The Best Bars in Salt Lake City

That title is a bit misleading. Only a few of these are bars. The rest are cookies. Randi at i have to say is holding her monthly Recipe Box Swap, on bars and cookies. I recently posted my favorite-of-all-time cookies, so I thought I’d do a recap of my favorite bars and cookies and some general tips that work for me. (Speaking of recaps, please just promise me that Jason Castro is going home next week. Please?).

If you have a favorite bar or cookie that I haven’t covered, please tell me about it. I’d hate to think I’m missing out on anything that has fat and sugar as main ingredients.

General Baking Tips

Butter: I’m for it. You might, occasionally, sacrifice a bit of texture or height, but the taste is worth it. My mother-in-law says you should omit the salt if you’re using salted butter, but I say I have really low blood pressure. I always use salted butter and usually at least half (if not all) the salt called for.

Cookie Sheets: Don’t grease ’em. Cookies will spread out less, so if you like them flat and thin (which can be nice for a change), grease away.

Gloopy batter: If your cookie dough is quite soup-like, refrigerate for a few hours. I think this happens because I nuke the heck out of my salted butter for easier mixing. Cookies turn out thicker and higher if the dough is quite stiff.

At the store: It’s kind of crazy that you can buy 1) actual ingredients or 2) a box mix or 3) refrigerated/frozen dough or 4) boxed cookies. That’s democracy in action, folks. There’s even those crazy microwaveable brownies-in-a-bowl. Because getting out your own bowl would just be too much work. I like a good mix, myself, just check out the variations listed on the back or side, and pick up the couple extra things needed to dress it up a bit.

Fresh out of the oven: When I make cookies at home, I bake one cookie sheet and then refrigerate (up to a week) or freeze (1 month) the rest of the dough so I can make another fresh batch the next day. Because there is nothing better than a cookie straight out of the oven. Plus, this way, I only eat one (sheet) a day. My sister bakes all of hers up and then freezes them on paper plates in gallon ziplocs. Which is nice if you ever have (unexpected) guests (or piggy sisters).

Golden Brown: Take cookies out of the oven just before you think they’re done. They’ll cook longer on the sheet, and “better-under-than-over-done” applies to more than makeup, sister.

My Favorite Bars

Lemon Bars

Dick went through a lemon bar phase when he was at Columbia. He made and took lemon bars to his class end-of-semester parties. But Dick likes them SOUR. Each batch he made, he put in a little more lemon juice. They were good, until the very last batch, which were like sucking on a raw lemon. Very Refreshing. I usually use this Bake Sale Lemon Bar recipe from Allrecipes (you had me at “bake sale”). I think I’ll try Randi’s recipe next time.

Brownies

I haven’t found a from-scratch recipe to match Duncan Hines Brownie Mix (in bulk at Walmart). Adding semi-sweet chips and walnuts or pecans is good. They also have a cream cheese variation that’s yummy, and fancy-looking, what with the marbling, swirly effect. If you want to make a brownie sundae, here’s an awesome hot fudge sauce.

My Favorite Cookies

Homemade Oreos

Apparently I have plagiarized from the Amish, who call these Whoppee Pies. But the only recipes I could find involved cake mix, which I just can’t see the Amish using, so here is my version of chocolate cookies with a whipped cream cream cheese frosting filling.

Peppernuts

I don’t really like peppernuts that much. I mean, I’m not going to make them on a random Thursday night after dinner. But if I’m wanting to feel in touch with my ethnic (German?) roots, it’s time to pull out the distintive peppernut. I remember going to Grandma Ora Mae’s house as a child and finding them in the cookie jar. Being not so tasty probably contributes to the long shelf life. I have to confess, though, that I don’t have the recipe (Aunt Nancy? (or Carla or Bev — anyone else read this? Dad?).

Oatmeal Cookies

My mother-in-law (she of the sage salt advice) clipped this recipe for oatmeal cookies for me. It’s almost too bad having such nice in-laws; makes it hard to find something else to complain about. Oatmeal cookies are great the regular way (with raisins and walnuts), but they’re fantastic with dried cherries, semisweet chocolate chips, and pecans, or with coconut and white chocolate chips. They also take whole wheat flour well too, something about the chewy oats. I was going to post Nana’s recipe, but I made these cookies last night, and if you could see my kitchen, you’d understand why I don’t want to spend the next month looking for the recipe. Try these instead, keeping in mind what I said about butter and possible variations.

Cream Puffs

Not technically bars or cookies, but certainly “bite-size” and “finger-food” and “good.” Marie posted a recipe I’d like to try, though I’d use a filling recipe that doesn’t involve pudding mix. I once made cream puffs for Josh and Suzy in Cairo (don’t know if Suzy’s still reading since I had those couple posts about sex), and I put blue food coloring in the filling since they’d just had their second boy. Of course, you can also go to Costco or Sam’s and get the huge tub of frozen cream puffs, which aren’t too bad. Only you have to let them defrost FOREVER.

And last, but not least, have you tried the making your own Fortune Cookies yet? Me neither. But Shalece is going to be on Good Things Utah next month, and the next time she does a cooking demonstration at the Gygi Institute, I’m going to be front-and-center. I just hope my fortune says “Will move to beautiful dream home/cardboard box in the near future.”

Even better than brownies

I know, I know, I’m afraid for my eternal salvation too. You just shouldn’t go around saying blasphemous things, however cool you think you want to be.

But, it’s true. I cannot deny that I have found something even better than Duncan Hines bulk brownie mix: Homemade Oreos. Not those nasty “homemade” things that involve cake mix. No. Homemade Oreos made from chocolate cookies and whipped cream cream cheese frosting. Two recipes I found on Allrecipes, modified just a bit, and introduced to each other.

And, voila! Heaven isn’t too far away. I’m closer to it everyday. No matter what your friends . . . Well. Give them a try, and you will be a true convert too.

I made these to eat while doing my taxes, and now I have a scientific explanation for why I always feel entitled to some serious snacks or and a caffeinated fountain drink when I have to do something taxing (haha).

The New York Times reports that “The brain has a limited capacity for self-regulation, so exerting willpower in one area often leads to backsliding in others.” So it can be smart, in the short-term, to focus one’s willpower on the most important task.

But willpower, like a muscle, can grow when used consistently. “People who stick to an exercise program for two months report reducing their impulsive spending, junk food intake . . . They also study more, watch less television and do more housework.”

More reasons to exercise regularly. Sigh. In the meantime, pass me some more cookies: I’m focusing all my willpower on this one thing until my refund comes through.

Homemade Oreos

Chocolate Cookies

1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda

Whisk together. In separate bowl, whisk together:

1 cup butter (If you use unsalted (why?) add 1/8 tsp salt)
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs

Combine. Drop small cookies onto greased cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes at 350. Move to wire rack after they’ve cooled.

Whipped Cream Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

Whip until quite stiff (but not quite butter-like). In separate bowl, beat:

1 (8 ounce) pkg cream cheese (I use Neufchatel, because I am extremely calorie-conscious)
1 cup white sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture. If too soft, refrigerate for a bit (and next time whip the cream more before folding, and don’t over-fold). Assemble cookies, or just scoop a large dollop of frosting onto a cookie en route to your mouth.

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For more recipes, visit the Recipe Box Swap and The Natural Mommy’s Recipe Swap ’08.