I thought we could do with a little whimsy this week. Enter Mermaid Birthday Sugar Cookie Bars.
Yep, it’s all about rainbows, unicorns and mermaids this week. Why not? It’s been raining on all of the wrong days. Games and picnics have been getting washed out…plans having to be changed.
Today, it’s so foggy, we’ve got zero visibility. Clearly, we need a splash of brightness and color around here. At least I do…
Sugar cookie bars have been around for quite awhile. I think they were a trend long before I started blogging. Most of them were frosted in bright fun colors. Many are decorated for every holiday of the year, from Christmas to Valentine’s to Halloween.
One of their most redeeming qualities is that while they are sugar cookies, they require no rolling and no cutting as traditional sugar cookies do.
That means they’re super easy to pull together for a party, special event or even if you just have a hankering for sugar cookies.
Another benefit, depending upon your sugar cookie preferences, is that they are made in bar form. Obviously. But, making a sugar cookie in bar form changes the texture.
The bars are thicker, heartier and have more chew to them, sort of like a blondie, but different because they don’t have that brown sugar caramelly taste that blondies have. After all, they’re sugar cookies.
I posted a sugar cookie bar quite a bit ago, much earlier in my blog life. In fact, it was exactly three years ago in this same month of May. (You can tell it was a few years ago by quality of those photos.)
At that time, I wanted to make a more “grown up” sugar cookie bar. So, I developed Vanilla Chai Sugar Cookie Bars.
I played around with that recipe until I got it just right. It’s a lovely bar to have with tea, especially since it’s made with a vanilla chai tea. So sophisticated! ;)
For my Mermaid Birthday Sugar Cookie Bars, I turned my back on all that “sophistication” in favor of something more fun and kid like. After all, these sugar cookie bars were headed for a younger crowd.
We wanted to celebrate the birthday of a special girl who’s shown my kids such kindness and friendship over the years.
She’s exactly the kind of girl you want your kids to have as a friend. She is smart, independent and strong. She has a moral compass that you’d expect to find in someone older.
In any case, we wanted to bring her a birthday treat along with her birthday gifts. I thought we could have some fun with sugar cookie bars.
And, I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t quite set out to make Mermaid Birthday Sugar Cookie Bars. They just sort of evolved as I went along.
I think some of my designers that I used to work with would find this evolution theory rather amusing now. Back in my retail days, part of our product development process was reviewing sketches from each designer.
My buyers would work out line plans with each designer so that each had a starting point. What was inspiring each designer? What type of silhouettes would be designed? How many styles? What price points? What fabrics and trims would we need?
It was a framework. It didn’t have to be exact, but it helped drive the designer’s line forward. I wanted to make sure that each designer could fulfill his/her vision while trying to help their product be as successful as possible.
Once the framework was in place, the designers went to town sketching their ideas and swatching fabrics and trims that illustrated their vision for the finished garment.
This process was new to some of them. Over time, they really came to appreciate the extra bit of structure and strategy… and their lines flourished with it.
However, I did have one designer that used to show up to our sketch reviews with the most abstract sketches. They were kind of like artistic squiggles on the page that evoked a model clothed in fabric.
I would press for more details almost to no avail. I might get hints of inspiration, but that was about it. This was a designer who needed to work through the design.
She needed to work with her design team. She wanted to play with each idea, draping and pinning and trimming and re-imagining what her vision would be.
Each creation needed to evolve…with time. Eventually, a beautiful gown would emerge, a gown that looked nothing like the abstract sketch presented to me at sketch review.
It’s almost a sin for me to compare my sugar cookie bar evolution to those gorgeous creations.
It’s just that whenever I create anything, even something as simple as a cookie bar without a plan in place, I always think of that team and have to smile to myself. (This is why I’m pretty certain that I’ve mentioned the story before.)
Okay. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. I was making these cookie bars for a birthday, so I wanted that birthday cake flavor.
I started with rainbow sprinkles, which I know doesn’t have a lot to do with flavor, but so much to do with fun. I added them to the batter.
Then, I threw in some white chocolate chips. That would give them that vanilla frosting kind of flavor. Yes, even though I would be frosting them, I wanted the bar itself to have that flavor within.
Oh, one more great thing about sugar cookie bars? No individual cookies to frost! Just a batch of frosting spread over the top and you’re done!
Now, those of you who know how I roll with frosting, know that I’m not a huge fan of sugary buttercreams.
The favorite frosting in our house is Whipped Cream Cream Cheese Frosting. Feel free to pop on over to that post where I swoon and fuss over that amazing stuff.
Today, however, I went with a sweeter buttercream. Yep, it’s a little more traditional to sugar cookies, so I bucked my usual not too sweet trend and dove in, head first.
It’s basically an American buttercream, made with butter, confectioner’s sugar and a bit of milk (or cream, if you have it) to loosen it up and make it super creamy.
