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Three cookie contest bars that will make you (and your tin) swoon

Among the many submissions to our holiday cookie contest were cookie bars, which in my mind are cookies because you can eat them without a fork and they’re small enough that you can eat a few at a time. Although we didn’t end up with any bars in our top five, these recipes were so close to earning a spot with the other finalists that we decided to highlight them so they could get their own 15 minutes of fame.

Amy Robertson’s holiday squares use raspberry jam, raisins, walnuts and oats, a lovely combination of sweet with just a hint of the bitter from the walnuts and the slight chew of the oats. Laurie Nelson wasn’t afraid of rocking the pecan pie boat by adding both spices and chocolate to her pie-inspired bars, and Debbie Crowe convinced me that I do like white chocolate, as long as it’s paired with cranberries and cream cheese frosting.

Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

Laurie Nelson of Austin submitted these gooey bar cookies that will remind you of pecan pie but are a little easier to bake. Leave out the spices and chocolate chips if you prefer a more pure pecan pie-like experience.

For the crust:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 Tbsp. packed dark brown sugar

2 cups flour

For the filling:

1 scant cup light corn syrup

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

Dash nutmeg

Dash ground cloves

2 Tbsp. flour

1 1/2 cups pecan halves, divided

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Grease and flour a glass 9-inch-by-12-inch pan, and heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine butter, sugars and flour. Mix lightly and then pat into pan with floured hands. Bake in center of oven for 20 minutes, until lightly browned and aromatic.

While crust is baking, combine corn syrup, dark brown sugar, eggs, butter, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, flour and 1 cup pecan halves. Mix well. Pour over the hot baked crust and add remaining 1/2 cup pecans and chocolate chips on top. Bake approximately 35 minutes until very bubbly. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

— From Laurie Nelson

Cranberry Ginger Blondies

Debbie Crowe of Lakeway has been working on her copycat recipe for the popular Starbucks’ cranberry bliss bar. Line the pan with parchment paper for the easiest removal.

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened

1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

2 Tbsp. minced crystallized ginger

1 cup dried cranberries

4 oz. white chocolate chips

For the frosting:

4 oz. cream cheese

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter, brown sugar and salt. Add eggs and vanilla, mixing until fluffy.

Add flour, baking powder and ginger. Stir until well mixed. Fold in cranberries and white chocolate chips. Spread batter evenly in a 12-inch-by-16-inch baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes. Allow to cool.

Combine the first four frosting ingredients and mix until smooth. Frost uncut bars and sprinkle with dried cranberries. Cut into shape of your choice and arrange on holiday platter.

— From Debbie Crowe

Holiday Raspberry Squares

Amy Robertson’s grandmother cut this recipe out of the newspaper more than 50 years ago and wrote “excellent” in the margin. She perfected the squares over the years and made them often when Robertson was a kid, and now the Austinite makes them every Christmas for her family in memory of her grandmother.

1 1/3 cups sifted flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup quick cooking oatmeal

1 cup medium-chopped walnuts

3/4 cup melted butter

1/4 cup chopped raisins

1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Add brown sugar, oats and nuts and mix until combined, by hand or with a mixer. Add melted butter and mix. Press half of mixture into a greased pan that is roughly 7 inches by 11 inches.

Combine raisins and jam and spread over the layer in pan, leaving about 1/2 inch between the jam and the side of the pan. (They’re hard to remove from the pan if the jam sticks to the side between flour layers.)

Top with remaining flour mixture and lightly press down. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool and cut into squares. Makes about 30 squares.

— Amy Robertson

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