apricot-almond shortbread bars
It’s a foggy morning here in north Florida. Looking outside from my spot on the sofa, I can see a few orange marigold flowers peeking out from the raised bed garden in the corner of our back yard. The marigolds were my daughter’s idea. She likes a spot of color in the garden, and I don’t blame her. We planted those marigolds yesterday, nestled them in between the new cherry tomato plants and some yellow and green bell pepper plants. Both kids helped me in the garden yesterday, eagerly scooping up garden soil with their shovels and buckets, watering the new plants, and collecting acorns and weeds into piles. And, at their request, we also planted a new little strawberry plant and a blueberry bush. I’m not very optimistic about how those two will do, but I couldn’t tell them no.
Beside me on the sofa is Madeline, covered up in a red blanket, and warm with fever. Since we don’t have a sitter who is available during the day, I missed work to be home with her. I feel incredible guilt about missing my own clinic – canceling on patients who depend on me to be there for them – but I know that my daughter must come first. It’s a perpetual dilemma, of course, this balancing of work and family. I wish I could say that I’ve mastered it, but I can’t. And, I’m not even sure — can it really ever be mastered?
We’re spending the early part of the day here on the sofa, watching Nick Jr and Disney movies. A trip to the pediatrician will happen later. When it warms up a bit, I’ll drag Madeline outside for some fresh air and sunlight. We’ll water the newly planted garden, and we might rock in the rocking chairs on the front porch.
And, if Madeline is feeling up for it, I’ll share with her these apricot-almond shortbread bars.
I adapted this recipe from this one in Bon Appétit. Preserves are used as part of the topping. I used the peach-apricot preserves you see here, but plain apricot preserves would work just as well. The almond paste is a key ingredient. The sweet almond flavor works well with the sweet and tangy apricot preserves, and the sliced almonds give a bit of crunch to the texture. The base is shortbread, something I’m hooked on. If there exists a more simple yet perfect cookie than shortbread, I have not found it.
Yield: 24 bar cookies
Apricot-Almond Shortbread Bars
1 cup peach-apricot or apricot preserves
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups (280 grams; 10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup (packed) almond paste, crumbled
1/2 cup sliced almonds, divided
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter a 9 x 9 x 2 inch metal baking pan and line bottom and sides of pan with parchment paper, extending over the sides of the pan. Butter the parchment. Mix preserves and orange juice in a small bowl and set aside.
Using a mixer (hand-held or stand mixer), beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until well-blended. Beat in the almond extract, orange zest, and cinnamon. Add the flour and salt and beat until just blended.
Transfer 1 cup of dough to another small bowl; add crumbled almond paste and blend, using your fingertips, until small clumps form. Mix in 1/4 cup sliced almonds and set aside for topping.
Press remaining dough evenly onto the bottom of prepared pan. Spread preserves evenly over. Coarsely crumble the topping over the preserves, then sprinkle 1/4 cup almonds over. Press topping lightly into preserves.
Bake until top and crust edges are golden brown, about 1 hour. Cool completely in pan on a cooling rack. Once cool, holding the sides of the parchment paper, lift shortbread from pan. Cut into 24 small bar cookies. Note: can be prepared ahead. Store in a single layer in an airtight container for up to 4 days at room temperature, or freeze for up to two weeks.
Adapted from Bon Appétit, December 2005.