There’s a simplicity to sugar cookies that is undeniably appealing. They are, by design, not a fancy dessert, but a clean-tasting, universally acceptable snack. Once you accept their limitations, you can enjoy them for what they are. They are also a perfect vehicle for decorating. The traditional cookie form can run the risk of becoming dry, so the idea of a bar form intrigued me. Cookie bars blur the line between cookies and brownies, avoiding the overt fudginess of the latter while adding sufficient thickness to avoid desiccation.
I was intrigued by the 5-star rating of the New York Times’ recipe, despite the fact that many of the actual comments were critical. The biggest frustration readers seemed to face was underbaking, despite the dire warning of the recipe not to overbake. I was curious about the non-traditional use of cream cheese in place of some of the butter. I find use of other sources of fats (such as yogurt, sour cream, or cream cheese) keep desserts moist without becoming too buttery.
I made half the recipe, which was plenty for us, but the use of half an egg can be challenging for some, so feel free to double and use a 13” x 9” pan instead of an 8” x 8”. As long as the butter and cream cheese are close to room temperature, thehe recipe comes together quickly and easily. Some find the thick batter to be hard to spread, but with some patience and either an offset or a silicone spatula, it’s not too difficult. Be sure to let the bars cool completely before frosting, just as you would with a cake. Don’t be fooled by the appearance: it’s decidedly a cookie bar and not a cake. It lives up to the sugar cookie name: a simple sweetness, a touch of butteriness, and a slight tang from the cream cheese in the dough and lemon in the frosting. A touch of almond extract, used by some of the commenters, could add a bit of sophistication for adults, but is not strictly needed. I cooked the bars for 32 minutes instead of the recommended 20-25. This ended up being perfect – the edges were browned and the top had just a hint of gold.
Sugar Cookie Bars
A classic sugar cookie flavor converted to a bar, adapted from the New York Times
112 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
112 g cream cheese, at room temperature
175 g all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
150 g sugar
1/2 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
42 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120 g powdered sugar, sifted
10 g heavy cream (or milk)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Spray an 8×8″ pan with cooking spray and line with parchment.
- Using a stand mixer with a paddle or a hand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together.
- Add the salt and sugar and beat until smooth a bit fluffy.
- Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated.
- Slowly mix in the flour until no dry flour remains.
- Spread the thick batter evenly into the pan (e.g. with a silicone spatula), being sure to reach the edges.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes until the cookies start to pull away from the pan, the edges are brown, and the top is a pale gold.
- Cool the cookies in the pan until room temperature, then move to a wire rack if you used a parchment sling (or leave in the pan).
- In a stand mixer or a bowl with a handheld mixer, beat the butter and slowly add in sifted powdered sugar until fully incorporated, then add in the milk or cream, lemon juice, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the food coloring and beat until evenly distributed.
- Use a rubber spatula to transfer the frosting to the top of the bars spread evenly. Decorate with sprinkles or sparkling sugar, then cut into bars.