Here are two words about what dessert to bring to a picnic, cookout or any summertime gathering: bar cookies.
Bar cookies are easy to make. Who has time to bake tray upon tray of individual cookies?
Bar cookies are served in the same pan in which they are baked. Who has time to clean all those cookie sheets?
Bar cookies travel well. Snap on a plastic lid or cover with plastic wrap and they are ready to go.
And as Charlotte, N.C., cookbook author Taylor Mathis noted, you don't even have to cut them ahead of time.
"People can decide how big or small a serving they want," said Mathis, whose first cookbook, "The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football, and the South," comes out in August from UNC Press. Mathis spent three years photographing and tasting the tailgating spreads at 35 college football games across the South and beyond.
Mathis' cookbook contains a recipe for "Training Table Brownies," based on the brownies his grandfather, a former athletic director at Duke University, used to sneak home from home football games. "My mom remembers the brownies as huge rectangles of chocolate covered in a rich, delicious chocolate -- the biggest dessert she'd ever eaten," Mathis wrote.
Mathis comes by his love of bar cookies honestly: "I'll eat any bar cookie that you put in front of me."
Check out these recipes for bar cookies. We'll bet your friends and family will agree.
Chocolate Chunk Blondies
Blondies have a tendency to be dry, but there are two solutions: Underbake them a little, and store them in the refrigerator wrapped tightly with plastic wrap. From "Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust," by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 2012). Makes 12 large bars.
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate chunks
HEAT oven to 350°. Grease and flour an 8 1/2- by 12- by 2-inch baking pan.
CREAM butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, add vanilla.
ADD eggs one at a time, and mix well, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
SIFT together in small bowl the flour, baking soda and salt. With mixer still on low, slowly add flour mixture to butter mixture. Fold in walnuts and chocolate chunks with a rubber spatula.
SPREAD batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Don't overbake. The toothpick may have melted chocolate on it but it shouldn't have wet batter. Cool completely in the pan and cut into 12 bars.
Donna's Cherry Bars
You can make these in a 9- by 13-inch pan, but use only one can of cherry pie filling; it will take 50 to 60 minutes to bake. From "Two Chicks From the Sticks: Back Home Baking," by Jill Schwalbe Means and Jamie Greenland Gorey (Meredith, 2011). Makes 18-24 bars.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract, divided
2 21-ounce cans cherry pie filling
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons milk
HEAT oven to 350°. Grease a 15- by 10- by 1-inch jellyroll pan; set aside.
SIFT together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Cream together butter, sugar and 1 teaspoon almond extract in another large bowl until light and fluffy.
ADD eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Slowly add flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until just combined.
RESERVE 1 1/2 cups batter and set aside. Spread remaining batter in the prepared pan.
SPREAD cherry filling evenly over the batter. Finish by gently spreading the remaining batter over the cherry filling. (There will be gaps where the cherry filling shows through.)
BAKE for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
PREPARE glaze: Combine powdered sugar, milk and remaining 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in a medium bowl. Mix until smooth. Allow bars to cool for 3 to 4 minutes, then pour glaze over them. Allow bars to cool before cutting.