Back in May, when the cherries were just in season, I bought a whole bunch to make Martha Stewart’s delicious looking cherry almond teacakes for my book club. And it was a disaster. I am not sure how such a delicious looking recipe could result in such a hot mess, but that’s what happened. They looked cute, but tasted terrible. Others have had better luck, so I must have done something wrong. I didn’t have the time or desire to try again, so off I went to book club, with my store bought ginger snaps to talk about Tom Perrotta’s The Abstinence Teacher.
When Smitten Kitchen posted these cherry brown butter bars a week before my July book club, I knew it was time to conquer the cherry dessert again. This time, I had much better luck, and Confederacy of Dunces was made all the more enjoyable by something so delicious and easy on the valve. The filling is creamy but not too rich, and the crust is nice and buttery.
The recipe originated in Bon Appetit, where it was more of a traditional tart. Smitten Kitchen adapted it to make it more finger food friendly, which I just love. It’s hard to find fruit based desserts that you don’t need a fork for, and I think this would work with any seasonal fruit. I think I’d like to try it with chunks of persimmon in the winter.
If you do make it with cherries, a cherry pitter is helpful. I know Alton Brown is all anti uni-taskers, but a cherry pitter also doubles as an olive pitter. So, if you eat a lot of olives like I do, it’s a worthwhile investment.
Cherry Brown Butter Bars
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
About 20 or so cherries, pitted
To make the crust
Preheat over to 375°F. If you don’t have a square tart pan (and honestly, who does?) cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. Or you can just cut a big sheet of parchment paper, squish it down so it lines the pan, and hope for the best. Which is what I did. The corners of the tart came out kind of gimpy, but the rest of it was fine. So unless you want perfect corners, I say, make life easy on yourself.
Using rubber spatula or fork, mix the melted butter, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl. Add flour and salt and stir until incorporated. Transfer dough to your prepared pan, and use your fingertips to press the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until golden, which, if you are using Bon Appetit’s oven, is about 18 minutes. If you are using my freakishly hot oven, it’s closer to 14.
When it’s done baking, transfer it to a rack and cool in pan. Maintain the oven temperature.
To make the filling
Cook butter in heavy small saucepan(preferably a lighter colored one, so you can keep a better watch on the color of the butter) over medium heat until deep nutty brown, stirring often and watching carefully so it doesn’t burn, about six minutes. Immediately pour browned butter into glass measuring cup to cool slightly.
Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add flour and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture; whisk until well blended.
Arrange pitted cherries, or the fruit of your choice, in bottom of cooled crust. I wanted to make 20 bars, so I arranged the cherries as best as I could in evenly spaced rows of 4 X 5. If you are less picky than I am or want to make bigger or smaller bars, feel free to put the cherries in however you want. But, keep in mind that it might be harder to get smooth cuts if you are trying to cut through a bunch of cooked cherries. Not impossible, but you do have to be a lot more careful so you don’t drag them out.
Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake bars until filling is puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes. Watch the bars carefully. Cool bars completely in pan on rack.
Use the parchment paper overhang to carefully remove it from pan in one piece and place it on a cutting board and cut them into squares with a very sharp knife.
You can make these a day or two in advance and store in the fridge. I found the bars actually tasted better the second day because it gives the custard more time to absorb the cherry flavor.