pan of dessert bars can have a loaves-and-fishes effect at any party: They’re nice cut into big bars, but they can be sliced smaller if extra friends show up. (If you try that with a pie, you’ll just end up with a mess on your hands.)
These recipes come together quickly and work well for entertaining, because they can be made ahead of time and require no serving utensils — they’re best eaten out of hand. They’re also great for toting to picnics, potlucks or just eating in your own backyard this summer.
Labneh lemon bars
Labneh is a thick unsweetened Middle Eastern yogurt, and it gives these bars a flavor and texture between cheesecake and lemon bars. You can find it in many supermarkets and in Middle Eastern groceries. Makes 2 dozen.
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ cups packed powdered sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 large lemons
4 large eggs
1 container (16 ounces) labneh
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of a 13-by-9-inch cake pan with foil, leaving overhang on all sides, and lightly coat the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
Whisk the flour, half a cup powdered sugar and ¾ teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Add the butter, toss to coat, and press into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or your fingers until fine crumbs form. Or, use a food processor and pulse the dry ingredients until mixed, then pulse in the butter until fine crumbs form. Scatter the crumbs evenly across the bottom of the prepared pan and press firmly into the bottom in an even layer. Bake until the crust is golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes.
While the crust bakes, make the filling: Finely grate 1 tablespoon zest from the lemons into a large bowl, then squeeze half a cup of juice into the bowl. (You may not need all 4 lemons.) Add the eggs, labneh, remaining three-quarters cup of powdered sugar and remaining quarter teaspoon salt and whisk slowly until smooth. You don’t want to create too many tiny bubbles while whisking or the top will look cratered after baking.
Remove the pan from the oven, pour the lemon filling over the hot crust and return the pan to the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Bake until set around edges and barely jiggly in the center, 15 to 20 minutes.
Cool the bars completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours. Using the overhanging foil, lift and slide the bars onto a cutting board and cut into 24 bars.
Summer fruit lemon bars: Arrange peeled and sliced peaches, nectarines or apricots over the chilled bars.
Make ahead: The bars can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Blueberry pie bars
Hazelnut flour adds a rich nuttiness to this easy crust, which you can cut into shapes or simply crumble into bits for the top. You can find hazelnut flour/meal in most grocery stores, or you can buy it online. Makes 2 dozen.
1 cup hazelnut flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more
1¼ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg, beaten
4 cups fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Whisk the hazelnut flour, baking powder and cardamom with 2 cups all-purpose flour, ¾ cup granulated sugar and ¾ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add the butter, toss to coat and press into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or your fingers until coarse crumbs form. Drizzle the egg over, and mix with a fork or your fingers until incorporated and the mixture forms large clumps. Or, use a food processor and pulse the dry ingredients until mixed, then pulse in the butter until coarse crumbs form. Add the egg and pulse until large clumps form.
Line the bottom and sides of a 13-by-9-inch cake pan with foil, leaving overhang on all sides, and lightly coat the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Scatter ⅔ of the dough clumps evenly across the bottom of the pan, then press into the bottom in an even layer. Gather the remaining dough, press into a 1-inch-thick disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate both until the dough is firm, at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, arrange the oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat to 375 degrees.
Prepare the blueberry filling by mixing the remaining 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, ½ cup granulated sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add the blueberries and lemon juice and fold until evenly mixed. Spread the blueberry mixture over the chilled dough in the pan. Bake on the lower rack until the blueberry mixture is jammy and bubbling around the edges, 50 to 55 minutes.
While that bakes, unwrap the disk of dough, reserving the plastic wrap, and put on a lightly floured surface. Cover the dough disk with the plastic wrap and roll to a ¼-inch thickness. Uncover and use a 1½-inch cookie cutter (whatever shape you like) to cut out 24 shapes. Gather scraps, reroll and cut again if needed.
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Put the shapes on the sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake on the upper rack (while the blueberry base is baking on the bottom rack) until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool completely on the sheet on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar.
Place the pan with the blueberry mixture on a rack and let cool just until the bubbling subsides, then arrange the cookies on top in a 6-by-4 grid and gently and carefully press into the hot blueberry mixture. Cool completely on the rack.
Using the overhanging foil, lift and slide the bars onto a cutting board and cut into 24 bars.
Blueberry almond bars: Substitute almond flour for the hazelnut flour.
Mixed berry bars: Substitute a mixture of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries for the blueberries. Do not use strawberries, as their water content is much higher.
Blueberry crumb bars: Instead of pressing the remaining ⅓ of dough for the top into a disk and cutting into shapes, refrigerate it in clumps. After spreading the blueberry mixture over the chilled bottom dough, break the large clumps reserved for the top into smaller clumps and scatter evenly over the blueberry mixture. Omit the powdered sugar. Bake in the center of the oven until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes.
Make ahead: The dough can be made and refrigerated for up to 2 days before baking.
The baked bars can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Campfire marshmallow bars
Broiling the marshmallows right to the brink of charred gives these bars a smoky taste reminiscent of a campfire cookout. Keep an eye on the marshmallows through the oven door as you would with marshmallows over a fire — charred is good, burnt is bad. Makes 2 dozen.
6 cups crisped rice cereal
4 tablespoons salted butter, cut in slices
1 bag (10 ounces) mini marshmallows
Position an oven rack 6 inches from the broiler element. Heat the oven to broil, on a medium setting if possible, and turn on the oven light. Put the cereal in a large bowl.
Scatter the butter in a 13-by-9-inch cake pan and place in the oven to cook until the butter melts and its milk solids turn light golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Watch it carefully. Immediately remove the pan from the oven and carefully tilt it to evenly coat the bottom with the butter. Quickly spread the marshmallows in a single layer in the pan.
Return the pan to the oven rack and broil, watching its progress the whole time, until the tops of the marshmallows are very dark golden brown and the marshmallows are puffed, 2 to 4 minutes. Carefully and immediately slide the marshmallows out of the pan and into the bowl with the cereal. Leave behind any butter slicking the pan; don’t scrape anything out.
Carefully fold the marshmallow mixture together until the cereal is evenly coated. Scrape the mixture into the pan and press it in an even layer. Cool completely, then cut into 24 bars to serve.
S’mores bars: After pressing the marshmallow treats into the pan, arrange 24 squares of milk chocolate in a 6-by-4 grid on top. Return to the oven and heat just until the chocolate has softened, about 1 minute. Cut 6 graham cracker squares into 4 smaller squares each. Press each square into a piece of chocolate.
Big batch campfire marshmallow bars: Follow the method above using a half sheet pan (17 by 11 inches) and 9½ cups of crisped rice cereal, 6½ tablespoons salted butter and 1 bag of marshmallows (16 ounces).
Make ahead: The bars can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days.