I can’t remember the last time I set foot in a bar. It might have been late last summer, meeting friends at Bemelmans after seeing a show at the Met. I ordered a virgin bloody mary; I was pregnant. Now the baby’s a few months old and I’m breastfeeding, so the plush dim of hotel bars is still a piano-tickled memory. I’m being drawn instead to the homier, stickier kind—making them to serve with tea for friends who come calling to see the little one. Date bars, English flapjacks, shortbread topped with jam and almonds, brownies and something I came across in Scotland a few years ago called Dashing White Sergeant—a version of the traditional tiffin: a no-bake pressed bar topped with white chocolate. (I serve these with a pot of PG Tips decaf. A far cry from the G&Ts of yesteryear, but appropriate.)
From left: Montreal’s Habitat 67, designed by architect Moise Safdie for Expo 67. Lyle’s Golden Syrup- first sold in 1883- is a British baking mainstay. Sophia Coppola at Marc Jacob’s fall 2013 show. Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard.
Bars are inherently domestic, their firm layers reminiscent of cushions, the shapes—soft cubes— like the grids of quilts and blankets. The straightforward geometry of cutting a big slab into finger-friendly portions comforts me, as does the wholesomeness of oats and nuts— popular bar ingredients. This most unpretentious of confections transports me to what I imagine is a Depression-era mindset, when butter, sugar and flour seemed the simple basis for heartfelt, communal gestures.
From left: Midori tote, $160, midoriribbon.com. The geometric sleeping pallet in Donald Judd’s NYC studio, 101 Spring Street. AESOP soap slabs, $21.
Lately, the social state is echoing my internal one. Perhaps it’s a craving for rigidity and safety as communities are randomly torn apart by bombs, threats and guns. Marc Jacobs’ latest collection for Louis Vuitton featured bold slabs of black. Donald Judd, minimalist master of the box and stack, is the focus of a major show in London at David Zwirner, and his legendary SoHo studio is reopening to the public this month. In April, com- poser Caroline Shaw’s “Partita for 8 Voices” won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for pieces inspired by the grids of Sol LeWitt. Whether aural, visual or edible, bars give us soothing repetition, structure and delight.
From left: Leanne Shapton painting. Louis Vuitton s/s 2013. Donald Judd with Untitled, 1975.
How to Make: English Flapjacks
Here, flapjack is just another word for pancake; in the U.K., a flapjack is a buttery pressed oat bar with a delicious caramel flavour. I ate my first, a cheap packaged one, at London’s Highbury Tube station. Since then I’ve had a flapjack fetish. My recipe includes Lyle’s Golden Syrup and crushed cornflakes, for extra sweetness and crunch.
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup golden syrup
- 2 cups quick-cooking oats
- 1 handful crushed cornflakes
- 1 pinch salt
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Butter an 8x8x2-inch baking pan. Combine first 3 ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan.
3. Stir over low heat until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat.
4. Add oats, cornflakes and salt; stir until coated. Transfer to prepared pan and press into even layer.
5. Bake 25 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm. Cool before serving.