When I tell you this recipe is "a keeper" I hope you know I'm not just saying that for my health. If I were, I'd have to offer a disclaimer, like eating an entire batch could cause instant weight gain and a couch-potato coma. I am saying you need to keep this recipe on hand, taped to the inside of your kitchen cabinet doors if need be, so you'll never have to look for it when you need to make something totally scrumptious to please a crowd, or even just one grumpy old man.
This recipe is from Colleen Newton, a dear friend who recently passed away. Colleen told me she made Cherry Squares every Christmas and for every special occasion - like weddings. Colleen has a lot of grandchildren and so there have been a lot of weddings, and that's where I first tasted her Cherry Squares, at one of those weddings. The Cherry Squares were so good I asked her for the recipe and she wrote it out by hand for me (and told me to be sure to cut them small) - just look at her beautiful penmanship - just one of the things I envied about Colleen!
Colleen touched so many lives in her 82 years and not just her family's. Colleen was somewhat of a dinosaur - her kind are almost extinct - and by that I mean those women who can do it all...give birth, wipe noses, can peaches, clean, cook, sew, crochet, knit, paint, garden, teach, sing, all in one day and then get up and do it all over again the next and the next without batting an eye. Colleen had a knack for making things beautiful, and she was such a great example to me of what a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend should be. Among her many talents, Colleen led the choir at church and I, not being a member of the choir and totally unable to sing a note, appointed myself as her Choir Barometer, the irony of that was not lost on her. I always sit in the back at church (less likely to be hit by a lightning bolt I reckon) and Colleen would ask me how the choir sounded in the back and I would tell her - she humored me my observations. As if I could tell her a thing! But Colleen went out of her way to be kind to me - to talk to me and share her wisdom and she usually always ended our conversations by telling me to "hang in there."
It seemed only fitting that I should make a batch of Colleen's Cherry Squares and enjoy them in her honor - and I would like to suggest you do the same. They are incredibly good...buttery shortbread crust, with a center of maraschino cherries, pecans and coconut, topped with a cherry butter-cream frosting...providing the perfect amount of sweetness and crunch - just like Colleen.
Cherry Squares - From Colleen Newton
1 cup flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, cut into small dice
pinch of salt
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup drained, chopped, maraschino cherries, reserve juice
1/2 cup flour plus 1 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped nuts, either walnuts or pecans (I used pecans)
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons reserved cherry juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For the base: In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, powdered sugar and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry knife. Press evenly into the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes, remove and allow to cool slightly.
For the filling: In a large mixing bowl (you can do this by hand, or use a mixer) beat the eggs slightly. Add brown sugar and beat well. Stir in almond extract, coconut, chopped maraschino cherries, flour, baking powder, salt and nuts. Mix until combined. Spread over baked and cooled base. Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes or until center is set. Remove and allow to cool completely before frosting.
For the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the butter, powdered sugar and reserved cherry juice and mix until smooth. Spread evenly over cooled top. Cut into squares. (Colleen always cut hers small, because she was always feeding a crowd, but I like to cut mine into 2x2-inch squares so I get 24 to 26 squares.)