Heather's Florida Kitchen

Seasonally inspired easy recipes for the home cook.
Apricot Walnut Bars

Apricot Walnut Bars

Apricot Walnut Bars

Apricot Walnut Bars

Apricot Walnut Bars have a wonderful, light crackle on the top and the insides are soft and sweet. These are my favorite non-chocolate dessert ever and a must for the holidays. I think I have saved the best for last in this holiday series of 12 great bars that go great with tall glass of cold milk. I first made these in Mrs. Pert’s Home Economics class in grade school in Indianapolis.  You can dust them with powdered sugar if desired, but it’s really not needed.

Apricot Walnut Bars
Yield: About 48 servings

1 1/3 cups (6-ounce package) dried apricots
1/2 cup salted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cup baking mix, such a Bisquick or Jiffy
2 cups packed brown sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup baking mix, such a Bisquick or Jiffy
1 teaspoon spiced rum
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
Powdered sugar (optional)

1. Place the apricots in a 2-quart saucepan. Add enough water to cover. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer 10 minutes, uncovered. Drain. Cool completely. Chop and reserve. (Using kitchen shears makes this step a breeze.)
2. Heat oven to 350F.  Line a 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-by 1-inch baking pan lengthwise with nonstick aluminum foil, letting just a bit hang over the edges.
3. Mix the butter and granulated sugar and 2 1/2 cups of the baking mix until crumbly. A pastry blender or two knives are tried and true tools for this, but I have found careful pulses in the work bowl of a food processor work just as well. Pour into the foil-lined baking pan, patting down evenly over the bottom. Bake 10 minutes.
4. Beat brown sugar and eggs. Stir in apricots, 2/3 cup baking mix, rum, and nuts. Spread over the baked layer. Bake 30 minutes. Remove pan to a wire rack and cool completely.
5. Using the foil “handles,” lift the bars from the baking pan and place on a cutting board. Remove foil and cut into bars.

Cocoa Wheat Germ and Walnut Bars

Cocoa Wheat Germ and Walnut Bars

Cocoa Wheat Germ and Walnut Bars

Cocoa Wheat Germ and Walnut Bars

Cocoa Wheat Germ and Walnut Bars are thin treats bursting with flavor. You can substitute pecans for walnuts if desired. Be sure to use a good-quality cocoa powder for best flavor. I used Ghirardelli for this recipe. For the frosting, add the milk a tablespoon at a time. I like the consistency that the entire amount gave the mixture, but you might prefer a thicker frosting.

Cocoa Wheat Germ and Walnut Bars
Yield: About 4 dozen bars

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup regular flavored wheat germ
1/4 unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup salted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, divided
Cocoa cream frosting:
1/4 cup salted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar, divided
1/4 unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons whole milk

1. Heat oven to 350F. Line a 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan lengthwise with nonstick aluminum foil, letting a little bit hang over the edges.
2. Combine the flour, wheat germ, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Stir with a whisk to combine.
3. In a mixing bowl, blend the sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Mix in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk. Stir in 1 cup of the nuts. Pour batter into the prepared baking pan and use an offset spatula to spread evenly. Bake 15-20 minutes. Remove pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
4. For the cocoa cream frosting, with an electric mixer blend the butter and powdered sugar. Mix in the cocoa, vanilla, and milk.
5. Lift the bars from the baking pan with the foil “handles” and place on a cutting board. Peel away the foil. Spread the cocoa cream frosting over the top and scatter the remaining walnuts over the top. Cut into bars and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Peanut Butter Fudge

Peanut Butter Fudge

Peanut Butter Fudge

Peanut Butter Fudge was my mother’s signature treat and she always made it for special occasions. And peanut butter fudge is still is my sister’s favorite family recipe. It is such an easy go-to for gifts from the kitchen, treats for Santa, or just a sweet indulgence you give yourself. Store the fudge in the refrigerator or the freezer until ready to serve.

Peanut Butter Fudge
Yield: 3 pounds

3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup salted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup evaporated milk (see Recipe Note)
1 2/3 cups creamy peanut butter
1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow creme
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Festive colored sugar for garnish (optional)

1. Line a 13-by-9-inch pan lengthwise with nonstick aluminum foil, letting a bit hang over the edges.
2. Combine sugar, butter and milk in large saucepan, stirring constantly on medium heat, until mixture comes to a soft boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat.
3. Add the peanut butter. Stir until well blended. Add the marshmallow creme and pure vanilla extract. Beat until well blended. Spread in baking pan. Cool completely in the refrigerator overnight.
4. Lift the fudge from the pan using the foil “handles.” Place on a cutting board and carefully peel away the foil. Cut into small squares or bars. Top with colored sugar if desired.
Recipe Note: Evaporated milk is regular unsweetened milk with approximately 60 percent of the water content removed. Be sure to check the label of the can. Sweetened condensed milk looks very similar.

