I could write about this recipe following three divergent strands of thought — you know — if I could ever get started on the writing. The baking has been done for nearly a week. But, oh what a week! 1700 books, 340 bookmarks, pencils and two sets of flyers into 340 bags with the assistance of 14 extraordinary volunteers in a joyous frenzy. That was the pivot point on my week Wednesday morning with all the work leading up to and following after just … well. Suffice to say, I’m pooped!
Nevertheless, here goes.
Avenue one: Canned cherry pie filling. Dear Ms. Herbst, I know you are no longer with us, but if you were I would love to know why this recipe calls for a can of cherry pie filling. I have followed your directions on nearly every other recipe. I bought rosewater (ugh), and used it twice (ugh and ugh). We hesitated but tried orange blossom water (wonderful). I have risked my reputation asking after the best Irish whiskey for baking, as well as brandy, rum, cognac and sweet white wine, at two liquor stores. I have blanched whole almonds, and have bought and crushed two whole packages of Oreos to make a particularly delicious cookie-bar twice. But I will not, I cannot buy canned cherry pie filling. I’ve been making my own cherry pie filling from farmers’-market-fresh sour cherries for years. I’ve even picked tart cherries fresh from their trees more than once. And so I put off baking these bars until I could make cherry pie filling myself from last summer’s frozen stash of sour cherries first. I’d like to think the bars are just as good as you intended with my version of pie filling as they’d have been with the canned version. Maybe less of a metallic taste. That’s a good thing, right?
Avenue two: Black Forest, aka Schwarzwald. What does a forest in Germany have to do with chocolate and cherries in cakes? According to this Wikipedia entry the answer is: Nothing. Except Schwarzwälder Kirsch(wasser), a clear liquor distilled from tart cherries that is made in the region and is usually an ingredient in Black Forest cake (or Black Forest gâteau, depending on your version of English — or to be really precise, Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte). And the recipe for these bars does not require kirsch. Not even a drop. But it does call for canned cherry pie filling. Go figure.
Avenue three: Pillsbury Bake-Off. The inspiration for this recipe, according to Sharon Tyler Herbst, is a winning recipe from a Pillsbury Bake-Off. Perhaps Francis I. Jerzak’s winning Chocolate Cherry Bars entry from 1974, if Wikipedia’s list is accurate. The point of the Pillsbury Bake-Off is to make new foods with products produced by Pillsbury and its subsidiaries, etc. Which in the early days meant Pillsbury flour, but now means a myriad of packaged mixes and products. Not exactly whole foods. The ingredients lists of the packaged bits alone would make Michael Pollan’s head spin, no doubt, but then again, he’d probably not be a huge fan of this sugary enterprise I’ve embarked upon to begin with, would he?
Finally, these are good. Not great, but good. The glaze is perhaps the best part. They could maybe use a little kirsch…