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Make These: Root Beer Float Bars

Gov. Martin O'Malley gives a verbal yum-thumb's up to chef Susan Callahan, at right, for her Root Beer Float Bars at the Buy Local Cookout on Thursday. (Jan Rieke)

Chef Susan Callahan is an official FOFS (Friend of the Food section). You may remember the articles she wrote for us in 2003, when she packed her bags and her family to cook for five months at lodges in the wilds of Alaska.

More recently, she created some Techniques to Raise Your Game in the Kitchen for us that I, for one, have incorporated into my weekly kitchen exploits.

Susan's now teaching in the hotel-restaurant management program at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore at Shady Grove, and always up for a challenge -- especially if fun's involved. She entered a recipe contest launched to help promote Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's Buy Local Challenge Week, which starts Monday. The dishes had to feature locally grown, raised or harvested ingredients. Hers was one of 16 selected. You go, chef.

She knew immediately what she wanted to do: dessert based on the root beer float. "I love those floats, love those different hits of flavor from top to bottom," she says. Susan used dairy products from South Mountain Creamery, eggs from Evensong Farms and Washington flour made in Howard County. Susan and other recipe contest winners were handing out samples at the governor's Buy Local Cookout this afternoon (my pal Jane Black's there and will blog about it tomorrow). But I had the chance to taste the bars at Susan's annual family pig roast last weekend. (90 pounds. Prepped by the chef herself. Finger-lickin' good; but that's another story.)

You'll be making these, trust me...unless you don't like the taste of root beer. I took a picture in the three nanoseconds before all the bars were gone, but Susan shooed me off publishing it here. She had made 1 1/2 times the recipe in a wide sheet pan and used the topping as dollop; the glaze acted differently, too. So what you might have seen is not what you might end up with when you make them. And I know readers don't like it when that happens.

Speaking of the taste, she used both root beer reduced to concentrate the flavor and root beer extract, which can be found online at home brew stores. The extract is very syrupy and quite concentrated; about as brown as the brown of home hair-dyeing kits (not that I know anything about that). Those stores seem to have limited business hours; the one in Falls Church is not open on the weekends. That's why we're posting this recipe today, so you can gather the necessary ingredients. Find it after the jump. Go forth and bake!

-- Bonnie Benwick

Root Beer Float Bars
Makes 15 or 24 bars

The bars take about 1 1/2 hours to make, start to finish. The recipe calls for root beer extract, which is available at home brew stores. (We found it at MYLHBS in Falls Church; 703-241-3874). Be sure to tell the store employees you are using the extract for baking.

For the bars
2 cups self-rising flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted (can be warm but not hot)
2 large eggs
1 cup reduced root beer (heated in a saucepan, from 12 ounces to 8 ounces)
1/2 cup regular low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon root beer extract (see headnote)

For the glaze
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 tablespoons root beer extract (see headnote)

For the topping
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 packet (about 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored powdered gelatin, such as Knox brand
1 cup reduced root beer (heated in a saucepan, from 12 ounces to 8 ounces)
1 1/2 tablespoons root beer extract (see headnote)

For the bars: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9- by 13-inch baking pan.

Combine the flour, sugar and baking soda in a mixing bowl.

Combine the reduced root beer, eggs, buttermilk and root beer extract in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held mixer. Beat on low speed to incorporate, then add the melted butter and stir (by hand) to combine.

Add the combined root beer mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well, for 2 minutes (either by hand or mixer). Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for about 20 minutes before glazing; use a skewer to poke 7 or 9 holes in the top.

While the bars are baking, make the glaze: Combine the sweetened condensed milk and root beer extract in a liquid measuring cup, stirring to form a uniformly dark-brown mixture. Spread the glaze evenly on top of the still-warm bars. Let cool completely.
For the topping: Dissolve the gelatin in the reduced root beer (it can be warm but not hot). Let sit for 5 minutes.

Whip the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Stop to add the sugar, then beat on medium speed to form very stiff peaks (for about 4 minutes). Use a wooden spoon to stir in the root beer-gelatin mixture.

Spread the mixture on top of the cake; the topping should be at least 1/4 inch thick. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before cutting and serving.

Per bar (based on 24): 267 calories, 3 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 222 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 26 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  July 16, 2009; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, recipes, root beer  
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