Fresh Strawberries and Cream Cheese Bars

Fresh Strawberries and Cream Cheese Bars

Fresh Strawberries and Cream Cheese Bars

Fresh Strawberries and Cream Cheese Bars

Fresh Strawberries and Cream Cheese Bars are a great way to take advantage of Florida’s strawberry season. It’s our winter gift to the world.

Fresh Strawberries and Cream Cheese Bars

1 (16.5-ounce) package refrigerated sugar cookie dough
2 cups old-fashioned or quick oats, divided
2 (8-ounce) packages low-fat cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup superfine granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 large eggs
2 cups chopped fresh Florida strawberries
Crumble topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks chilled salted butter, cut into pieces

1. Heat oven to 350F. Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick foil, letting 1 inch of the lining hang over the sides.
2. Press the cookie dough into the bottom of the baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes, or until just golden brown. Do not overbake. Place pan on a wire rack to cool completely. While still warm, press 1 cup of the oats into the bottom of the cookie crust.
3. With a mixer, combine the cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla extract, nutmeg, and eggs. Spread over the bottom of the cooled cookie crust. Top with chopped strawberries (see Recipe Notes).
4. For the crumble topping, mix 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup light-brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and cinnamon. Cut 1 1/2 sticks chilled butter into pieces. With your hands (see Recipe Notes), work in the butter pieces, until loose clumps form. Scatter the mixture over the top of the berries. You do not have to completely cover the fruit (see Recipe Notes). Bake 30-35 minutes or until filling is set. Cool completely on a wire rack.
5. Refrigerate, covered, overnight. Using the foil or parchment “handles,” lift bars from pan and place on a cutting board. Cut into bars.
Recipe notes:

  • The oats on top of the baked cookie crust help form a barrier to any liquid that exudes from the berries. Also, it’s best to let the chopped berries rest in a strainer or on paper towels for at least 15 minutes before adding in Step 3.
  • I keep plastic food service gloves in the kitchen at all times for mixing foods by hand. Your hands are one of your best tools in the kitchen. And the gloves help make sure you work with food safety in mind. You can buy the gloves in supermarkets and restaurant supply stores.
  • Any extra crumble mixture can be toasted separately at 350F for 15 minutes. Store in a freezer quality plastic bag and use as a topping for ice cream.
  • Gingerbread Pecan Bars with Lemon Buttercream Glaze

    Gingerbread Pecan Bars with Lemon Buttercream Glaze

    Gingerbread Pecan Bars with Lemon  Buttercream Glaze

    Gingerbread Pecan Bars with Lemon Buttercream Glaze

    Gingerbread Pecan Bars with Lemon Buttercream Glaze will fill your kitchen with the scents of the season while they bake. You can cut them into short strips, squares, diamond or triangles. The topping is a cross between a frosting and a glaze. It melts into the warm-from-the oven bars giving them a nice sheen. Poking the baked gingerbread with the tines of a fork or picks to let some of the topping seep into the bars.

    Gingerbread Pecan Bars with Lemon Buttercream Glaze
    Yield: About 48 squares

    10 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature, plus more for the sides of the pan
    2 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus a bit more for dusting pan
    2 teaspoons ground ginger
    1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
    2 large eggs
    1/4 cup molasses
    1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
    Lemon buttercream glaze:
    1/3 cup salted butter
    3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    3 cups powdered sugar
    1/4 cup milk, or more to achieve a thin, pourable consistency
    Garnish:
    2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan lengthwise with nonstick foil or parchment paper, letting foil or paper hang about an inch over the ends. Butter the exposed sides of the pan and lightly dust with flour.
    2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to blend.
    3. In another bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar until creamy and smooth. With the mixer running, add eggs one at a time, beating until smooth. Beat in the molasses. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the the bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture and pecans, beating until just incorporated. Spread evenly in the baking pan. Bake until golden brown and a pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
    4. For the glaze, beat butter and lemon juice until completely incorporated. Gradually beat in powdered sugar a cup at a time. With mixer on low, add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. The glaze should be pourable. Poke the baked gingerbread with the tines of a fork or picks. Drizzle the lemon buttercream mixture generously over the top of the warm gingerbread bars. (Reserve any extra lemon buttercream mixture for another use.)
    5. Let glazed gingerbread cool completely in pan on a rack. Refrigerate, covered, overnight.
    6. Using the foil or parchment paper “handles,” lift the gingerbread out of the pan and place on a cutting board. Peel away the foil or paper. Top with fresh lemon zest, cut into bars and serve.

