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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Betsy and Tacy and Marilla: more cookies with comfy, classic flavors

Or, the Pittsburgh Cookie Table--Christmas Style, part 2
Anne Shirley wasn't my BFF (Best Fictional Friend). I preferred Betsy and Tacy (and Tib). For one thing, they knew how to make fudge. (And it seems like they make some in every other chapter.)
As for me, I never did figure out what the soft-ball stage was supposed to look like, so I've never successfully made fudge. These Butter Fudge Fingers are a good substitute.
They're a bit fussy (which always appeals to me), and an all-day project, because you have to chill twice. But they freeze happily. And people gobble them up even more happily.

I got this recipe years ago from a sister who got it from a friend who got it from another friend and so on, back to Eve. (Or at least back to 1879, when Mr. Lindt invented bar chocolate.) There are many similar recipes on the web, the chief difference being that most of them use heavy cream instead of milk in the glaze. My sister and I think the glaze in our version has a nicer mouth feel.

MELT 4 squares unsweetened baker's chocolate
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
BAKE at 350 in greased and parchment-lined 10 ½ x 15 ½ " cake pan for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven when set. Cool for 10-15 minutes.
While cake bakes and cools, make this glaze:
MELT 1 cup unsalted butter on stove over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes. Foam will thin somewhat, and liquid will turn beige. Remove promptly from heat at this point.
  • 4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
SPREAD glaze evenly atop partly cooled cake.
CHILL in refrigerator for 2-3 hours.
  • 1 square unsweetened baker's chocolate
  • 1 ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
Cool this mixture slightly, and decorate the glazed cake. (I use a whisk to sprinkle drops and blobs.)
CHILL for another 1-2 hours. Trim 1/4" from each edge, and cut with a sharp knife to make fingers 1" x 1 ½". (Clean knife with a damp cloth between every cut.)

LIFE'S LESSONS LEARNED: Pan-liners (parchment or foil) make cutting all bar cookies much easier. To line a pan with parchment: use shortening or spray in the bottom of pan to anchor the parchment (which is cut to fit the pan bottom exactly). Then use more shortening or spray on the parchment. Dust with flour at that point, too, if the recipe calls for it.

Next comes the recipe for the promised fruit-cake bars.
In the old days, fruitcakes were soaked with brandy after baking. This kept the cake from spoiling—enabling Marilla to keep her Green Gables larder stocked. Here, only the fruit is brandy-soaked, and the alcohol bakes away. (Anne Shirley's friend Diana would never grow tipsy on these rich bites.)
I adapted several recipes, but my cake component comes from "Much Better Than Fruitcake Bars" in Bev Shaffer's Cookies to Die For!

Toast 1 cup of macadamia nuts at 350 for five minutes. Cool. Roughly chop.
In a medium-sized glass or crockery bowl, place
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup dried apricots, snipped into raisin-sized bits
  • 1 cup candied pineapple chunks, chopped into raisin-sized bits
(Or use 3 cups of your favorite combination of dried fruit.)
Pour 3 shots of brandy over the fruit. Stir, cover, and let stand at room temperature overnight. Stir now and then.

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus additional, melted, for brushing foil
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13x9" baking pan with foil; gently brush foil with melted butter; set aside.
Using an electric mixer, in a large bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl.
Add eggs and vanilla, beating until well blended. Mix in 1 cup of the flour and the salt, stirring just until blended.

Toss the second cup of flour with the fruit/brandy mixture, until all the fruit is coated. Stir in the macadamia nuts. Stir all into the cake batter.
Spoon batter into pan. Bake for 30 minutes or longer (until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean).
Set pan on wire rack and immediately sift confectioner's sugar thickly over top. Let cool for 1 hour, then use the foil to lift the whole cake out of the pan and onto the wire rack to finish cooling. Cut when completely cool. (I like 1 ¼" squares.)

*One difference between my recipe and Bev Shaffer's is my choice of add-ins. She uses dark fruits and leaves out the nuts. Also, I prefer an overnight brandy soak (probably because I enjoy fussing), while Bev Shaffer uses a shorter fruit/brandy steep that involves some stovetop cooking. Check out her book. It's in print, and delicious.

LIFE'S LESSONS LEARNED: When freezing cookies, line the container with waxed paper, and use more waxed paper between layers. Waxed paper makes the cookies easier to unpack. Some say it also helps prevent freezer burn—but do Christmas Cookies stick around long enough to develop freezer burn?


  1. Susan, these sound wonderful. Thanks for giving us the recipes that freeze well at the beginning of the month. Isn't everything better with butter?

  2. Hmm, Susan, I'm not sure even your undoubtedly wonderful recipe will tempt me to shed my prejudice toward anything fruitcake-like. But the butter-fudge fingers! Now those are up my alley and sound incredible.
    Thanks for all these great recipes. I always say there's no better way to spend a cold winter's evening than reading (or writing) and eating!

  3. Wow! Another great sounding recipe. If I try them all I just might need to order a larger wheelchair for myself.

  4. Susan, I commend you and all the others out there who bake cookies. I love to cook, and can bake a decent cake or pie, but cookies have me baffled. Maybe this yummy sounding fruity cookie would be the one to try. Thanks!