It’s time for a little somethin’ somethin’ from the good ol’ days. Three weeks ago, I wore a very warm and very black with very purple velvet graduation gown that looked much more Harry Potteresque than esquire. Then, I pranced across a stage, shook the hand of our interim dean (the contracts professor with whom I had very little “one-ness” of understanding first year of law school), and proceeded outside to take a very large number of pictures with family and friends.
Post-ceremony and post-photo-taking, my mom treated family guests and myself to a very delicious dinner at Waterbar, where we enjoyed a very beautiful view of the bay at sunset. And then, I did something very dumb: I invited everyone over to our teeny-tiny apartment for homemade brown buttery, cherry and chocolate heaven. And they ate it. All.
Anyway, as it turned out, this invitation impliedly (eek! lawyer talk! down, boy! heel!) extended not just to dessert, but also drinks. I had temporarily forgotten: when it comes to celebrating anything, my family is full of lushes. (Isn’t yours?) But Jay and I had plenty of wine, liquor and coffee on hand, so that wasn’t a problem. And I had put out a pound of my now-famous (at least in these small circles) fleur de sel caramels – individually wrapped, so no need to serve or wait to be served, and (best of all) no mess. But I couldn’t stop there.
I had to go for dessert overkill, per usual. What can I say? You already know that I’m constantly afraid of not having enough food to keep my guests happy and satisfied, and that anxiety goes double for dessert-only affairs. Or maybe I’m just always looking for an excuse to make more dessert. (And why wouldn’t I … and why wouldn’t everyone, for that matter?) And there were oodles of sweet, ripe, red cherries just begging me to bake them into something irresistible. So I did.
Per Deb‘s instructions, I began by making a buttery, flaky crust, layered it with juicy halved-and-pitted cherries, topped it with the nutty and sweet brown butter batter, and baked it until my apartment filled with the aroma of toffee.
After leading guests to my apartment from the fabulous post-graduation dinner down the street (thanks again, Mom!), I cut the baked result into little bars, and then, realizing I had two clean plates and twelve guests, I cut little paper towel “plates” for everyone to use. It wasn’t until I had finished cutting up at least twice as many paper towel plates as I needed that I realized three-quarters of the dessert was already gone. So I snagged a little bar of my own, and instantly began wondering why on earth I had never used brown butter in dessert before.
If you haven’t tried brown butter desserts yet, you’ve been seriously missing out. But the good news is that you’re in for a real treat.
And thank my guests for eating all of the first batch because it prompted me to try a second batch – this time with brown sugar. Brown sugar does an even better job of bringing out the nutty, toffee-like flavor of the brown butter batter.
Cherries dot the top of the bars, giving this dessert a naturally pretty and summery appearance that needs no accouterments before serving to guests. The little red bulbs add a fresh, juicy, fruity flavor that lightens up the buttery bars, making for a delightful early summer dessert.
I stalled on making this recipe because, quite frankly, I tend to have a phobia where crusts are involved. However, the crust here comes together in mere minutes, as does the filling, which you can make during the 15 minutes that the crust is baking, using the few remaining minutes to pit your cherries.
Cherry and Chocolate Chip Brown Butter Bars (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 32 2×1-inch bars
Deb’s original recipe used granulated white sugar in both the crust and the filling. I made one batch with white sugar and one with dark brown sugar, and found the brown sugar bars more flavorful. However, if you only have white sugar on hand, by all means use that rather than miss out on this delectable finger food of a dessert. Also, you can substitute other fruit for cherries – apricots, blueberries, raspberries would be wonderful, but stay away from strawberries because the extra moisture in them will likely create a ruckus with the texture of the bars. Finally, I added chocolate chips because, well, why not? Dark chocolate goes incredibly well with cherries (even MORE so than with raspberries; betcha didn’t know that!), and the nutty, toffee flavor of the bar pairs well with the chocolate too.
7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (you could technically use brown butter here too if you want to go all the way)
1/3 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. all purpose flour
pinch of salt
Preheat over to 375°F. Cut two pieces of parchment paper such that their width fits across the bottom of the pan, but the lengths are long enough to drape up the sides of the pan (after baking, you’ll want to be able to grab the ends that are sticking up to neatly remove the bars from the pan without any breaking or risk of the bars sticking to the pan’s bottom). Arrange the parchment sheets in a T-shape; then press the sheets of parchment into the bottom of the pan, making sure the long ends of each sheet poke up the side of the pan.
In a medium bowl, mix melted butter, sugar, and vanilla just until combined, and stir in the flour and salt. Transfer dough to your parchment-lined pan, and press the dough across the bottom of the pan with your fingers until it’s evenly distributed. Bake until golden, about 15 to 18 minutes (it will puff slightly while baking). Meanwhile, make your filling and pit your cherries, per the instructions below. Once the crust is a light golden color, cool in pan on a rack. Keep the oven roaring.
1/2 c. unsalted butter, diced
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. sweet cherries, halved and pitted (you will have a few left over for munching on)
handful of bittersweet chocolate chips (about 3/4 c. – optional)
In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook butter until it turns a deep nutty brown. Make sure to stir often so that it does not burn. After approximately six minutes (but go by the color more so than the time), pour the browned butter into a small glass bowl, measuring cup, or (in my case) a coffee mug, and allow it to cool just a bit.
In a medium bowl, whisk sugar, eggs, and salt until just blended. Whisk in the flour and vanilla until batter becomes smooth. Gradually (so as to not cook the eggs because the browned butter is still quite warm), whisk in the browned until well blended.
In the bottom of the cooled crust, arrange the pitted cherries (I’d recommend trying to do this relatively evenly and neatly, skin side up, so that you have a pretty dessert when it comes out of the oven; the batter will NOT completely cover the cherries, so if you just toss them casually onto the crust, that’s how they’ll look come serving time). Sprinkle chocolate chips around the cherries (chips WILL be covered by the batter, so no need to be as neat). Pour the browned butter batter over the fruit as evenly as you can. Bake until the top appears golden and toothpick emerges clean when poked into the middle, approximately 32-35 minutes (watch baking time carefully so you don’t end up with overcooked, super dry bars!). Cool completely in pan.
Remove cooled bars from pan by carefully lifting the ends of the parchment paper. Cut into little rectangles with a sharp knife, passing slowly and carefully through the cherries to make sure they give way to the knife before you drag their carcasses through the rest of the bars.
Bars can be made a day or two in advance and stored in an air-tight container in the fridge (unless you’re using them in the same day, in which case you should leave them out at room temperature). While I noticed that the crust lost its slightly crumbly, flakey texture after the first day, the second batch still disappeared within 25 minutes of being placed on the kitchen counter at Jay’s workplace sans complaints.