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The Cup Of All Fears

I’ll come right out with it: cup measurements freak me out. (And that’s cup measurements for baking Mister, before your mind starts wandering elsewhere. Tsk).

Despite possessing a set of measuring cups, not to mention several conversion charts, I am never entirely sure how much a cup of X actually contains, as it seems to vary quite significantly, depending on how that cup of X was filled and who was doing the filling. Give me ounces or grams and the reassurance of a weighing scales any day.

My cup-o-phobia was the one thing, in fact, that concerned me ever so slightly about participating in the International Holiday Cookie Recipe Exchange. The brainchild of Adrienne from Gastroanthropology and Lori from Fake Food Free, the idea behind the exchange was to pair up participating bloggers, who would then swap recipes for seasonal treats. Would I be foiled by the dreaded cup measurements in my designated exchange recipe?

Butterscotch-glazed coffee shortbread bars

Butterscotch-glazed coffee shortbread bars

And the answer to that was, thankfully, no, not this time.

It was with an immense sigh of relief that I clapped eyes on the formula for butterscotch-glazed coffee shortbread bars sent to me by Lisa, from Lisa Is Cooking. Safe in the knowledge of the standard 3-parts-flour-to-2-parts-butter-to-1-part-sugar ratio for shortbread, I did not have to agonise over those 2¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons of flour. I could get on with delighting in the shortbread, which I did, very much.

I was so sorry to see the last of these bars go, in fact, that I’m baking another batch right now and inhaling the buttery aroma as I type. And a cup of tea or coffee is the only kind of cup I’ll need to make these perfect.

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Butterscotch-Glazed Coffee Shortbread Bars

Lisa tells me that this is a Flo Braker recipe, originally published in the December 2008 issue of Food and Wine (that’s the U.S. magazine, not the Irish one of the same name). You can see Lisa’s own take on the recipe over here and I have done very little to change it, other than as noted below:

– I substituted a small amount of rice flour for some of the plain flour, which is what I almost always do when making any kind of shortbread, as it adds a slight sandiness to the texture, which I like.
– Instead of using light corn syrup in the glaze, I added golden syrup, which is a much more commonly available equivalent in these parts.
– I used a slightly smaller baking tin, partly because I didn’t have the larger sized tin specified and partly because Lisa reckoned that it would be nice to make the bars slightly thicker. It was. Good call Lisa.
– The recipe calls for chocolate-covered coffee beans and, as I didn’t have any of those, but did have chocolate and coffee beans, I made my own. See recipe following.
– I grated some orange zest onto the bars once they were done. It gave them a lovely festive lift, though they are just as good without.

Where relevant, I’ve given metric and imperial equivalents for the original cup measurements, so you can use whichever you prefer, though there are no prizes for guessing where I stand on that particular matter.

For the shortbread:
  • 350g / 12oz / 2 ¼ cups plus 2 tblsp plain flour [or use a mix of 1 part rice flour to 4 parts plain flour]
  • 1 tblsp finely ground espresso beans
  • 0.25 tsp salt
  • 225g / 8oz / 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g / 4oz / ½ cup plus 1 tblsp sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
For the glaze:
  • 4 tblsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g / 2oz / ⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tblsp strong-brewed espresso
  • 1 tblsp light corn syrup or golden syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 40 chocolate-covered coffee beans [see recipe following]
  • Zest of half an orange (optional)
You’ll also need:
  • Parchment paper plus a baking tin: for thicker bars, use a 20cm x 30cm (8in x 12in) baking tin, for thinner bars, use a 22.5cm x 32.5cm (9in x 13in) tin
The Shortbread Steps:
  • Preheat the oven to 150C and position a rack in the center of the oven. Line the bottom of your baking tin with parchment paper.
  • Whisk the plain flour, rice flour (if using), ground coffee and salt together well in a medium-sized bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until very pale and fluffy (or use a food processor or stand mixer to do the job for you).
  • Beat the vanilla into the butter and sugar.
  • Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing just until the dough is combined.
  • Press the dough into the baking tin. Spread a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the dough and, using a flat-bottomed glass, smooth the dough into an even layer. Remove the plastic wrap and bake the shortbread for about 50 minutes, until very lightly browned on top and firm but not solid to the touch.
  • Transfer the tin to a rack to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Cut the warm shortbread lengthwise into 8 strips, then cut crosswise into 5 rows. Allow the bars to cool completely.
The Glaze Steps:
  • In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, espresso, corn syrup or golden syrup and salt and bring to a boil over moderate heat, swirling the pan. Boil just until slightly thickened, around 1.5 to 2 minutes, then remove from the heat.
  • Immediately the bubbling subsides, pour the hot glaze over the shortbread. Working quickly, spread the glaze in an even layer using a spatula or palette knife or similar. Using the tip of a lightly oiled paring knife, score the glaze between the cuts, without dragging. Press a chocolate-covered coffee bean into the centre of each bar.
  • Let the bars cool slightly, then carefully lift them out and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle with orange zest if you like, and tuck in. If there are any left when you’re done, they’ll keep in an airtight tin for up to a week (though you might have to hide the tin if you want them to last that long).
The Variations:
  • For some reason, I couldn’t help but want to introduce some banana into this shortbread equation, perhaps using the shortbread as a base for a kind of banoffi bar, topped with some caramelised bananas in a butterscotchy caramel. I’ll have to work on that one.
The Results:
  • 40 little shortbread bars
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Chocolate-covered Coffee Beans

I considered buying some chocolate-covered coffee beans for the shortbread recipe, until I realised that I had both chocolate and coffee beans at my disposal, so I made my own. It hardly requires a recipe, really – the process can be neatly summarised as follows: melt chocolate, stir in the beans, leave to set. If you wanted to be fancy about it, you could temper the chocolate, but there’s no real need. As for amounts, I would say that around 25g chocolate should be plenty to coat 2 tblsp coffee beans.