It’s an easy frosting to make, so I whipped up a batch of vanilla.
Then, as my idea was “evolving” ;) I thought I would do some fun colors. I wanted to color coordinate a little bit with the gift we were giving.
I divided the batch of frosting in thirds and decided on purple, blue and pink for the colors. That’s when it started feeling a little mermaid-y to me.
I considered, for a heart beat, adding more colors and going all unicorn magic with it, but the colors I had picked were so pretty, I just stuck with the three.
Now, there are various ways to work with multiple colors of frosting. If you want total control over where your color swirls will be, you’ll have to divide your frosting differently.
Instead of dividing equally into thirds, take about 3/4 of your frosting and make it your base color. Then, divide up the rest of it into your accent colors.
Then, frost the whole top with your base color. Dollop bits of your accent colors over the top and swirl them as desired. The colors will be right where you want them to be.
I didn’t do that. I had something else in mind. I wanted colors swirled all over the top but chunks of color beneath. That way, when you cut the bars, you can see the pretty colors hidden below.
I think it makes it look kind of fun, and fun, after all was part of the goal here.
So, for that technique, we’re back with our equal thirds of colored frosting. I dolloped the colors pretty randomly all over the top of the baked cookie, covering as much of the surface as I could.
This is important, because you’re not going to get a chance to move the frosting all over the place or you’ll end up over mixing your colors. Just dollop and cover.
Now, with an offset spatula, begin flattening and pushing the dollops of frosting together, closing any gaps between them. Do this with a light hand.
Then, once you’ve closed the gaps and you have no cookie showing, lightly swirl the colors together. Do not dig deep as you’re doing this.
You only want the top surface to be swirled. If you go crazy, you’ll lose your colors. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Then, it’s time for more sprinkles! I happen to have a pantry full of all kinds of sprinkles. Pick ones you love. I used rainbow for the cookie dough portion, but I wanted to be more intentional with color for the topping.
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I happened to have white and blue “pearls” of different sizes, blue and pink and white jimmies and some pretty gem shapes to work with.
I love how it turned out, but at that moment I was thinking about the amazing sprinkle creations that Sweetapolita makes. Seriously, sprinkles don’t get more fun than that! If you’re a sprinkle lover, you must check her site out!
After I finished topping the cookie bars with my own sprinkle creation, I dusted the top with clear cake sparkles.
I love cake sparkles! They add a shiny, glistening element. They come in lots of colors, but I like the white ones (which are actually clear) the best because I can use them on any color frosting.
And since I was feeling a little mermaid-y, I thought that extra shine lent itself to an ocean feel.
Once I finished decorating the top, I let the frosting set for a bit. I wanted to get nice clean cuts.
If you followed my directions, when you cut into it, you’ll see pretty chunks of frosting colors peeking out from beneath the swirls of frosting on top.
I’m know pink is a bit of a rebel color in mermaid land, but I love the contrast pop of color beneath all of the purple and blues. Oh, and maybe I should have included some green.
But, I didn’t plan my Mermaid Birthday Sugar Cookie Bars so specifically from the beginning. They just evolved in their own free-spirited way.
I’m pretty sure that was A-okay with the birthday girl :)
Mermaid Birthday Sugar Cookie Bars
For the bars:
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter 1 stick, room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 Tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
- 1/4 cup white chocolate chips
For the frosting:
- 1/2 cup salted butter room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1-2 Tablespoons milk
- pink, blue and purple food coloring
- assorted sprinkles
For the bars:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9" square pan with foil. Spray bottom and sides lightly with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, beat room temperature butter for 30 seconds or until creamy. Add the sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes or until lightened and fluffy. Add the egg, then the yolk one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add vanilla and almond extracts and mix until combined.
Gradually add the flour and mix on lowest speed until combined. Stir in rainbow sprinkles and white chocolate chips.
Press cookie dough evenly into prepared pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until very light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan.
For the frosting:
Place butter in a mixing bowl and beat until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the confectioner's sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 2-3 more minutes. Add milk, a spoonful at a time until you get a creamy consistency.
Divide frosting equally into three bowls. Add food coloring to each bowl to achieve desired shade.
Remove cooled cookie from the pan and remove foil. Place spoonfuls of each frosting color randomly over the top of the cookie. Using an icing spatula, gently connect each pile of frosting to each other, then lightly swirl the top. Be careful not to swirl so much that all of your colors mix together. This technique will give you a soft marbled top with chunks of color beneath it that you'll see when you cut into bars.
Top with assorted sprinkles before the frosting sets. Allow to set, then cut into bars.
*I used unsalted butter in the bars and salted butter in the frosting. If you use unsalted butter in the frosting, add 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
*If you want more control over how your frosting is swirled, see the post for an alternate technique.
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