Apricot Pistachio Squares

This failsafe traybake recipe for mouthwatering Apricot Pistachio Squares from Smitten Kitchen Everyday will easily please a crowd. A twist on classic frangipane, these flavourful bars make an irresistible afternoon treat.

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Introduction

When I was younger, I always thought that, as you got older, you had a choice as to whether you were going to act or dress or do things the way old people do. For example, you didn’t have to pick a year—we’ll say 8 years after you graduated from college—to stop listening to new music and start complaining that none of today’s music is good. It was a choice! I also thought you didn’t have to pick a year to stop buying new jeans and to start wearing mom/dad jeans instead.

Alas. You can listen to all the new music (and like it) and wear all the new jeans (and like them) and your jeans/jams are still ultimately going to be considered by your kids Mom Jeans/Old People Music. It was never about the jeans.

But sometimes getting older has its benefits, like ostensibly becoming wiser. For example, in another era of my life, this recipe would have been a tart. I would have made a tart shell and pressed it into a fluted, removable-bottom tart pan, trimmed the overhang, pricked it all over with a fork, filled it with pie weights, and parbaked it before filling it elegantly. This all felt way too fussy for my current lifestyle—and by “lifestyle” I mean “barely managed chaos”—and so I made bar cookies instead. Bar cookies are your friend. The crust can be whizzed up in a food processor and pressed into the bottom. You parbake it with no docking and no pie weights, and while it’s in the oven, you use the bowl of your food processor, which you didn’t even wash (because, la-di-da, it doesn’t matter), to grind the pistachio-frangipane filling.

And then you get these wonderful, buttery, rich but not-too-sweet squares. For bar cookies, they are downright elegant. And if either of my kids grows up to have an interest in baking, I can’t wait to see what he or she will do with these “mom-style bars” to make them fresh again. (A tart, right?)

Makes 16 to 25 bars

Ingredients

For the crust:
130g (1 cup) plain flour
¼ tsp table salt
50g (¼ cup) granulated sugar
115g (½ cup or 4oz) cold unsalted butter
For the filling:
110g (¾ cup or a scant 4 oz) shelled unsalted pistachios
75g (6 tbsp) granulated sugar
1 tbsp (10g) plain flour
A few pinches sea salt
70g (5 tbsp) unsalted butter (cold is fine)
1 large egg
¼ tsp almond extract
1 tsp (5 ml) brandy, or another flavoring of your choice (totally optional)
455g (1lb) firm-ripe apricots
To finish:
Icing sugar or 80g (¼ cup) apricot jam

Essential kit

You will need: an 8-by-8-inch square baking pan and a food processor.

Instructions

Heat the oven to 180°C/gas 4. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper, and trim them both to fit the 8-inch width of an 8-by-8-inch square baking pan. Press parchment paper into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. (If you have an 8-inch square springform, you can skip this step, and just butter it really well.)

Make the crust: Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into chunks, add it to the bowl, then run the machine until the mixture forms large clumps. That’s right, just keep running it; it might take 30 seconds to 1 minute for the dough to come together, but it will. Transfer the dough clumps to your prepared baking pan, and press them evenly across the bottom and 1/4 inch up the sides. Bake for 15 minutes, until very pale golden. For the sake of speed, transfer to a cooling rack in your freezer for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare the filling.

(Don’t have a food processor? You might have an easier time using softened butter and preparing this cookie-style: cream the butter with the sugar with a hand mixer, then spoon in the salt and flour, beating until just combined. It might help to chill this mixture a bit before pressing it into the pan, or else it might feel too greasy to spread easily.)

Make the filling: In your food-processor bowl (which I never bother cleaning between these steps), grind your pistachios, sugar, flour, and salt together until the nuts are powdery. Cut the butter into chunks, and add it to the machine. Run the machine until no buttery bits are visible. Add the egg and any flavorings, blending until just combined.

Spread the filling over the mostly cooled crust (warmth is okay, but we hope that the freezer will have firmed the base enough so you can spread something over it). Cut the apricots in half (or you might find that you can tear them open at the seams with your fingers) and remove the pits. From here, you have a few decoration options. You can place the apricot halves facedown or faceup, all over the pistachio base. You can do as I did, which is cut them into strips, then slide each cut half onto a butter knife or offset spatula, tilt it so that it fans a little, and slide it onto your pistachio filling decoratively. (With this method, I ended up not using all of my apricots.) You could also arrange the strips like flower petals around the pan, for maximum pretties.

Bake the bars: Bake for 60 minutes, or until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the pistachio portion comes out batter-free. This might take up to 10 minutes longer, depending on the juiciness of your apricots and the amount you were able to nestle in. Let cool completely in the pan; you can hasten this along in the fridge.

To finish: You can make a shiny glaze for your bars by warming the jam in a small saucepan until it thins and brushing this over the top of the cooled tart. Or you can keep it rustic with just a dusting of icing sugar, as I did.

Cut the bars into squares—chilled bars will give you the cleanest cuts. Keep leftover bars chilled.

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