Aug 8th, 2008 by Marilyn
Well hello! We’re here in Chicagoland, visiting the folks. My mom, who clearly missed her calling as a concierge, is good at pre-stocking favored things – Merkt’s cheddar for me, ripe cherries and Pirate’s Booty for Josie, raisin bread and caffeinated coffee for Greg.
Her thoughtfulness ensures that our chief activity is an inordinate amount of snacking. At home, I’ve got room for three squares – here? Oh, excess is just a funny word. As in, here I can grab pretzels with one hand and dial deep-dish with the other – ha, puh-lenty of room! – and I’ll still find a reason to bake.
I bake differently in my mother’s kitchen. I do not make fancy things – not that things need to be fancy, but sometimes they do and here, they do not. Ambitious work used to end in where’s this sheet pan or that cutter or thanks for having like one cup of sugar – but I finally learned to go with it, and by now I actually find relief in the prospect of no layering, glazing, frosting or piping. All I’ve got to do is look in the fridge and poke around the pantry.
I pull out a Pyrex bowl, a white spatula, and a glass pan that measures a nice, rounded 9 x 13. After that it’s a surprisingly easy run of mixing, baking…
…and as soon as possible, eating.
These dreamy, cheesecake-y bars are loaded with chocolate chips, cranberries, cream cheese and cinnamon. Is it curious coincidence, or do all good things – see Chicago, Cleo, croissants – start with C?
Pantry Dream Bars
8 oz unsalted butter, softened
grated zest of one large orange
1 cup light brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups quick or old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
12 oz mini chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries
8 oz cream cheese, softened
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease bottom and sides of 9 x 13″ pan with baking spray.
With electric mixer, blend butter, brown sugar and orange zest until creamy.
In a small bowl, mix flour, oats, salt and cinnamon to blend. Toss mini chocolate chips and dried cranberries through flour mixture. Add the dry mixture to the butter-sugar bowl and mix on low until a rough, crumb-like dough is formed. Measure 2 cups of the crumb dough and set aside.
Press all remaining dough into prepared 9 x 13 pan, pressing to form a thick bottom crust. Place in oven on center rack and bake for 15 minutes.
While crust is baking, make the topping: whip cream cheese in electric mixer on low-medium speed until smooth. Slowly add sweetened condensed milk, orange juice, vanilla, egg and 1 tablespoon flour to blend.
Remove pan from oven and pour cream cheese mixture over hot crust. Sprinkle remaining crumb dough evenly over the top, then return to the oven for about 30 minutes, until edges are brown and top appears firm and golden. Cool until safe to handle, then refrigerate to firm. Cut into generous squares and serve cold.