Almond Shortbread Bars

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.

almond shortbread barsIt 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.


Grandma Murphy’s Pantry: A Cookbook Made With Love

I was sitting at the kitchen table sometime in February, jotting down a grocery list when it hit me: I should make a cookbook of my Grandma Murphy’s baking recipes.

Grandma Murphy & KateMy mom’s mom, Mary Murphy, has fed the hearts and bellies of three generations of Murphys with her fabulous cakes, pies, cookies and squares. She started cooking and baking when she and my grandpa, Jack Murphy, got married in 1943, which means she’s been baking for 70 years. She’s 91 years old now, so she’s not baking as often as she did when she was raising her five daughters, but she still makes muffins and the occasional pie (with homemade pastry, of course) or chiffon layer cake. Which is pretty mind-blowing if you ask me.

So, anyway, I got the idea to write, edit and photograph a collection of her recipes and set about making it happen. I ran the idea by my grandma and the next thing I knew, I was on the train to Windsor to spend the weekend with her, gather the recipes and record her stories about baking, family, life and love.

whiteicing_15_instagramThe recipes in this book are comfort food at its best: delicious, not-too-fussy treats that have been passed on from one generation of our family to the next. We each have our favourites, and we all have memories associated with these baked goods. For me, shortbread cookies conjure the warmth of family gatherings at Christmastime. I can’t look at a mocha torte without imagining my mother, Kathie, blowing out birthday candles. Those flaky tea biscuits will forever remind me of the time Grandma taught my brother, Colin, my cousin Julie and me how to make them, each of us eager for a turn to roll out the dough. And it’s impossible for me to make lemon meringue pie without remembering my dad, Harry, who loved the tangy tart.

I finished the book in September and had the pleasure of delivering the final product, Grandma Murphy’s Pantry, to my grandma in October. The cookbook also includes recipes from my mom and her sisters, who are all whizzes in the kitchen and inherited Grandma’s love of cooking, baking and feeding the people they love. Over the next couple of months I’ll be updating this blog with recipes, photos and stories from the book — because recipes this good are too tasty not to share.

Just-Because Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last night I made chocolate chip cookies.


There wasn’t a birthday or anything particularly special to celebrate. Just a random Monday at the end of March and a girl’s craving for something sweet.

IMG_2393Sometimes the soul just needs ooey-gooey, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.