The Crust Pales in Comparison: Golden Almond Bars

Nick Malgieri's "Golden Almond Bars" have been on my to-bake list for a long time. There is a large, beautiful photo of the bars in his cookbook Bake!, and I love almonds -- so I was pretty sure I would love bars that have almonds in caramel on a sweet pastry crust.

Malgieri boasts that his recipe for sweet pastry dough is easy both to make and use, and that "it always bakes through dry and golden on the bottom." You can mix the dough by hand or in the food processor, and whenever I'm faced with a choice like this, I always go for the food processor. It only took a few seconds to blitz together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cold butter, and eggs to form the dough.

The recipe says you are supposed to roll the chilled dough into 12-inch by 16-inch rectangle, which you then transfer into a parchment-lined 9-inch by 13-inch pan, such that the dough comes an inch and a half up the sides. Even though my dough was very well chilled, it was soft and difficult to handle. I rolled it out directly on a sheet of parchment that I had cut and folded to fit into the pan, so that I could drop the rolled dough attached to the parchment right into the pan, without having to pick up the dough by itself.
I chilled the dough while making the filling on the stove, by bringing butter, sugar, brown sugar, golden syrup, and salt to a boil, adding heavy cream, and then stirring in nuts.  The recipe in the cookbook specifies slivered almonds, but also suggests variations with other nuts, including pecans, hazelnuts, or honey-roasted peanuts. I made one batch with lightly toasted slivered almonds, and another with honey-roasted peanuts.

You spread the filling onto the chilled crust and bake the bars until the topping is gently bubbling. I could see only the bit of the crust exposed at the edges, but it was lightly browned and looked cooked through. I cut the bars after they were completely cool and I was dismayed to see that the bottom crust was not browned at all -- especially because the crust recipe was promised to always bake through dry and golden. The crust was cooked, but it was not crisp and it definitely could have used some more time in the oven (or perhaps, some parbaking before the topping was added). Also, the crust rose while it baked, and I wasn't happy with tall crust and the high ratio of crust to filling.

All that aside, I did really like these bars -- at least the almond version. The caramel holding the nuts together stayed soft and chewy, so there was no danger of breaking a tooth. And the size and shape of the slivered almonds created the perfect texture. While my husband Tom preferred the peanut version, I thought that the flavor combination of the honey-roasted peanut and the caramel was not quite as harmonious. I can only imagine how good these bars would be with a thin, crisp crust!

Recipe: "Golden Almond Bars" from Bake! by Nick Malgieri. You can find the recipe on Malgieri's website, here (it's the recipe for "Golden Pecan Bars" -- just substitute an equal volume of slivered almonds).


Louise said…
I hate when the crust thing happens, and it's happened way too often to me. The crust recipe doesn't get a second chance as I have a fall back recipe that I use for a lot of bar crusts.