In the old days, when we lived in the house on Main Street, kitty corner from O’Neill’s little store with the bell over the door and three doors away from the busy dairy, Sunday night was craft night, especially at Christmas time.
We did not call it craft night then, and it was not planned; it usually occurred organically when my mother was driven to make something she wanted but did not have or could not find. Candles, wreaths, tree decorations, stockings, you name it, she made it, starting Thanksgiving weekend. When I was old enough to be useful, I helped.
Why Sunday? I suppose it was because our big dinner was at noon and supper was catch- as-catch-can, or simply fresh bread or blueberry muffins my father made. Or maybe because weekends were busy, and Sunday nights were quiet as we got ready to slip back into our weekday routine.
We’d gather all the supplies and do our work around the kitchen table after supper. It was a small kitchen – this was a 1915-era house – and by the time we were finished at 10 p.m. and tired (or not finished and cranky), the room was a mess. I am quite certain I left cleanup to my mother, selfish as I was at that time.
This Sunday night, the last hours of a glorious four-day weekend, my dining room table was piled high with greenery and ornaments and a glue gun for I am making a centerpiece. Next week it will be auctioned off with about 30 others to raise money for a good cause. I hope someone buys it.
On the kitchen counter, a pan of sweetness was cooling.
Yes! I made my version (photo above) of the gooey sweet and salty nut bar we sampled last spring from a bakery in Paris. It's a blend of nuts and caramel perched upon a dense, crumbly crust. Here’s my version, inspired by a recipe at Epicurious:
Sweet and Salty Nut Bars
For the crust:
- 1 1/3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon fleur de sel
- 1 and ½ sticks cold butter, in pieces
- 2 eggs
For the topping:
- 3 cups mixed salted nuts (cashews, pecans, almonds), coarsely chopped
- 1 cup peanuts, chopped
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
For the caramel:
- 2/3 cups honey
- dash fleur de sel
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons half and half
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend flour, baking powder, sugars and salt. Cut in butter and blend with a pastry tool or fork until meal-like in consistency. Blend in eggs. Place dough on floured board and divide into four parts, kneading each piece only once.
Grease and line an 8 by 13-inch glass baking pan with foil, making sure several inches remain above the edge of the pan. Grease the foil and press the dough into the pan, spreading evenly. Line only the bottom of the pan, not the sides.
Bake for 16-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Reduce heat in oven to about 200. Place nuts in large bowl. Melt one tablespoon butter and add it to the nuts, coating each nut. Add sugar and cinnamon and blend to ensure each nut is coated. Roast for about 45 minutes at low temperature. Set nuts aside. Return oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Blend honey, brown sugar and salt in saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add butter and half and half and bring to a boil. Remove from burner and add nuts, coating each nut.
Press nut mixture into crust. Bake for about 20 minutes until caramel mix begins to bubble. Cool. Place another sheet of foil over the bars and press down. Refrigerate.
Sweet and salty, of course, with a hint of spice. Very satisfying.