Belle of the Ball
About 10 years ago I cut out a recipe from Cooking Light magazine for Rhubarb Custard Bars.
(Don’t be a snob about Cooking Light; we’ll talk about this later). The recipe lingered for a very, very long time in a pile of cut outs from old newspapers and magazines. When I finally came around to organizing this messy pile, I came across the recipe again, thought it looked good, rhubarb was in season, decided to make it, brought it to a party to share, and became the belle of the ball.
I brought these to a party where I would only know a few people and was feeling kind of nervous about it. Little did I know that these Rhubarb Custard Bars were really Everyone Will Love You Bars. Folks were coming up to me wanting to know my story, what kind of magic I put into these bars, what’s my phone number. It was almost to the point where I started feeling uncomfortable with all the attention I was getting. Almost. I really loved every second of it. The lesson learned is if you want to make friends and you can handle the frenzy of attention, this dessert will have people flocking to you.
Now, let’s talk about Cooking Light for a second. I know it’s not one of the cool kids when it comes to food magazines. But when I moved into my first apartment and was cooking for myself a lot, I subscribed to this magazine and got a lot of winning recipes that I still make to this day. If a magazine gives you a recipe for a dessert that someone says is the best thing that they ever put in their mouth (a direct quote!), then that should count for something.
Cooking Light isn’t about fat-free and taking the taste out of everything cooking. What it does do is tweak recipes so that fat here and there is reduced but the end result still tastes great. When you look at the recipe below, you’ll notice that some of the ingredients are specific about the fat content; this is the norm for Cooking Light recipes.
As the rundown of ingredients suggest, these bars have
three layers: a firm and crisp shortbread-type crust, topped with rhubarb laden custard and then a mostly cream cheese, vanilla-y topping. There is so much goodness going on with these.
Rhubarb Custard Bars
(also known as Everyone Will Love You Bars)
Adapted slightly from an old issue of Cooking Light magazine
For the crust:
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
butter or cooking spray for greasing the baking pan
For the filling:
⅓ cup all purpose flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups 1 or 2 % milk
3 large eggs
5 cups (½ inch) sliced rhubarb (I used 4 large stalks of rhubarb)
For the topping:
½ cup sugar
1 cup (8 ounces) block style ⅓ less fat cream cheese*
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup frozen fat-free or low-fat whipped topping, thawed (we’re talking Cool-Whip!)
*The original recipe called for ½ cup fat-free cream cheese and ½ cup ⅓ less fat cream cheese. I just used all ⅓ less fat cream cheese.
Preheat the oven to 350.
Grease a 13 x 9 baking dish with your weapon of choice.
To make the crust, whisk together 1 ½ cups flour, ½ cup sugar and the salt in a bowl. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Press this mixture evenly into the bottom of the greased baking dish. After pressing it in, it should look firm and the texture should be somewhat consistent (not like the crumbly coarse meal it was before). Bake the crust at 350 for 15 minutes or until it’s golden brown.
Now prepare the filling. In a large bowl, whisk together ⅓ cup flour and 1 ½ cups sugar. Add the milk and eggs to the dry ingredients and whisk until well blended. Stir in the sliced rhubarb. Pour the fruit and custard mixture over the already baked crust. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until the custard sets. Cool to room temperature.
Last bit – the topping. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the sugar, cream cheese and vanilla extract at medium speed until smooth. Using a spatula, gently fold the Cool-Whip into the cream cheese mixture until well incorporated. Evenly spread the topping over the cooled custard. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour before serving. Cut into bars and yum yum eat ‘em up.