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.

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14 Responses to “bright, shiny spots of happiness: yellow cake with chocolate frosting”

  1. Di — May 17, 2013 @ 11:05 am

    Twenty six years ago my dad was slowing dying of a degenerative heart disease when my mom passed suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. I worked in Brooklyn at the time. I remember looking longingly at buses coming over the Brooklyn Bridge because I thought having enough courage to throw myself under one might put me out of my misery. I’m glad I had the courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other and I like your way much better….looking at blue birds instead of those darn buses! Your courage, your grace, your love of life, family, medicine and cakes will carry you. Your writing will continue to inspire us to not only look back with gratitude but look forward with joy and hope. Thank you for sharing.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 17th, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

      Di, it’s comments like yours that bring the brightest & shiniest of the happy spots in my life right now. Thank you.

  2. Kathryn — May 17, 2013 @ 11:29 am

    Bright shiny spots of happiness is the best phrase I’ve heard in a long time. I hope you manage to keep finding them, despite everything that’s going on.

  3. Macaroni Mama — May 17, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

    Well done, Merry Jennifer! The cake looks yummy!

  4. Rima Kleiner — May 17, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    Ahhhh, here’s to those CHS nights driving around in our ol’ one-theater stomping grounds… Please keep sharing your “bright, shiny spots of happiness” with us, Merry Jennifer. Your heart-felt writing is always a pleasure to read.

  5. We definitely have to look for and cherish the bright, shiny spots of happiness <3
    Love this story, love the cake, and can't wait until June!!

    <3 Rachel

  6. Denice Olig — May 17, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    Have fun at Walt Disney World!!! Even as an adult there is plenty of Disney magic there. Food forum sounds really fun.

  7. Lynda - TasteFood — May 17, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

    Lovely spots of happiness. Thank you for the inspiration – I might borrow a few…

  8. cherie — May 18, 2013 @ 9:03 am

    I really just wanted to send you a warm, comforting hug. I’m glad you’re able to look at the bright spots – harder than it seems sometimes I’m sure.
    Isn’t it funny that we never really feel like we’re a grown up, aren’t cognizant of it, till it sucks? Sigh
    Enjoy the bright spots on your horizon

  9. Paula — May 20, 2013 @ 8:54 am

    I know you will be able to hear a pin drop when you speak about story telling at the BlogHer conference.
    This wonderful post and your inner strength and grace makes me think of the last line of one of my favourite poems, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann *With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful, strive to be happy* You epitomize this.

  10. in spite of so many things going on MJ you are just inspirational and full of positivity 🙂 thanks for sharing this happy cake. I just bought a new cake pan and very excited to find my happiness soon

  11. Reading your site is always a bright spot in my day, and this post is no exception! This afternoon, it was a much needed distraction from a long afternoon with a screaming baby. With everything you are going through right now, it’s good to see that you are still finding joy. Knowing that you are going to be speaking about story telling at BHF is making me wish I was going! I admire your courage when you write… Story telling is one of the areas on my site that I tend to neglect.

  12. You are such a strong woman, caring for your Dad like that. I can only imagine how difficult it is to watch him with each passing day. I love how you focus on the good in the world , even the little things like the birds and a cake can change your day (and your entire outlook on life) around! The cake, by the way, looks amazing! Can’t wait to meet your at BlogHer Food!

  13. Alice @ Hip Foodie Mom — May 31, 2013 @ 11:54 am

    yummmm!! such a beautiful cake! pinning!

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