Just like there’s no wrong time to eat ice cream, there’s no right or wrong time to go on a picnic either.
Even if it’s that time of the year when the trees have already lost most of their leaves, a pain since I’m the one that has to pick them up from my terrace, the weather is cold enough for a scarf and layers of clothing and the winter fog is already creeping into many mornings, it’s still always a good moment to have a picnic. Or a picnic state of mind.
A sweet, gooey, nut bar is a much-needed picnic ingredient, just as are good sandwiches.
perfect sweet snack.
The base is a shortbread. A very standard one (using cups as the volume unit) with 4 parts flour, 2 parts butter, 1 part sugar and a pinch of salt. Works every time for lemon bars and stuff like that.
For the crust:
- 1 cup 225g unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup 100g sugar
- 2 cups flour
- Large pinch of salt
For the topping:
- 8 oz. 225 unsalted butter
- ½ cup honey
- 1 cup 200g light brown sugar, firmly packed
- ¼ cup 50g sugar
- ¼ cup coconut cream (or double cream)
- Zest of 1 orange
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 5 cups nuts and dried fruits (any combination (I used 1 ½ cups whole almonds, 1 ½ cup walnuts, about ½ cup each dried pears, dried cherries, raisins and macadamia nuts))
For the crust:
- In a bowl mix butter and sugar with a wooden spoon or handheld electric mixer. Add flour and salt in two or three additions, mixing well. It will all come together in a shabby ball. Be sure the flour is well mixed and no dry patches remain.
- You can line a 13×18-inch (23x33cm) baking pan with 2 inch sides, with aluminum foil that hangs a bit over the long edges. It will cover the bottom and both long sides, but not the short sides. This will aid when unmolding the whole piece before cutting. Or just leave it bare.
- Distribute the dough in small mounds on the bottom of the pan. With floured hands, slowly and patiently, pat the dough to cover the entire surface and go 1-inch up the sides. Start with the sides and work your way to the middle, flouring your hands as necessary.
- Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350ºF / 180ºC.
- Bake the dough for 15 or 20 minutes, until beginning to color.
For the topping:
- When the dough is baking, start with the topping.
- In a large bowl mix the 5 cups assorted dried fruits and nuts with the citrus zest.
- In a medium saucepan, melt butter with honey. Add both sugar, mix well, turn on the heat and, when it starts to boil, cook for exactly 2 minutes without stirring.
- Remove from heat and add coconut cream, careful because it will bubble furiously. Immediately pour over the nut mixture and mix well to coat everything.
- Pour this caramel nut mixture over the dough, carefully covering the whole surface. Don’t dump everything in the middle because it will be hard to spread to the sides without tearing the dough.
- Some parts will have more caramel than other, but it will even up in the oven.
- Bake for 25 minutes, remove and let cool on wire rack.
- If the caramel spilled to the sides of the dough, run a thin knife around the egdes after it’s cooling for a few minutes, so it doesn’t stick. If it does stick and you have trouble to unmold it, simply pop it in the oven 4 or 5 minutes until the caramel is warm.
- Lift the aluminum foil and put the whole piece on a surface to cut it.