    Pecan Pie Bars

    Pecan Pie Bars

    Pecan Pie Bars

    Pecan Pie Bars are everything we love about a classic fall and winter pie but simply reimagined into bite-size indulgences. I like to add a small amount of fresh orange zest to the crust mixture. It adds a subtle flavor note and a wisp of a favorite seasonal aroma. Like other bars, these are best served after a thorough chilling. (And they freeze well too.) If left out at room temperature too long, the filling does get sticky. At parties, serve a dozen on a chilled glass platter and replenish as needed with additional bars stored in the refrigerator.

    Pecan Pie Bars
    Yield: 48 bars

    1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    3/4 cup salted butter, softened
    1/3 cup granulated sugar
    1/4 teaspoon fresh orange zest
    1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
    Filling:
    1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup
    2/3 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
    4 large eggs
    6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons spiced rum
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
    Garnish:
    Freshly whipped cream (optional)

    1. Heat oven to 350F. Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with foil lengthwise, letting about an inch of foil hang over the handles.
    2. In a mixing bowl, beat 1 3/4 cups flour, butter, sugar, and orange zest, scraping often, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in finely chopped pecans. Press mixture into foil-lined baking pan. Bake 15-18 minutes or until edges are golden. Let cool 5 minutes.
    3. With a spatula, mix corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs, flour, rum, and salt. Stir in the nuts. Spread over the crust.
    4. Bake 30-35 minutes or until the filling is set and knife inserted at least 1-inch from the edge comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Lift bars from the pan by the foil “handles” and place on a cutting board. Cut into bars. Serve immediately with a small dot of freshly whipped cream.
    Recipe note: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. If stacking, use parchment paper or nonstick foil between layers.

    No Bake Pretzel Oatmeal Bars

    No Bake Pretzel Oatmeal Bars

    No Bake Pretzel Oatmeal Bars

    No Bake Pretzel Oatmeal Bars

    No Bake Pretzel Oatmeal Bars are easy holiday treats that won’t require heating up the kitchen. These bars are best refrigerated, as the chocolate topping will soften slightly at room temperature. I keep a stash in the freezer so that I am ready when the day requires goodies on the go. At tailgates serve them from the cooler.

    No Bake Pretzel Oatmeal Bars
    Yield: About 48 bars

    1 1/2 cups finely crushed pretzels (see note)
    1/2 cup old-fashioned or quick oats
    1 cup brown sugar
    12 tablespoons salted butter, melted
    1 cup plus 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, divided
    1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

    1. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish lengthwise with foil letting about an inch hangover the handles.
    2. Combine crushed pretzels, oatmeal, and brown sugar in a bowl. Make a well in the center. Add the melted butter and 1 cup of peanut butter to the well. With a sturdy spatula or wooden spoon, stir ingredients until completely blended. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the foil-lined pan.
    3. Combine the chocolate chips and the remaining 1/4 cup peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate and peanut butter are melted. Dollop over the pretzel-oatmeal mixture. With an offset spatula or the back of a large spoon, spread the chocolate topping evenly. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
    4. Using the foil “handles,” lift the bars out of the pan and place on a cutting board. Peel off the foil and cut into bars.
    Recipe note: The finely crushed pretzels should have the texture of graham cracker crumbs. If a few large pieces in the mix are fine. I use my food processor to pulverize the pretzels.

    Chocolate Candy Cane Brownies

    Chocolate Candy Cane Brownies

    Chocolate Candy Cane Brownies

    Chocolate Candy Cane Brownies are a fudgy, minty delight and the perfect foil for a glass of ice cold milk. Refrigerate in airtight containers layered between sheets of wax or parchment paper.

