For those of you who have been following the blog lately, you would have been wise to begin investing in stock for the company responsible for making Motrin as its' sales have most likely spiked considerably in the last two months. Okay, maybe expecting anyone to infer that my return to running (particularly at my age) would lead to unprecedented sales increases and potential shortages of over the counter anti-inflammatory medication is a bit of a stretch. Almost as much of a stretch as it was for me to start running all over again. I was 'old' when I started the first time, a latent adult athlete. In addition to soothing my sore muscles these days, I am having even greater difficulty trying to manage the conflict my inner youthful spirit is having with my much older body. While I don't run nearly as fast as I did twenty years ago (and it really wasn't even fast back then but it's faster than I am currently running), there is a Pollyanna voice in my head telling me I can and will get faster as well as be able to run longer distances (hearing voices is an anti-inflammatory medication side effect, right?). However, I suppose anything is possible as long as there will always be Motrin, as long as I keep pushing myself, as long as there will be chocolate milk, and as soon as I can stop whining every time I have to run up a hill or do interval training. Rewarding myself with something new from Lululemon or indulging in 'great but not necessarily good for you' carbohydrates every now and the kinds of tangible incentives that appeal to my youthful spirit, one equally important to nurture.
After finishing my first 5k in a very, very, very long time this past weekend, I found it easy to walk past the post-race tables filled with bagels, cookies, and bananas. All I wanted was chocolate milk, some gummies, and the Dream Bars I had made over the weekend. Two of the three were available at the race and enough to sustain me until I could have the third one. It didn't matter how long we spent at the post race hoopla or how long it took us to get home, some things are worth the wait. The Dream Bars would be one of those things.
I have been in awe of Mindy Segal's culinary talents ever since first tasting her desserts when she was the pastry chef at MK, a restaurant in Chicago. The only complaint I ever had about the dessert menu was that it was one of those 'too hard to choose'. Her desserts reaffirmed my belief great meals need to, have to, and absolutely must end with a great dessert. Without one would be akin to giving someone your most favorite of all books and tearing out the last chapter. From MK she opened Hot Chocolate, a restaurant I am embarrassed to say I have not yet been (yikes). For all of her current and soon to be fans, one does not have to leave the house to enjoy a Mindy Segal pastry or dessert. Her first cookbook, 'Cookie Love', makes it possible for the home cook to create the cookies and confections shared and developed by a James Beard outstanding pastry chef award winner. Unlike many of the cookbooks written by highly acclaimed chefs, she proves high quality, accessible ingredients can create extraordinary, insanely delicious, even decadent bites of sweetness. Her recipes are the ones destined to create happy endings to a great meal, to any meal.
Dream Bars have three layers of flavor: shortbread, chocolate and brown sugar meringue. The combination of these flavors in a single bite create a dream-like confection unlike any you may have had before. Seriously.
The shortbread layer is made with unsalted butter, granulated sugar, extra-large egg yolks, vanilla, a little water, all purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder and kosher salt. Once assembled the shortbread is pressed into a 9"x13" parchment paper lined pan and refrigerated until set (at least 30 minutes). Note: Before chilling, a a sheet of or shards of chocolate are pressed into it.
After melting and spreading five ounces (instead of the four listed in her recipe) of semi-sweet (at least 62% cocoa) on the bottom of a 9"x13" baking pan lined with parchment paper, it is placed in the freezer for approximately 30 minutes or until hardened. The recipe calls for breaking the chocolate into shards and pressing into the shortbread layer. Being someone who generally follows recipe directions the first time I make something, I did just that. However, the next time I will simply lift the 'frozen' chocolate off of the parchment paper and lay on top of the shortbread layer.
Adding dark brown sugar to extra-large egg whites creates a meringue I can only describe as sinful. And not since Ina Garten has there been anyone out there advocating for the use of extra-large egg whites in pastry recipes.
In a 350 degree (F) preheated oven, the Dream Bars are baked for 23-25 minutes (my baking time was 25 minutes). The most difficult part of this recipe was waiting for the bars to cool to room temperature and chilling in the refrigerator before cutting into bars and eating.
After removing the chilled bars from the refrigerator, cut into 3 inch by 1 inch bars. The Dream Bars should be served at room temperature, however, I also liked how they tasted slightly chilled. The one warning I have about them is that they are, as Mindy Segal shares, addictive. Maybe it's because of their sweet-salty taste or maybe it's because of their varying crunchy textures. Regardless of the reasons, these Dream Bars are pastry perfection. One of the many reasons why I need to keep running. Maybe someday I will be able reconcile that conflict between my spirit and my body. Or maybe I should worry less about my pace and be happy I rediscovered something else keeping my spirit young. And in the words of Aldous Huxley "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm."
Dream Bars (an ever so slight adaptation of Mindy Segal's Dream Bars recipe as shared in her first cookbook Cookie Love)
5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (62% to 66% cocoa), melted
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 extra-large eggs, room temperature and separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1. Invert a 9"x13" baking sheet, spray with cooking spray, and place a piece of parchment paper on top.
2. Melt 5 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate in the microwave or over simmering water. Using an offset spatula, spread melted chocolate evenly on parchment paper. Place pan in the freezer until chocolate is firm, approximately 30 minutes.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and kosher salt. Set aside.
4. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix butter for 5-10 seconds. Add granulated sugar and beat until the mixture is fluffy, approximately 3-4 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of bowl to bring batter together before continuing.
5. Add water and vanilla to the egg yolks. On medium speed add the yolks, one at a time, mixing briefly until batter resembles cottage cheese (approximately 5 seconds per yolk). Scrape the sides and bottom of bowl to bring batter together and mix on medium speed for 20-30 seconds until mixture is nearly homogeneous.
6. Add flour mixture all at once and mix on low speed until dough just comes together but still looks a little shaggy (approximately 30 seconds). Do not over mix.
7. Remove from bowl and bring the dough together by hand.
8. In another 9"x13" parchment paper lined baking pan, transfer the dough, pressing down with a rubber spatula, then with your fingertips. Press dough into the corners of the pan and smooth the surface.
9. Remove chocolate from the freezer. Place on top of dough, pressing down lightly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is set (approximately 20 minutes). Note: Can break chocolate into shards and scatter evenly over the dough.
10. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
11. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip egg whites and pinch of kosher salt on medium speed until frothy, approximately 45 seconds. Add dark brown sugar and whip on medium-high speed until shiny peaks form and the meringue holds its shape, approximately 2-3 minutes. Spread meringue over chilled dough.
12. Bake for 23-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking process. The bars are done when the meringue resembles a lightly toasted marshmallow. Sides will begin to crack, but will still be slightly soft in the center. Do not overbake or shortbread crust will be too crumbly to cut>
13. Allow the bars to cool completely in pan. Once cool, refrigerate until chilled.
14. Lifting bars out of the pan, transfer to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut bars lengthwise into 3 or 4 strips. Cut the bars crosswise into 9 or 10 strips.
15. Serve bars at room temperature or slightly chilled.
Note: The bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.