Spring has sprung in San Francisco and I couldn’t be more excited about the implications of this fact: backyard bbqs, soccer games in Golden Gate Park, and baked goods in the sunshine. Oh, and the inevitable layer of tempestuous fog that is sure to creep up on many a glorious sunny afternoon. Don’t get me wrong; that’s not a complaint. This city gives its dwellers plenty to love and with so many beautiful outdoor spaces just a stone’s throw away, I figure why not add to their charm by toting a delicious baked good to share whenever venturing out into the great outdoors.
The outdoor space in this particular instance was the Potrero Hill Recreation Center (with panoramic views of downtown SF, the mission district, and the Bay) and the baked good was a birthday treat of blackberry shortbread bars, to be shared at a celebratory kickball bbq, marking the beginning of Spring and the 25th anniversary of a dear friend’s birth. Hence the candles that you can see me very intently and strategically positioning here. —————–>
I am fairly certain that wherever there is shortbread, there is happiness. Add to that the fruity tartness of blackberry preserves and the nutty richness of almonds, and you have a winning combination. Plus I’m pretty sure baked goods always taste better after being blessed with an earnest (if not exactly harmonic) round of the Happy Birthday song. I’m sure there’s some scientific evidence to back this hypothesis.
I’m always pretty nervous when sharing my baked goods with friends before I’ve had a chance to taste-test, but this recipe seems to be fool-proof and guaranteed to please. Plus it’s basic enough that I can imagine lots of winning combinations just waiting to be discovered. Perhaps once summer arrives and brings with it all of the tastiest fruits the season has to offer, I can imagine great possibilities with fresh strawberry, peach or apricot jam following a zealous trip to the farmers’ market.
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup almond flour (or very finely ground almonds)
1 1/2 cups blackberry preserves
1/2 cup chopped almonds
Confectioners’ (powdered) sugar for dusting
Combine the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer set at medium-low speed, beat until creamy. Add the vanilla and salt and beat until combined.
Beat the all-purpose flour and almond flour into the butter mixture on low speed, just until smooth, soft dough forms.
Spray a 9-by-13 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and press one third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. Wrap the remaining dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold and firm, at least 30 minutes.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325°.
Bake the bottom crust until it is firm and just beginning to turn pale brown around the edges, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and spread the preserves evenly over the crust. Crumble the remaining shortbread dough over the jam to form a pebbly, crumbled topping. Sprinkle with the chopped almonds. Return the pan to the oven and continue baking until topping is firm and crisp and lightly golden in color, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.
Use a sharp knife to cut bars (makes 15 large or 30 small). Remove the bars from the pan with a metal spatula.
** All photos in this post are by the talented and lovely Jamie Foster **