Here are two words about what dessert to bring to a picnic, cookout or any summertime gathering: bar cookies.
Bar cookies are easy to make. Who has time to bake tray upon tray of individual cookies?
Bar cookies are served in the same pan in which they are baked. Who has time to clean all those cookie sheets?
Bar cookies travel well. Snap on a plastic lid or cover with plastic wrap, and they are ready to go.
And as Charlotte, N.C., cookbook author Taylor Mathis notes, you don't even have to cut them ahead of time. "People can decide how big or small a serving they want," said Mathis, whose first cookbook, "The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football and the South," comes out next month from UNC Press.
Mathis spent three years photographing and tasting tailgating spreads at 35 college football games across the South and beyond.
Mathis' cookbook contains a recipe for "Training Table Brownies," based on the brownies his grandfather, a former athletic director at Duke University, used to sneak home from home football games.
Mathis comes by his love of bar cookies honestly: "I'll eat any bar cookie that you put in front of me."
Chocolate Chunk Blondies
Makes: 12 large bars
• 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
• 1 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate chunks
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8 1/2-by-12-by-2-inch baking pan.
Cream butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, add vanilla. Add eggs one at a time and mix well, scraping down the bowl after each addition. In small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. With mixer still on low, slowly add flour mixture to butter mixture. Fold in walnuts and chocolate chunks with a rubber spatula.
Spread batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Don't overbake. The toothpick may have melted chocolate on it but it shouldn't have wet batter. Cool completely in the pan and cut into 12 bars.
Blondies have a tendency to be dry, but there are two solutions: Under-bake them a little, and store them in the refrigerator wrapped tightly with plastic wrap.
From "Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust," by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 2012).
Donna's Cherry Bars
Makes: 18-24 bars
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup butter, at room temperature
• 1 3/4 cups sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract, divided
• 4 eggs
• 2 21-ounce cans cherry pie filling
• 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
• 2 tablespoons milk
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 15-by-10-by-1-inch jelly-roll pan; set aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Cream together butter, sugar and 1 teaspoon almond extract in another large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Slowly add flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until just combined.
Reserve 1 1/2 cups batter and set aside. Spread remaining batter in the prepared pan.
Spread cherry filling evenly over the batter. Finish by gently spreading the remaining batter over the cherry filling. (There will be gaps where the cherry filling shows through.)
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Prepare glaze: Combine powdered sugar, milk and remaining 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in a medium bowl. Mix until smooth. Allow bars to cool for 3 to 4 minutes, then pour glaze over them. Allow bars to cool before cutting.
Note: You can make these in a 9-by-13-inch pan, but use only one can of cherry pie filling; it will take 50 to 60 minutes to bake.
From "Two Chicks From the Sticks: Back Home Baking," by Jill Schwalbe Means and Jamie Greenland Gorey (Meredith, 2011)
Training Table Brownies
Makes: 16-20 bars
• 2 sticks plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened baking chocolate
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 1 cup light brown sugar
• 7 large eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 3/4 cup cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
• 3 cups confectioners' sugar
• 4-6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• Pinch of salt
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Make brownies: melt butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and add baking chocolate. Stir until chocolate has melted. Remove pot from heat. Add sugars and stir until incorporated into butter and chocolate. Let mixture cool for 10 minutes.
Crack eggs into a medium-sized bowl. Beat with a fork. Add salt and vanilla extract to the eggs and stir to combine. Pour beaten eggs into cooled chocolate mixture and stir together.
Mix flour, cocoa powder and baking powder in a large bowl. Add flour mixture to chocolate mixture and stir until a thick batter forms.
Grease a 18-by-13-inch sheet pan with butter. Line bottom of sheet pan with parchment paper and grease top of parchment paper. Lightly flour. Pour batter onto the sheet pan and spread in an even layer. Bake for 25 minutes.
Make frosting: place butter in a stand mixer. Add confectioners' sugar, 4 tablespoons of whipping cream, vanilla and salt. Turn mixer on low until the sugar is incorporated, then increase speed to medium and mix until a thick frosting forms.
Melt chocolate chips over a double boiler. With mixer running on low, pour warm melted chocolate into the frosting. Mix until chocolate is incorporated into the frosting. Increase speed to medium. Beat until frosting is fluffy, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of whipping cream, if needed. Immediately frost cooled brownies. Let frosting set for an hour before wrapping in plastic wrap. Cut into squares before serving.
From "The Southern Tailgating Cookbook: A Game-Day Guide for Lovers of Food, Football, & the South," by Taylor Mathis (UNC Press, 2013).