    Chocolate Candy Cane Brownies
    Yield: 12-16 servings, depending on size of bars

    Powdered baking cocoa for dusting baking pan
    1 cup salted butter, cubed
    6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
    4 large eggs
    2 cups granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
    1 cup crushed candy canes, divided

    1. Heat oven to 350F. Line bottom of a 9-by-9-inch pan with foil or parchment paper and let about an inch hang over the handles. This will make removing brownies easy. Lightly butter uncovered sides of pan and foil or parchment inside pan. Use a little bit of powdered baking cocoa to dust the pan, shaking out and excess.
    2. In a small saucepan, melt butter and chopped unsweetened chocolate over low heat. Cool slightly.
    3. In a mixer bowl, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt on low speed just until blended. Using a sturdy spatula, stir in the chocolate mixture. Add flour and chocolate chips, mixing well. Stir in 1/2 cup crushed candy canes.
    4. Scrape batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a pick inserted near the center comes out mostly clean but with a few moist crumbs. When done, brownies will be fragrant and just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Do not overbake.
    5. Remove pan from oven. Let brownies cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least  1 hour. Refrigerate 1-2 hours to chill. Using the foil or parchment “handles,” lift the brownies from the pan and cut into desired number of bars on a cutting board. Sprinkle tops with the remaining crushed candy canes, pressing down slightly to embed in the tops.

    Gingersnap Cheesecake Bars

    Gingersnap Cheesecake Bars

    Gingersnap Cheesecake Bars

    Gingersnap Cheesecake Bars

    Gingersnap Cheesecake Bars have a wonderful rich and creamy flavor with judicious notes of pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Superfine sugar dissolves quicker than regular granulated sugar, but you can use either in this recipe. Be sure to build in time to let the bars chill overnight for best results.

    Gingersnap Cheesecake Bars
    Yield: 36 bars

    1 (16-ounce) package sugar cookie dough
    2 1/4 cups coarsely crushed gingersnap cookies
    2 (8-ounce) packages low-fat cream cheese, softened
    1/3 cup superfine granulated sugar
    1/2 teaspoon fresh lime zest
    1 tablespoon almond liqueur (such as Amaretto) or 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
    1 teaspoon allspice
    2 large eggs

    1. Heat oven to 350F. Line a 13-by-9-inch pan with foil or parchment paper, extending the foil or paper an inch over the handles of the pan. Press the sugar cookie dough in the bottom of the lined pan. Top with 1 cup of the crushed cookies pressing them into the dough. Bake 15-20 minutes or until surface is a light golden brown. Cool 10 minutes. Be careful not to overbake.
    2. With an electric mixer combine cream cheese, sugar, zest, liqueur, allspice, and eggs. Dollop all over baked crust, and then spread evenly to cover. Sprinkle with 1 cup crushed cookies.
    3. Bake 30-35 minutes or until filling is set. Cool 1 hour on a wire rack. Refrigerate overnight. Using foil or parchment “handles,” lift bars from pan and place on a cutting board. Sprinkle with remaining crumbled cookies. Cut into bars.

    Cinnamon-Scented Apple Bars

    Cinnamon-Scented Apple Bars

    Cinnamon-Scented Apple Bars

    Cinnamon-Scented Apple Bars

    Cinnamon-Scented Apple Bars are a twist on an old butter cake recipe. While baking, the apples exude their juices giving the bars a nice moist texture. You can give this recipe a cranberry twist by eliminating one apple and adding dried craisins. The result is a rich, sweet-tart bar. While these are best served warm, I like to chill all bars overnight to let them firm up a bit. You can gently warm in the oven or give them a few seconds in the microwave just before serving. If you prefer peeled apples, then by all means peel them before adding to the batter.

    Cinnamon-Scented Apple Bars
    Yield: 12-16 bars

    Butter for greasing pan
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    3/4 cup granulated white sugar
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
    2 large eggs
    1 teaspoon apple brandy
    2 tablespoons buttermilk
    2 large apples, cored and chopped (peeling is optional)
    Freshly whipped cream or butter pecan ice cream for serving

    1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly coat an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with butter. Line the coated pan with parchment paper letting a little bit hang over the edges of two opposite sides. This helps lift them out of the pan.
    2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt with an electric mixer. Blend in the melted butter, eggs, apple brandy, and buttermilk. Fold in the chopped apples. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 35-45 minutes or until golden and pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool. When cool, lift the parchment paper to remove to a cutting board and cut into bars.
    3. Serve warm with whipped cream or butter pecan ice cream.