exploding happiness

My college roommate Jennifer worked her way through school with a part time job at a balloon shop. She spent her Saturday afternoons blowing up and delivering wild helium filled bouquets. Jenn often returned from work and adorned the apartment with colorful, stray stragglers. It was generally a very happy place. It didn’t happen too often, but every once and a while, if there was a big mix-up on an order, she’d arrive home with a whole carload of balloons. I loved the occasional big mix-ups. We had a big mix-up routine.

We’d toss our rollerblades in the trunk, drive the few miles over to St. Paul’s Como Lake, and get to work. Dividing the bunch in half, we’d set out in opposite directions around the lake path to bestow our wares on random strangers. People loved it. Everyone smiled. Couples, little kids, adults – even surly teens. We’d meet up again in the middle, empty handed, and skate back to the car. Sure, it was fun handing them out, but the best part came when we turned back to see all those colorful balloons bobbing their way around the lake. Mission accomplished.
I am proud to report that Jennifer now wears latex on her hands instead of filling it with helium. She is a successful dentist in Anchorage, Alaska. Yup, those balloons saw her all the way through dental school. Sadly, we haven’t seen each other since my wedding, but I still think of her fondly. Especially when I have something really happy to share with the world. Which happened to be the case the other day. I wanted to make a simple treat. Nothing complicated, nothing too heavy or too sweet. You know, just a little smackerel of something for tea time. I should note that it actually got warm enough this week to brew a jar sun tea. I wanted to celebrate with the perfect accompaniment.
I decided to try making some sort of honey bar. And the result was everything I was looking for. They are light and custardy and subtle. There is nothing fancy about them. They aren’t even particularly memorable. But when I bite into one, I feel good. Like a little bit of happiness just exploded in my mouth. And then it’s gone – almost as quietly as it came. But sometimes that’s okay with sweets. I imagine this is the sort of bar you could hand out to just about anyone and they would like it. You don’t have to worry about people who don’t care for nuts, or lemon, or berries, or chocolate (people like that don’t really exist, do they?). My rollerblades and I parted company many moves ago, but If I still had them, I might even set off around the Bayfield peninsula with a pan of honey bars in tow to test my theory.
I’m not sure exactly what occurred during the baking process, but it is almost like the crust and the filling traded places. Still it works. And the bars are just firm enough that you can pick them up and eat them with your hand. Next time I might even double the crust and push it further up the sides of the pan.
Happy Honey Bars

The crust:
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
pinch of fresh nutmeg
6 tablespoons butter, cold and cubed
spoonful of ice water

The filling:
1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt
pinch of fresh nutmeg
1 cup milk

Crust: Preheat oven to 350º F. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Cut in the butter cubes, mixing until it is fully incorporated. Sprinkle in a small splash of ice water to the dough and mix again. Press the mixture into an 8×8 nonstick pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until crust is lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool. Turn the oven up to 400ºF.

Filling: While crust bakes, warm the honey and butter in a small sauce pan until it is warm and liquid. Transfer to a mixing bowl – I recommend reusing the crust bowl. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla, salt and nutmeg. Wipe out the sauce pan and slowly bring the milk to the point where it just almost bubbles. Remove from heat and slowly whisk the warm milk into the honey-egg mixture. When everything is well incorporated, pour the mixture over the pre-baked crust and bake in a 400º F for 25 – 30 minutes until set. Let bars cool before slicing.

3 Responses to “exploding happiness”

  1. 1 Julie Buckles June 29, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Love it. We’ll have to try some soon.

  2. 2 Gina June 29, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Is this a recipe conjured from your own imagination?

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