

These bars are supposed to bake in a 9-inch square pan; I used an 8-inch square, and I think the additional inch would make a difference in the end result (and next time, I’ll bake them another 5 minutes or so). Although these are delicious – and kind of fudgy, if something cinnamon-based can be fudgy – they fell a bit while cooling and the tops broke apart somewhat when I cut them. Mike loves them, though, so I must have done something right. I can see these served slightly warm with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel, but they’re perfectly delicious as-is.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan with foil and spray with baking spray.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and cool for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add eggs and vanilla, stirring to combine. Pour into flour mixture, stirring until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Brush top of bars with melted butter, then sprinkle sugar and cinnamon mixture over the top. Cool completely; using the foil, lift the bars out and place them on a cutting board. Cut into squares.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Makes 16.

Peanut Butter & Jam Bars

My new Better Homes & Gardens Fall Baking magazine has a chapter on peanut butter treats, including these peanut butter and jam bars. While the original recipe called for tossing some chocolate-covered peanuts into the top crumb mixture, I omitted them because a) I can’t eat chocolate and b) that just seemed like an odd addition to me. You could certainly leave them in if you like, but I think my plain bars are absolutely delicious.

I chose strawberry jam, but you could use raspberry or blackberry with equal success. The sweetness of the strawberry jam pairs very well with the sweet/salty combination in the peanut butter, without yielding a treat that’s too sweet. They remind me of something you’d find at an old-fashioned bakery or on the menu at a school bake sale, the type of treat that sells out quickly because once you have one, you really want another.

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 2 cups flour
  • 12-ounce jar strawberry jam

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil; lightly grease the foil or spray it with baking spray.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and peanut butter on medium speed until smooth. Add brown sugar, vanilla, baking soda, and salt, beating until well combined, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times. Add oats and beat to combine, then add flour in two batches and beat to combine. The mixture will be crumbly.

Reserve 2 cups of the oat mixture; press the remainder into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Stir jam until smooth, then spread over crust within about 1 inch of the edges. Top with remaining oat mixture, covering jam completely.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden. Cool in pan on a wire rack; when completely cool, use edges of foil to lift bars out and place on a cutting board. Cut into squares.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 32.

Peanut Butter Smoothies

What do you do when you want something like a brownie, but you can’t eat chocolate? You make these peanut butter smoothies, another treat from my beloved King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. It’s funny to describe something chocolate-free as fudgy, but these absolutely are.

While the original recipe calls for baking in a 9 x 9 pan, I made mine in an 8 x 8. The edges are definitely darker than I wanted them to be, but the end result is delicious nonetheless. I covered mine for the last 5 minutes of baking to prevent over-browning on the top, and the center of my squares fell as it cooled, which was fine. You could substitute chocolate chips or lightly salted peanuts for the peanut butter chips if you like, and I’m sure they’d be equally delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup peanut butter chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and peanut butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add vanilla and beat to combine.

Add flour and beat on low speed until just combined, then mix in peanut butter chips.

Spread batter in the baking pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and pull away from the pan; if you use a cake tester on the center, it should have some moist crumbs sticking to it. I covered my bars for the last 5 minutes of baking to prevent them from over-browning on the top.

Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan before cutting. Cut into 16 bars.

Dark Chocolate Crumb Bars

Sometimes recipes work out exactly how you plan. Sometimes…not so much. Such was the experience with these dark chocolate crumb bars, a recipe I got from the back of a bag of dark chocolate chips. I expected the middle layer, a combination of dark chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk, to bubble up and allow the top layer to bake into it, securing the crumbs, dark chocolate chips, and chopped almonds. Alas.

Much of the crumb topping fell off when I cut the bars, so if I make them again, I’ll either add a bit more crumb mixture to the bottom crust or press the top layer into the chocolate layer with the back of a spoon to help it hold. I adapted the recipe to include unsalted almonds instead of walnuts, but I suspect walnuts or pecans would be good as well.

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 ounces dark chocolate chips, divided
  • 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup whole almonds, chopped

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter for 1-2 minutes, until creamy. Add flour, sugar, and salt and beat until crumbly. With floured fingers, press 2 cups of the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.

While the crust is baking, prepare chocolate layer. In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate chips melt and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla; pour over hot crust.

Stir remaining chocolate chips and chopped almonds into remaining crust mixture and sprinkle over chocolate layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes; remove from oven and cool completely. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Makes 24 bars.

Raspberry Crumb Bars

A while back I made these amazing chocolate raspberry walnut bars, and ever since I’ve wanted to make a non-chocolate version. These bars, which I found at Cooking Classy, are a delicious treat for those of us who live chocolate-free lives.

What I really like about these bars is that you use raspberry jam, rather than fresh raspberries, for the filling, making these a year-round possibility. I suspect they’d be delicious with blackberry or apricot jam as well; I’ll have to give those a try sometime. I might also incorporate some chopped walnuts into the crumb mixture next time.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes and softened
  • 3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with foil, extending foil over the sides. Lightly grease foil or spray with baking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, oats, and light brown sugar. Mix with a fork until completely combined.

Add butter and toss to coat the cubes, which will make it easier to rub into the dry ingredients. Rub the butter into the dry mixture with your hands to incorporate it very well; you’ll have a crumby texture, but it should stick together if you press it between your hands when it’s ready.

Place 2 cups of the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing into an even layer. Spread jam on top, leaving about 1/4 inch border around the edges. Top with remaining crumb mixture and press it into the jam layer just slightly.

Bake for 34 minutes, until top is light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan; lift bars out of the pan by the foil, then cut into squares.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 16.