Faded Class (A Visit to Pittsburgh’s Mallorca)

We went to Mallorca this evening to celebrate our anniversary/Valentine’s day, and while it was good enough, it had that vibe that a lot of older restaurants that have had a good reputation for a long time do:  It was a dusty, dingy old place with mediocre food.

I’ve been to a bunch of these places around the city although they are by no means solely the domain of Pittsburgh.  The waitstaff is well dressed, usually in service tuxes.  They have a nice wine list and linens.  They have valet service and a coat check. You see a lot of young, inexperienced couples as well as handfuls of older locals who seem to know the staff.  The decor is wallpaper and painted wood, and in this case the paint was chipped.  Around the room lights had burned out and were not replaced. The hallway to the restrooms was filled with hardware and the men’s restroom itself had that vaguely damp, shiny painted floor and unkept toilets.

When our waiter rattled off a huge list of specials, we were intrigued.  Tons of seafood, wild boar, lamb shanks, duck.  I had the lamb shanks and Dawn the duck, and when it arrived it was…eh.  I’m not too well schooled in lamb but what I received was too fatty, not very well seasoned and just kind of blah.  The duck was ok.  Our salads were smothered in thousand island dressing, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was eating a Big Mac.  Sides came eventually and while the rice was good, the mixed vegetables seemed thrown together and old.  They also served homemade potato chips and they tasted fine but by the time they got to us they were soggy.  And why chips anyway?

Ultimately, it was a fine dinner, but I was struck by how restaurants of a certain vintage seem to fall into this trap where they stop caring about how the place looks or how food culture has changed and are content to do things as they always have.  They coast along on their reputation as the place literally falls apart and then one day the lights are out and the doors locked, as they’ve idled their way into oblivion.

Cranberry Bliss Bar Wars

If you search around the web for homespun variations of the infamous Starbucks’ Cranberry Bliss Bar, you’ll undoubtedly find a number of attempts and “adaptations”- the term recipe bloggers use when they steal recipes outright and change a single measurement or whatever. No judgement though, I’m about to do the same.

Serious Eats posted this recipe which started off my search for the perfect fake, it’s adapted from Mr. Breakfast, who in turn received it from “Gerry.” The problem with this and many of the other variations I’ve found all seem to treat the “bar” component of the bliss bar as cake, where it seems to be more of a shortbread. My initial attempt tasted fine but was too heavily gingered and way too caky. The actual Starbucks’ bar is a thin sliver of deadly goodness.

With that attempt under my belt, I went ahead and pulled together a shortbread based Cranberry Bliss Bar recipe based on the following:

The recipe follows:

CRANBERRY BLISS BARS ALA PLAY MY CARDS RIGHT

Ingredients for shortbread bar:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted, room temperature butter
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (OPTIONAL)
  • 1/4 cup minced dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate coarsely chopped, or white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup minced candied ginger

Personally, I found the ginger to be a bit much, so use as much as you desire, or as little.

Ingredients for frosting:

  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Ingredients for garnish:

  • 1/3 cup white chocolate (as above coarsely chopped or chips)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

GET TO WORK

1. Make the shortbread: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt (and ginger, optionally). In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on high speed until pale and fluffy. Add egg yolks and sugar, and beat until sugar is dissolved and the mixture is light. Reduce mixer speed to low, and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until the ingredients are incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and place in freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.

BAKE

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the center.  Remove dough from the freezer and pat it gently just to get it into the corners.  Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes.  Cool to room temp either on a wire rack or in the fridge.

FROST AND GARNISH

When cake is cooled, mix all frosting ingredients together and spread a thin layer over the cake. Immediately sprinkle with the minced cranberries. Melt the white chocolate over the stove and in the microwave and drizzle it over the cake.  Make it messy, mix it up if you want.  Use more chocolate than I specify.  This stuff is good.

CUT LIKE A BARISTA

Slice the cake lengthwise through the middle. Slice the cake across the width three times making a total of eight rectangular slices. Slice each of those rectangles diagonally creating 16 triangular slices.

VIOLA. (pics forthcoming :P)

YOU WILL BE THE ENVY OF YOUR COMMUNITY WITH THESE BARS OR YOUR MONEY BACK.

Update:
I ate an actual Cranberry Bliss Bar today and mine taste nothing like it.  The bar was indeed cakie- like a cookie bar or something.  There were bits of fruit that didn’t taste like ginger to me that I suggested may be candied lemon or orange peels but Dawn felt it was lemon zest.  There was definitely a citrusy vibe happening.  The white chocolate chunks were plentiful and the ginger taste was near-zero.  I still love this recipe, its just not really identical.