Christmas Shortbread Bars

Can you believe it – I could not find a version of this recipe online. As well, as long as I’ve been making this recipe (I’ve been making it for 30 or more years – I only make it once a year at Christmas time and give 7/8 of it away), I’ve never taken a photo of the finished bars! So I’ve commandeered a couple of images to represent my Christmas Shortbread Bars but while mine kind of look like these, mine are WAAY better (I’ll add pictures when I make these in December, promise)!

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The original recipe came from a box of Robin Hood Shortbread Mix (hasn’t been available for years) – with a recipe for a candied fruit topping. However I have a terrific shortbread recipe “Mrs. Cooke’s Shortbread” (which I got from a friend at least 40 years ago) which I thought would make a great base for the fruit mix. My fruit mix is rich and it’s all held together with one can of Eagle Brand Condensed Milk.

So here is the recipe:

Mrs. Cooke’s Shortbread

(I double this recipe when I make my shortbread bars because I need enough shortbread to cover a large cookie sheet)
Preheat oven 350° F

1/2 lb butter (at room temperature so you can cream it easily)
1/2 c white sugar (this year I will use coconut palm sugar which I’m sure will work as well since I’m avoiding white sugar entirely in my diet)
1 tsp vanilla extract (that’s real vanilla, please)
2 c. white all purpose flour

Cream butter, add sugar, vanilla, and last the flour; Mix well until you have a crumbly texture
Dump onto a large non-stick (or parchment lined or Silpat covered) cookie sheet
Press firmly, particularly at the edges
Pierce with a fork to allow the shortbread to expand uniformly
Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate cookie sheet 180° so the shortbread bakes evenly, then bake for another 15 minutes.
The shortbread won’t be quite fully baked but that’s how you want it because you’re going to continue baking after you add the candied fruit topping. Let the shortbread cool for 10-15 minutes before proceeding

Candied Fruit Topping

1 – 11/2 c shredded coconut (unsweetened if you have it)
1 c of mixed candied fruit (with some chopped cherries and citron)
1 c Thompson raisins (you can certainly use sultanas if you prefer them, or even currents)
1 c chopped pecans (you could use walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts chopped)
1/2 c dried cranberries
1 c bitter-sweet chocolate chips (can also use semi-sweet – the point is dark rather than milk chocolate)
1 can (room temperature) Eagle Brand Condensed Milk

Put all the topping ingredients into a large bowl, add the condensed milk and mix as well as you can – it’s a sticky mess but is it ever going to be good.

Spoon the fruit/condensed milk mixture onto the shortbread making sure you spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of the shortbread (try getting as close to the edges as you can – don’t want to waste any of this Christmas bar).

Bake 25-30 minutes at 350° – until the coconut begins to turn golden.

Cool on a rack, then cut into bars. I cut the entire concoction into 8 portions – which in turn can be cut into 12-16 bite-sized bars. This stuff is SOOO rich you don’t want to serve more (although you’ll want to eat more).

I make these Christmas bars about three-four weeks before Christmas. Slip each of the 8 portions into its own small ziploc plastic bag, store them in the fridge until I give them away.

Let me know how it goes if you decide to try them – they’ll be an instant favourite – trust me!

Bali: Farmers’ Market and Cooking Our Own Balinese Lunch

Today we were picked up early and taken to a Farmers’ Market in the north of the island.

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We got there around 9:00 but the market opens at 5:00 am. Most of the locals do their shopping before the kids get up for school.

Our guide (Sang De) walked us through the stalls stopping to tell us about the ingredients we were going to use to make our meal: tumeric, ginger, shallots, garlic, small hot peppers, large red chili, coriander seeds, kafir limes…

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The market had flowers (both edible and for offerings), spices, rice, feed for chickens and pigs, even a dry goods section:

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From the market we were taken to Sang De’s family compound where he has facilities for a cooking “school”. First he explained the layout of a Balinese family compound – a Balinese home is a multi-generational affair – including a family temple, a place for family ceremonies, as well as individual “houses” for the family groupings, a kitchen, bathroom facilities (which are communal, not part of the individual houses), and a grazing area for chickens and other small livestock.

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The kitchen was large enough that all 9 of us were involved in the meal preparation: first chopping the “spice” ingredients very finely so the mixture could be ground in a pestle. Next we cooked it in a pot, adding chicken stock, bay leaf and a leaf of kafir lime. This mixture was used to make the unripe mango soup as well as the curried chicken. It was also added to the puréed chicken thigh to make satay. We spent over an hour and a half getting the meal ready.

Before eating, Sang De explained how offerings to the gods are made as part of each meal. Balinese lives are tightly interwoven with their religious beliefs.
Offerings everywhere on the streets, on the ground in front of shops, on shrines along the streets, in lots of other locations. They consist of small woven palm leaf dishes filled with flowers and topped with a burning incense stick; beneath the flowers is an offering of the meal about to be eaten (I assume the offerings on the street are the same).

The meal was delicious (more than twice what I was able to eat), if a bit under spiced – I like.hot spicy food, but the other gals asked for mild, so while I found the food flavorful, it was lacking in heat.

We left with copies of the recipes we’d made so we’ll be able to make them when we get home.