Almond Ricotta Bars

Makes about 4 dozen bar cookies.

Taste Tip: To toast almonds, place nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, and cook, stirring or shaking the pan frequently, until they just begin to release their fragrance, about 2 to 3 minutes (or preheat oven to 325 degrees, spread nuts on an ungreased baking sheet and bake, stirring often, for 4 to 6 minutes). Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

For bars:

• 2 1/2 cups flour

• 1 tablespoon baking powder

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan

• 2 cups granulated sugar

• 2 eggs

• 2 teaspoons almond extract

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1 (15-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta cheese

For frosting:

• 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

• 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

• 3 cups powdered sugar

• 1 teaspoon almond extract

• 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted (see Taste Tip)



To prepare bars:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter bottom and sides of a 13- by 18-inch half-sheet pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt, and reserve.

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 2 sticks butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until thoroughly combined. Add 2 teaspoons almond extract and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, add ricotta in 3 additions. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Spread batter in prepared pan and bake until cake is set, lightly golden and the edges start pulling away from sides of pan, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

To prepare frosting:

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 1 stick butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon almond extract, and mix until uniform and creamy. Spread frosting over cooled bar cookies, slice into squares and top squares with toasted almonds.

2016 Finalist: Karen Cope of Minneapolis, Minnesota