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I may be slightly more enamored of almonds than the average person. (Doesn’t everyone buy Odense almond paste in bulk?) But you don’t have to be an almond devotee to appreciate these deliciously dense, chewy cookie bars. Cherries and almonds play very well together, and this recipe makes the most of their complimentary flavors. These are nutty and buttery, just the right blend of salty and sweet. I prefer tart cherry jam for the filling, but you can easily substitute raspberry or apricot. Unlike most cookie bars, these are even more moist in the days after baking, and you won’t find a better partner for a hot cup of tea. Case of almond paste, anyone? :)

Cherry Jam and Almond Cookie Bars
makes 32 cookie bars

3/4 c. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
7 oz. almond paste (about 3/4 c., see Recipe Notes)
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or real vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 egg
3 c. all-purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt (not coarse)
12 oz. sour cherry jam (I use Favorit brand)
1/2 c. sliced almonds
2 Tbsp. coarse sugar (optional)

Oven 375F. Beat softened butter, almond paste, and sugar in electric mixer until well-blended. Add egg and extracts and mix again until thoroughly combined. In separate medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir dry mixture into wet ingredients with rubber spatula until uniformly mixed. Dough will be crumbly.

Reserve 1 1/2 c. dough and use your hands to press the rest into the bottom of a 9″x13″ buttered glass baking dish. Warm jam in microwave one minute and then spread over cookie base. Pat the reserved dough into rounds approximately 1/2″ thick and 3″ across, then place on top of jam. (There will be spaces between the dough rounds where the jam shows through.) Sprinkle top evenly with sliced almonds, then coarse sugar, and bake 26-28 minutes until top is lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into 32 squares.

Recipe Notes + Tips:
Almond paste is a blend of ground almonds and sugar syrup, usually about 45% almonds. You can make your own, but for this recipe, packaged almond paste is perfectly fine. I find all the large grocery stores in our area stock almond paste in the baking aisle, but you can also buy it on-line. I buy it in bulk on Amazon.com, but dozens of other sites sell it.

Quality almond paste should only include almonds and sugar, never any preservatives or flavorings. One note: marzipan is almost identical to almond paste, but with fewer almonds and more sugar. It will serve in most recipes in place of almond paste, although the results will be sweeter and a tad less moist. (However, in one important way, they are entirely the same: I could happily eat either one by the tube. :)