It’s a longstanding tradition for the women in my family to gather before the holidays and spend hours baking cookies and squares. Each baker brings one or two recipes and then, once every last cookie is dusted with icing sugar or dipped in chocolate, they divvy up the haul and each take home an assortment of treats to serve throughout the holidays.
When I was younger, we used to have epic Murphy family Christmas parties. My mom or one of my four aunts would host, and Grandpa and Grandma Murphy, all of the aunts, uncles and cousins would celebrate Christmas together under one roof. My aunts would cook a fabulous feast and then put out heaping platters of the famous Murphy Christmas cookies for dessert.
It was almost overwhelming, there were so many options: buckeyes, pecan balls, mint-chocolate cookies, brownies, three kinds of shortbread cookies… the list goes on and on. But one of my favorite treats on those platters were my Aunt Janet’s almond shortbread bars.
The squares are basically shortbread cookies that got gussied up for a black-tie event: you start with a shortbread base and then top it with a layer of caramel-y almond goodness. Yum! The squares remind me of Christmastime, but they’ll please a crowd any time of the year.
1 1/2 cups butter
1 cup icing sugar
2 cups flour
Pinch of salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
1 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 350°F
In a large bowl cream together 1 cup of the butter and icing sugar. Stir together flour and salt and gradually mix into creamed mixture.
With floured hands, pat the mixture into an ungreased 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly coloured.
Meanwhile, in a small pan, melt the remaining 1/2 cup of butter. Stir in brown sugar, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon water. Bring to a boil stirring constantly. Stir in almonds and almond extract.
Spread almond mixture over the base and bake for 12 to 15 minutes longer, until golden brown. Cut into bars while still warm.