Jan 4, 2009

Chocolate Almond Bars

So my holiday baking may have started slow, a bit late for posting here in time for preholiday planning. Sorry for that. I had a work deadline, and then suddenly it was Christmas. But I know that's how it is for everyone. Now that we're safely past New Year's, I'm making up for lost time. I can't stop baking.

There have been several experiments. Some chocolate hazelnut cookies with warm spices, that were just, well, too spicy, for my enjoyment. But that little detour has been more than made up for by these fine specimens. These chocolate almond bars have a lot going for them. They are fast and easy to put together in the food processor. They are primarily made of almond butter and as we all know, almonds are way good for us. They are gluten-free, no flour. And they combine two of my favorite flavor combos–almonds and chocolate.

This comes from a little recipe tucked away in the December issue of Food & Wine. It didn't take up much space and there wasn't even a photo with it to seduce me but the ingredient list intrigued me.

These will bake up pretty soft. You'll think they aren't done, but pull them out anyway. You'll like their chewy centers.

Also, the original recipe called for salted almond butter. We couldn't find any with salt, so I added a wee bit to bring up the flavor. It was just right. They'll taste flat without it.

Also, in collecting ingredients during preholiday shopping, I ran across some new chocolate chips and chunks. Scharffen Berger has these new 70% baking chunks. (We should all just take a moment here and say, thank you.) Ghiradelli has new "gourmet baking chips" in different percentages. I tried the 72% in several things this Christmas and used them here too. You can also find Dagoba Xocoatl cocoa nibs which would make an excellent addition to any chocolate cookie that you wanted to give a little kick. Scharffen Berger also has tasty nibs. And last, at Costco I happened to find a 3 pound (!) bag of my default chocolate chips, Ghiradelli's 60% chips.

Be forewarned, it's really, really hard to stop eating these. I had to pry them away from my husband so that I could get a photo. Usually I can try one cookie and walk away. But these things are subtle. By the third or fourth bite, you're reaching for another one and then you're hooked. My husband says it's "the chewiness with the roasty nuttiness and then, of course, there's the chocolate." Uh huh. What he said.

Chocolate Almond Bars

1 cup roasted almond butter
2 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
3/4 cup dark (70%) chocolate chips or chunks
1/2 cup salted, roasted almonds, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line a baking pan (approximately 8x12 or 9x13 inch) with foil or parchment, leaving an overhang to act as a sling later. Spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

If you're using a new jar of almond butter, you might notice the oil will probably be separated on top of the almond butter. Take a moment to stir it up with a spoon or knife to incorporate the oil back into the butter. It doesn't have to be completely homogenous, just stir them together.

In a food processor, combine the almond butter, powdered sugar, butter, baking soda, salt and egg. Pulse until it's combined and creamy looking. (The recipe warns that if you overmix, the fat can separate, but I didn't have any problems.)

Turn out the dough into a bowl and add the roasted almonds and chocolate chips or chunks. Using a sturdy wooden spoon, stir in the nuts and chips.

Dump out the dough into the greased pan and flatten it out evenly with the wooden spoon.

Bake for 18-20 minutes. No more. They won't look done, but pull them out anyway. And be careful when you pull them out of the oven, don't tilt the pan or they could slide a bit.

Let cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes. Use the overhanging parchment/foil to lift the bars out of the pan. Be careful, they crumble easily. Set down on a cutting board and cut into bars, batons, even rounds using a biscuit cutter...whatever you like. Just keep them relatively small as they will crumble easily and are easier to hang on to if they aren't too big. How many you get out of this recipe depends on how you cut them so I'll leave that up to you.

The recipe says they keep up to 3 days in a container, but I can't imagine them lasting that long. See if you can make them last 24 hours.

Adapted from the December 2008 issue of Food & Wine magazine.

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