Snack Like a Southerner: Almond Cream Cheese Shortbread Bars



1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft (1 stick)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional or to taste

4 ounces brick-style cream cheese, softened (lite is okay)
1 large egg
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 to 2 teaspoons almond extract (I used 2)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (half of 1 stick)
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons almond extract
about 2 tablespoons cream or milk
about 1/4 cup slivered almonds (mine were untoasted)

Step One:
"Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside."

Step Two:
"Crust - In a large bowl, combine all crust ingredients and using two forks or your hands, cut butter into dry ingredients until evenly distributed and pea-sized lumps and sandy bits form. The softer the butter is, the quicker and easier it is."

Step Three:
"Turn mixture out into prepared pan and hard-pack it with a spatula or hands to create an even, uniform, flat crust layer. Bake crust for about 15 minutes, or just until barely set (pan is going back in oven so don't overbake or crust will be crumbly). While crusts bakes, prepare the filling."

Step Four:
"Filling - In a large bowl (same one is fine, just wipe out with a paper towel), add all filling ingredients, and whisk by hand or beat with an electric mixer until smooth and combined; it's okay filling is on the thin side. I prefer a stronger almond flavor and use 2 teaspoons extract, if you don't, scale the amount back."

Step Five:
"After crust has baked for about 15 minutes, remove pan from the oven, and evenly pour filling mixture over the crust. Filling will likely slide into place, but lightly spread it into corners using a spatula if necessary."

Step Six:
"Return pan to oven and bake for about 16 to 19 minutes, or until filling is no longer jiggly in the center and edges have begun to set up; filling will set up more as it cools. Remove pan from oven, and place on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting."

Step Seven:
"Frosting - In a large bowl (same one is fine, just wipe out with a paper towel), add the butter, confectioners' sugar, almond extract, and slowly drizzle in the cream while whisking by hand or beating with an electric mixer. As necessary, add additional cream (or sugar) to reach desired glaze consistency."

Step Eight:
"Evenly frost the bars, smoothing frosting lightly with a spatula as necessary. Evenly sprinkle with slivered almonds."

Step Nine:
"Allow bars to cool in pan uncovered for at least 1 hour (or overnight and cover with a sheet of foil) before slicing and serving so frosting can set up. Bars will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 5 days. I'm comfortable storing frosted items at room temp; store in the fridge if you're not, noting bars could become overly dry in the fridge, or store in the freezer for up to 6 months."

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