Bing cherries are rarely on sale, so when they clock in at $1.99 per pound, it's difficult not to stock up. With the addition of the cherry pitter to the kitchen drawer, I found it more and more difficult to dig up a reason not to bake again, but my willpower is weak. No matter how much I try to resist, the recipes keep floating to the top of my head and I'll lose sleep over it until I finally succumb and bake it. Resistance is futile, especially when it comes in the form of Cherry Brown Butter Bars.
Browning butter is on my list of baking fears, right up there with carmelizing sugar and marshmallow making. It's the sort of thing where a few degrees, half a second, one step away from the stovetop and it's completely ruined. I don't like the idea of not being able to salvage something, and I dislike even more the idea of not getting it right on the first try. This sort of perfection is not a good habit to get into; I've found myself on the verge of tears in the kitchen on more than one occasion over a carrot cake with a Grand Canyon split down the center or a pot of boiling lemon syrup that went from crystal clear to black as night in the 13 seconds I stepped away from the burner. Now then, we can't live in a constant state of fear, can we? Let the conquering begin.
I made a few tweaks to the recipe to make it even better, like replacing the vanilla extract for almond in the crust. I loved the hint of almond in last week's cherry pie and wanted to duplicate it again in bar form. Mission: Accomplished. These bars are quite sticky, but they're buttery rich and savory with dark red cherries. The filling bakes up to a soft-set, dense custardy sort of thing that gives under your teeth to a crispy almond-scented crust underneath.
Cherry Brown Butter Bars
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1 pound sweet cherries
To make the crust: Melt the butter in a small saucepan then mix it with the sugar and salt. Stir in the flour and almond extract with a fork or rubber spatula, then spread into an 8x8 in pan, lined with parchment paper. (It's a bit fussy to get the paper down in there, but it will be worth it. The bars will cling to the pan for dear life when they're baked, and you'll be grateful you took the time to do it.) Bake at 375 degrees for 18 minutes or until light golden brown. Set aside to cool but keep the oven set at 375 degrees.
To make the filling: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it begins to brown, it will take 5-6 minutes depending how much hot "medium" actually is for you stove. Keep an eye on it, it will burn in a hot flash and then you'll be stuck with blackened bits of milk solids glued to the bottom of the pan. Not that I would know, because I always get it right on the first try, but I've heard this can happen. Let the butter cool in a glass dish of some sort and get on with making the filling.
Whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt and flour together and then, whisking at medium speed, drizzle in the cooled brown butter.
Arrange the cherries over the semi-cooled crust and then top with the batter. Bake for about 35 minutes or so, but keep an eye on it, different ovens may vary. Let cool in pan to room temperature before slicing into bars.