Friday, March 11, 2011

If I add almond, he will come

Mr. C loves a lot things. . .popcorn, the Military channel, fried chicken, a good book, movies, and black licorice--to name just a few. Right up near the top of his list of favorite things is almond extract. He loves it. I mean LOVES it. (I swear I could boil a pot of water, drop in some almond extract, and he'd gobble it up.) So, when it came time to choose our Sunday evening dessert a couple months ago (from the giant bag of untried dessert recipes), you can imagine my lack of surprise when he chose "Almond Poppy Seed Bars" from a past issue of Paula Deen's magazine.

Sometimes I get a little burned out on poppy seed recipes since they became so trendy years ago with muffins, breads, and salad dressings. It's not that they don't taste good--don't get me wrong. It's just that I often find them unoriginal. Nevertheless, Mr. C saw the word almond in the title during his dessert search and that was all it took.

The recipe is very easy to follow and put together. Take a look at it and then I'll add a couple personal notes on the flip side.

Almond Poppy Seed Bars
2 1/4 c sugar
1 1/2 c milk
1 c oil
3 large eggs
1 T vanilla extract
1 1/2 t almond extract
3 c flour
4 1/2 t poppy seeds
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3 c powdered sugar
1/3 c butter, melted
3 T milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12 X 17 X 1 baking pan. In a large bowl, beat sugar, milk, oil, eggs, vanilla, and almond extract at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add to sugar mixture, beating until combined; spoon into prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool until slightly warm. For frosting, combine all ingredients and beat at low speed with an electric mixture until smooth. Spread frosting over warm cake. Cut in to squares and serve.

In making my bars, I changed two things from the original recipe. First, the original recipe says to use a 10 X 15 pan. I tried that, but it was way too small. The pan was not big enough to hold all the batter. I bumped up to a 12 X 17 (make sure your pan has an edge!) and that was large enough. The other change I had to make was the cooking time. The original recipe says 20-25 min. I had to go 28 minutes. My convection oven can sometimes have issues with cakes, so that's why I listed a bake time of 25 minutes above. You might be able to go as short as 20 minutes, but I'd guess you'll need at least 25.

Just a word about the frosting. There was PLENTY. In fact, there was almost too much for me because the bars are not very thick. But, I will be the first to admit that I am not a powdered sugar glaze/frosting girl. (I feel like no matter what you do, it always tastes like powdered sugar.) I did add a bit of almond extract to my frosting for both my and Mr. C's benefit. Had the cake been in the 10 X 15 pan, there would have been too much frosting for me for sure.

One side note about poppy seeds. I highly recommend that you do NOT buy a small bottle from the spice section of your grocery store. Poppy seeds are WAY WAY WAY too expensive when you buy them in that packaging. If you can buy them in bulk, it's the best way to go. My brother-in-law works for Honeyville Grain, so I buy mine there. Honeyville offers a great price for a good quantity of seeds. If you don't have access to a bulk buying option, swing by the bakery counter of your local grocery store. Bakeries will sell you items like seeds (poppy or sesame) or sprinkles (yes, they are cheaper than the bottles too!) used in making their own baked products. You'll save a lot by purchasing your seeds (and sprinkles) this way.

Overall, we really liked this recipe. (It's being given a permanent home in my recipe binder.) After baking up the bars are more like a cake, but they are flavorful and moist no matter how you classify them. If you need a quick and easy dessert, or want to try something new and different, you won't go wrong with this one!