Fresh Strawberry Shortbread Bars

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Strawberry season is in full swing here in California, and little roadside fruit stands are popping up every couple miles.  It’s hard to pass up berries that are sold within 50 feet of the field, so when I was assigned to bring dessert to our Mothers’ Day dinner, I decided to take advantage of the season.  I had the perfect dessert in mind: a shortbread crust, cream cheese layer, and fresh strawberry sauce.  Apparently my good idea was also somewhat unique, because search as I might, I couldn’t find anything that fit the bill.  I combined and adapted a different recipe for each layer, and the results were strikingly awesome.  Here, for posterity and to better the world, is the result of my experimentation:

 

Fresh Strawberry Shortbread Bars

(or as Johnny suggested I call them: “Goooooooood.  With lots of O’s.”)

Crust (from Cooks’ Illustrated Perfect Lemon Bars)

  • 1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2⁄3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup cornstarch
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons sweet unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into 1 inch pieces

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Strawberry Sauce (source, slightly adapted)

  • 3 pints (6 cups) fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste

To prepare crust

Line 9″ x 13″ cake pan with foil and grease, then set aside.  In a food processor, pulse together the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt to mix well.  Add 12 Tablespoons butter and process to blend (about 8 to 10 seconds), then pulse until mixture is a pale yellow color and resembles a coarse meal, (about three-1-second bursts).  **Lacking a food processor, you can mix the first ingredients by hand, and grate cold butter into the bowl using the large holes of a box grater.  Toss butter with flour mixture, then rub coated butter pieces between your fingers for a minute, until flour turns pale yellow and coarse.**

Pour crust mixture into the pan and press firmly into the bottom.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes, while oven heats to 350 degrees.  Bake crust for 20 minutes or until light golden brown.  Let crust cool completely before adding cream cheese layer.

To prepare cream cheese frosting

Using hand mixer, beat cream cheese with sugar and vanilla until it reaches a spreadable consistency.  Using spatula, spread it over cooled crust and refrigerate while you make the strawberry sauce.

To prepare strawberry sauce

Remove stems from strawberries and slice them in halves or quarters depending on size (most of them are uncooked, so don’t leave them too big).  Put 1 cup of berries in a bowl and mash them with a fork or pastry blender (if they’re too firm to mash easily, microwave them for 10-20 seconds).

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan and add water.  Whisk until lumps are dissolved, then add mashed strawberries.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until sauce boils and thickens.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.  Stir in remaining strawberries and add lemon juice to taste.

Spread strawberry sauce over crust, working quickly so that the warm strawberries don’t melt the cream cheese layer.  Return to refrigerator and chill until serving.

 

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