I moved away from Ohio to Missouri when I was 22 and promptly began to learn how to cook.

I had no college cafeteria or leftovers from family dinners to count on for sustenance. And while my baking skills were solid, I knew I wasn’t going to survive my first year of graduate school on chocolate chip cookies alone. Chicken breasts, butternut squash and boxes of pasta ended up in my grocery cart as I tried to remember everything I’d learned from helping in the kitchen when I was growing up.

That was six years ago. I’m happy to say that now, I successfully can follow most recipes and even have learned how to tweak them when I deem it necessary. For Thanksgiving last year, I invented and executed a pretty excellent Brussels sprouts side dish without consulting Pinterest once (a major accomplishment for a millennial at-home chef, in my opinion).

Plus, living in Ohio again means I get routine cooking lessons from my mom, who is a whiz in the kitchen. And thankfully, she’s only a phone call away when I get stuck trying to make a new dish on my own.

It’s Valentine’s Day month, which means any recipe that’s red or pink and overly sweet automatically wins. So I picked these red velvet sugar cookie bars to try for my first Test Kitchen.

I suggest these bars make an appearance at some point during your Valentine’s Day whether or not you’ve got a date.

This is a pretty basic cookie recipe—mix the dry ingredients, beat the wet ingredients and then beat the two together to form a dough. I don’t have a stand mixer, so I used hand-held beaters. I followed the directions of beating the sugar and butter alone first before adding the eggs and vanilla for the wet-ingredients portion, though I didn’t time it; I just waited until it looked fluffy.

The recipe doesn’t indicate when to put in the red food coloring, so I added it as the last step of combining the wet ingredients before mixing in the dry ingredients.

An important note—my internet research taught me that Dutch-process cocoa powder is different from the unsweetened cocoa powder you likely have in your pantry. Not only is it darker, but it’s not acidic, which is why recipes that call for Dutch-process cocoa powder also call for baking powder. I found a Hershey’s Dutch-process powder at Giant Eagle. If you can’t find it or don’t have it, it appears it wouldn’t be the end of the world and that your cookies probably still would be edible if you used the regular kind (but no promises).

I did not line the pan with parchment paper because I never line the pan with parchment paper. That is just an extra thing that feels like too much effort. Instead, I took a stick of butter and greased the pan, and it worked out fine.

I pulled my cookie bars out of the oven after 18 minutes, when the fork I stuck in the middle came out clean. They had a fudgy, brownie consistency that I was happy with.

This is not my favorite buttercream frosting recipe. The only liquid it includes is a splash of vanilla, and it just wouldn’t come together for me, even though my butter was soft. I ended up putting in a bit of milk, and that made the frosting the right consistency, but it didn’t hold up great once it hit the cookie bars. After I decorated the bars, I stuck the pan in the fridge for a few hours, and that seemed to do the trick.

RECIPE:

Ingredients
For the cookie bars:
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweet­ened Dutch processed cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon bak­ing pow­der
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted but­ter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon red food coloring

For the buttercream frosting:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sprinkles for decorating

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder.

3. In another large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla for another minute. Gradually beat in the flour mixture until a dough forms (do not overmix).

4. Press the dough evenly into the pan. Bake about 18 to 20 minutes or until the edges start to pull away and a toothpick comes out of the center with very few crumbs. 5. Cool completely.

For the frosting:
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, powdered sugar and salt until creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat on high until light and fluffy, another 2 to 3 minutes. Spread onto the cooled cookie bars and decorate with sprinkles. Cut into 12 bars.

RECIPE SOURCE: Carla Cardello, chocolatemoosey.com “Everyday recipes from scratch for two people”—Red velvet sugar cookie bars

About The Author

Alison Matas writes for The Repository, covering Canton City Hall. She grew up in Kent and has worked for newspapers in New York, Missouri, West Virginia and Maryland—and she’s happy to call Stark County her new home. When she’s not writing, she’s usually rehearsing for an upcoming musical or choir concert, going for a run or attempting to cook.

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