Aunt Beth's Romance Cookies
My Aunt Beth introduced me to these unique delights a few weeks ago while we were at Lake George together. Beth learned this recipe from her mom, Lauren, and she makes them every year for her stepdad's birthday. They are a prized Preston-–Johnston family recipe. These cookies are technically bars made up of two layers: a buttery shortbread base and a chewy–caramely–nutty filling layer. At Lake George we did just fine making these with a wooden spoon and my great grandma's whisk, but at home I found it really easy to use hand beaters for both parts of the recipe. It might seem like there's a lot going on but these are actually pretty simple to make. They'll be out of the oven start–to–finish in 40 mins. While I normally detest nuts in most desserts, there's something magical about these. You may just fall in love...
Ingredients for the shortbread base:
2 sticks/1 cup (226g) unsalted butter
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
2 cups (240g) sifted all purpose flour (sifted then measured)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Ingredients for the filling:
2–1/4 cups (450g) brown sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoons baking powder (sorry for the weird measurement–the recipe was scaled up)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 ounces (around 3/4 cup) shredded unsweetened coconut (we used Lets do Organic brand which is ground more finely than normal, but you could use regular unsweetened flaked coconut)
6 ounces (around 1–1/2 cup) coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a small mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of sifted flour and salt, beat on low to incorporate. Press the shortbread mixture in an even layer into an ungreased 9"x13" baking tin.
Bake for 10 minutes. In the meantime, make the filling.
Wash and dry the bowl and beaters to use again for the filling. Beat the eggs in the clean bowl until they are foamy, lighter in color, and about double in volume. Add the brown sugar; beat to combine. Add the 3 tablespoons of flour, baking powder, and vanilla extract; beat to combine. Fold in the coconut and nuts.
Pour the filling over the warm, baked shortbread base (it won't have taken on color yet) and spread to the edges of the pan. Be gentle, the shortbread is very soft and you don't want it to be pulled up by the filling.
Return to the oven for 20–25 minutes, until the filling is puffed, crisp, and golden–brown on top.
Let cool for at least 45 minutes. Don't rush this or they will be too mushy. Use a metal spatula to release the edges from the sides of the pan. As for cutting into squares, I found pressing straight down with a bench scraper easier than using a knife. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.