Friday, 16 September 2011

Hermit Bars

It seems this is an Early American classic of which every nineteenth-century Cape Cod woman had her own version to send with her sailor-man to sea, so well did it keep. 

I made this recipe because the heroic blogger who baked every single one of Maida’s Book of Great Cookies recipes really liked these, and even sent them on the two-week trip through the post to test their keeping and transport capabilities.

These remind me of Xmas, somehow – maybe reminiscent of the panforte I’ve made for Xmases past. At work, they reminded Our Fearless Leader of her mother’s Lebkuchen.

Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, pp 99–100

320g plain flour
¾ teaspoon bicarb soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon mace
1/8 teaspoon allspice
120g unsalted butter
100g raw sugar
2 eggs
½ cup molasses (I used blackstrap, which was all I had – tasted like metallic liquorice, so I cut in a third of malt syrup)
140g raisins, soaked for a few minutes in boiling water and drained
115g roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a 13x9 inch slice pan – no, really, butter it, as Maida says. Don’t just ignore that instruction, like I did, and line with baking paper instead, as I always do; no, not for this one.

Sift together all the dry ingredients. Cream the butter, add the sugar and eggs one at a time; beat until smooth. Beat in the molasses, stopping the mixer unless you want black strands of molasses whipped around the bowl and up the mixing shank to be found in all sorts of places afterwards. Add dry ingredients on low speed just until it comes together, and mix in the raisins and walnuts. This is a very thick, heavy dough by now, and Maida’s instruction to spread it smoothly in the pan is easier said than done, especially when you’ve gone ahead and lined the pan with baking paper that slips around everywhere.

Bake for 30 minutes until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed with a fingertip. Mine looked like the surface of the moon, and no springing was going on, but I took it out after 40 minutes regardless – I think it was a tad overcooked and dry.

Get going on the glaze, or have it done before the cake comes out – it needs to be applied while the cake’s still very hot.

150g icing sugar
30g butter, melted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3–4 tablespoons boiling water

Place the sugar, butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer, or prepare to stir it by hand – in which case, sift the sugar first against lumps. Beat on a low speed while gradually adding just enough of the water to form a medium-thick but pourable consistency.

Pour it over the hot base and brush to cover. It’ll melt into the nooks and crannies and become clearish in parts. Leave it to cool and dry before slicing into squares.

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