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Recipe: Apricot-Coconut Walnut Bars

In the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1958, 19-year-old Greg Patent was one of ten Junior contestants in the 10th Pillsbury Bake-Off. Greg's entry: a highly adapted version of that old standby, the oatmeal date cookie. He took out the oatmeal, substituted apricots for dates and granulated sugar for brown sugar, and added walnuts and coconut,  making three dozen small bar cookies. Greg's "Apricoquettes" won second place in the contest's Junior division and netted the young Food Guy a prize of a thousand dollars. "In those days," as he recalls, "that was enough money to cover a down-payment on a house." Greg's parents borrowed the money and bought their first home.

At the awards luncheon, Greg met actress Irene Dunne, radio and television personality Art Linkletter, food writer Clementine Paddleford, and a 48-year-old actor named Ronald Reagan. "He sat at my table and was thoroughly charming, very engaging, and in charge of the conversation during the entire luncheon. It was thrilling to be there."

Here is Greg's original recipe for

Apricot Coconut Walnut Bars.

I submitted my recipe as bar cookies with the name, “Apricoquettes,” When Pillsbury published the recipe they increased the size of the cookies and called them “Apricot Dessert Bars.” Here’s the smaller bars version.

1 pound of dried apricots (I like the orange color and buy the sulfured fruits)
2 cups of water
1 cup of sugar (7 ounces)
2 cups of sifted unbleached all-purpose flour (8 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoons of salt
1 cup of sugar (7 ounces)
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 cup of shredded unsweetened coconut (3 1/2 ounces), chopped
1 cup of chopped walnuts (3 1/2 ounces)

1. Put the apricots and water in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and cook at a slow boil, stirring occasionally, until fruit is tender, about 40 minutes. Turn into large strainer set over a bowl and drain for 10 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of the apricot juice. Put the fruit, apricot juice, and 1 cup of sugar into a large bowl and use a potato masher to break the fruit into a smooth purée. Make sure there are no lumps. Work the fruit long enough to dissolve the sugar. Scrape the purée into the same pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter the bottom only of a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together thoroughly the sifted flour, soda, and salt. In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter, vanilla, and the remaining 1 cup sugar on medium speed until light, 3 to 4 minutes.  On low speed, beat in the dry ingredients gradually only until they're well-combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the coconut and walnuts with a wooden spoon until crumbly.

Press 2 1/2 cups of the pastry crumbs on the pan bottom to make an even compact layer. Bake the crust for 10 minutes until lightly colored. Remove the pan from the oven but do not turn the oven off. Spread the apricot purée evenly on the hot crust and sprinkle the remaining crumbs evenly on top. Pat gently into place. Don’t pack crumbs down.

4. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the top is golden brown, another 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into 24 bars. Leftovers keep well, covered airtight, for 3 to 4 days. The bars may also be frozen.

Makes 24 bar cookies.

By Greg Patent © Copyright 2015

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 12/6/15 and 12/10/15. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays and again at 4:54 p.m. Thursdays, or via podcast.)

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