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Fear Conquered: Mrs. Cedarholm Bars
“I thought I’d make Mrs. Cedarholm Bars for the Maundy Thursday dinner,” my mom tells my dad. I’m no more than 8 years old and busy doing whatever 8 year olds do while parents plan for grown-up events - but at the mention of the bars, my attention is immediately glued to mom. Mrs. Cedarholm Bars.
My dad is less interested. He’s busy preparing the pressure cooker to soften up soybeans for dinner. Soybean tuna surprise - with tomatoes. “Sounds fine,” Dad says curtly, pouring a heaping cup of dry beans into the cooker. “But if you’re using the oven, I’ll need it in an hour.” To bake the soybean tuna surprise. With tomatoes.
I try to inconspicuously hang about, covertly checking on my mom’s progress while actively pushing thoughts of a soybean dinner out of my head. I catch a glimpse of mom separating eggs, then a few moments later, pressing dough out to the corners of her lasagna pan. I hear the whine of the hand mixer and somehow egg whites have magically transformed into meringue. And then meringue changes into sugary, caramel swirls. Nuts arrive from somewhere and then before I can even spy a peek at the bars, they’re in the oven, concealed behind dark glass.
The scent of toasted meringue and sugar lures me back into the kitchen where mom is flipping the bars out of the pan onto a wire rack. I sneak a crumb of toasted meringue and mom gives me a stern frown. “These are for church,” she says. “You’ll have to wait until then if you want one.”
My 8 year old mind is tugged between two important questions and it’s only the intoxicating aroma of freshly baked bars that convinces me not to ask what “Maundy” means and instead ask, “Why are these called Mrs. Cedarwood Bars?”
“It’s Mrs. Cedarholm,” my mom corrects, nudging me a safe distance away from the cooling bars. “She was a sweet lady from one of the first churches your dad served at and she used to make these bars.” She smiles at the memory and pulls out the handwritten recipe card. “She called them Caramel Squares.”
Mrs. Cedarholm Bars is a far more mystical and magical name than plain old Caramel Squares. At least to an 8 year old. And to an 8 year old, the creator of such rare and special bars deserves appropriate attribution whenever such magic is crafted. It was the promise of Mrs. Cedarholm’s bars for Maundy Thursday that got me through soybean tuna surprise. And a lot of other culinary “surprises” my dad concocted over the years.
Mom has since given me a copy of the recipe, but like so many magical memories from childhood, the flavor and texture of today doesn’t quite live up to the pedestal of the past. So I have gently tucked Mrs. Cedarholm’s recipe in the files and crafted a new bar inspired by the original. Mrs. Cedarholm used “oleo” (which I think is margarine) - I use butter. She used granulated sugar - I rebelled with brown. She used two eggs, I think three work better. And I added vanilla to the meringue topping and ditched the cream of tartar.
But where I really went astray is the bourbon and chocolate. But if you love that butterscotch flavor, bourbon is a must. And personally, I just think these bars are too sweet without the dark chocolate. So I mixed the nuts into the bars and added a layer of chocolate between the bar base and the meringue.
Yeah. So these aren’t really Mrs. Cedarholm Bars. To avoid besmirching her good name, I’ve renamed them. Which also allows me to preserve the untainted childhood memory from so many Maundy Thursdays past. (Oh, and just in case you’re curious, I looked it up - Maundy is derived from the Latin word for “command”, as in, “Love one another.”)
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|12 Tablespoons unsalted butter.|
|Melt the butter.|
|Add 3/4 cup brown sugar.|
|Separate 3 large eggs; add the egg yolks to the butter and sugar and reserve the egg whites in a clean bowl.|
|Beat the egg yolks, butter and sugar together until smooth and silky.|
|Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 teaspoons bourbon.|
|Sift together 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder.|
|Chop 1/3 cup pecans.|
|Fold the flour, leaveners and nuts into the wet ingredients.|
|Mix until well combined.|
|Line a 9x13 (or 10x12) inch baking dish with foil.|
|Press the bar dough evenly over the bottom of the foil lined baking dish.|
|Finely chop 3.5 ounces dark chocolate.|
|Sprinkle the chocolate over the bar dough.|
|Beat the reserved egg whites until they form stiff peaks.|
|Add the reserved brown sugar in 2 parts, beating thoroughly between each addition.|
|Continue beating egg whites until smooth.|
|Dollop the meringue topping over the chocolate.|
|Spread the meringue evenly to coat the bars.|
|Bake the bars for 35 minutes at 325F. Then let the bars cool in the pan for 15 minutes.|
|Turn out the bars onto a wire rack and let cool upside-down for 30 minutes.|
|Remove the foil and flip the bars upright and let cool completely.|
|Cut the bars into squares.|
|Store the bars in an airtight container for up to 3 days.|
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Butterscotch Chocolate Meringue Bars
Prep Time: 45 min
Cook Time: 35 min
Ingredients (20 bars)
- 12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 3/4 cup (180 grams) light brown sugar, packed
- 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature (egg whites reserved)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons bourbon
- 1 1/2 cups (215 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) chopped pecans
- 3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
- 3 large egg whites (reserved from bars), at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (240 grams) light brown sugar, packed
- Preheat the oven to 325℉ and line a 9x13 (or 10x12) inch baking pan with foil
- Stir the melted butter and sugar together, then add the egg yolks and beat the mixture until smooth; add the salt, vanilla and bourbon and mix thoroughly
- Sift the flour and baking powder into the wet ingredients and add the pecans; fold the dry and wet ingredients together until thoroughly combined
- Evenly spread the dough across the bottom of the foil-lined pan and sprinkle with the chopped chocolate
- For the caramel topping: In a clean bowl, whip the reserved egg whites on high-speed until they form stiff peaks; add the brown sugar to the meringue in two parts, beating thoroughly between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract
- Spread the topping evenly over the dough, then bake the bars for 35 minutes until a toothpick comes out mostly clean
- Let the bars cool 15 minutes, then turn the bars out onto a wire rack and let cool upside down for 30 minutes; remove the foil and flip the bars upright so the meringue is face up, then cool completely
- Cut the bars into squares and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days
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Hungry for Tips?
- It may seem counter-intuitive to turn these bars upside down, essentially flattening the puffed meringue topping. But it’s a crucial step in the final texture of these bars. The easiest method of flipping the bars that I have found is to first lift the bars out of the pan using the foil and place them on a wire rack. Place a second wire rack on top of the bars - and flip.
- Lining the pan with foil is the easiest way to ensure you will be able to easily remove the baked bars. If you’re using a non-stick pan sprayed with Baker’s Joy, you can likely skip the foil.
- If you don’t like nuts, leave them out. The bars will be still be delicious. You can also select your favorite nut to replace the pecans - such as walnuts, pistachios or even pine nuts.
- Do not over bake these bars. They will continue to “bake” as they begin to cool, so check the bars early and pull them out of the oven as soon as a toothpick comes out mostly clean. I use a ceramic baking dish, but if you’re using metal, you will likely need to reduce the bake time by 10 minutes or so.
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