You’ll need:
  • good quality dark chocolate
  • good quality coffee beans
You’ll also need:
  • parchment paper
The Steps:
  • Break the chocolate up into small pieces, place in a heatproof bowl over a pot of hot (but not simmering) water and keep over a very low heat until just melted. Alternatively, place the chocolate pieces in a microwave-safe bowl and give it a series of short bursts (say 10 seconds or so) on medium power, checking after each 10 second burst and continuing until the chocolate has just melted.
  • Stir in the coffee beans until coated with the chocolate.
  • Spread the coated coffee beans on parchment paper, separating any clumps into individual beans. Leave to set for a few hours or overnight if possible. You can keep them in an airtight container in the fridge if not using straight away.
The Variations:
  • If you’re comfortable with tempering chocolate, then by all means do that if you’d like your coated beans to sport a glossier sheen. You can also vary this simply by varying your choice of chocolate and coffee bean, each of which will have their own distinctive flavours.
The Results:
  • Chocolate-coated coffee beans for your enjoyment.


  1. lisaiscooking

    The thicker bars look great! I love the idea of making your own chocolate-covered coffee beans. I have to try that! I need to make another batch of these bars for this year too.

  2. Nancy Toner

    Cup measures…there is a standard set you can buy, and you measure a level cup,,,in liquid it is marked on the side of the glass beaker. otherwise it is the tedious task of looking up what does a cup of sugar weigh etc….

  3. Daily Spud

    Lisa: oh do make the thicker bars, I think you’ll like them – and I was delighted with the idea of doing my own chocolate covered beans – simple to do and saved me a trip to town!

    Nancy: thanks for that – I do own a set of (what I had always assumed to be) standard measuring cups, though I think US and European standards are different, so that probably doesn’t help; the other thing is that I have grown up with baking by weight and that just feels more natural for me;

  4. 5 Star Foodie

    These are so scrumptious looking! Love the glaze and the chocolate covered coffee beans!

  5. Tim

    That knocking on your front door? That’s me.

  6. Daily Spud

    5 Star Foodie: love those too – they were a big hit when I brought them into the office :)

    Tim: so you’d brave the snow and ice for these, then? just checking, like

  7. Katie

    ha-ha Tim, we have eaten them ALL !! They were divine …

  8. Reeni

    There’s something about bar cookies that I especially love! These look incredibly good and the chocolate covered coffee beans are a treat in themselves!

  9. sippitysup

    You want to hear an odd confession. One of my “resolutions” last year was to become a better baker. So I got a scale and started using it. It’s very natural to me now. I’ll still revert to volume if the recipe is written that way, but more and more I prefer weight. However, on Sippity Sup I always go through the painstaking process of converting the weight in the recipe to volume because I think people prefer that. But you have me questioning my thinking with this… GREG

  10. Daily Spud

    Katie: harsh but true!

    Reeni: I don’t know quite what it is but I do love bars like this myself, and these are particularly good ones…

    sippitysup: In these parts specifying by weight is the norm and a scale would just be a very standard part of any home cook or baker’s equipment. In fact, I didn’t realise until after I had started the blog just how uncommon it seems to be for home cooks in the U.S. to have a scale. So I think a lot of Sup’s readers will most likely still prefer to have the cup measurements but, if you’ve gone to the trouble of doing the conversions, you could include both in your recipes. I’d be all for that personally :)

  11. OysterCulture

    Yum, and how brave of you to reveal your cup phobia. These butterscotch bars look worth the effort, and anything originating from Lori is sure to be delicious. I love the Spud modifications and will certainly incorporate them into my version. I cannot wait to give these a try.

  12. Tangled Noodle

    These bars are chockful of all that’s good in this lovely world. I love ’em, especially because you made your own chocolate-covered coffee beans! I often use volume measures because they are the default measurement in most of the recipes I use. However, I do have a scale and have successfully made a few recipes using weight measure (such as your farls). Perhaps it’s an easier transition from volume to weight than vice versa but you faced your cup fears and emerged sweetly victorious! 8-)

  13. Sophie

    Waw!! What an outstanding & beautiful & tasty looking end product!! I love very component of real flavour in these tasty bars!!

    You rock, girl!

  14. sarah, simply cooked

    Spud, I use cup measures all the time (the same standard set that all North American cooks, use, with 1 cup = 250 ml), but I always blog with both volume and weight measurements because it makes my recipes more accessible to my readers. I think weight measurements are more accurate, and so they can be important for baking, but cup measures are very easy to use, and faster (at least for me). The bars look delicious. :)

  15. gastroanthropologist

    Looking amazing! I’m going have to try your rice flour trick too! Growing up in the States where I don’t even think most households have cooking scales, but being trained in the European style of baking (which is more accurate), I have a hodge podge of recipes – all in different measurements. It can all be very confusing!

  16. Lisa

    Those look amazing. I’m in the US but have a huge collection of British and Irish cookbooks for which I had to cave and get a proper scale. I must admit that I am terrible at using measuring cups for baking as I’m always forgetting to level off the flour and often can’t find the Pyrex measuring jug for liquids…

    That being said, I bounce between cups and scale, cups and scale, and everything usually turns out okay.

    And now I’m going to enjoy a lonely cup of coffee and dream of those gorgeous treats you are taunting me with. :)

  17. Travel Food Phil

    I agree with the dislike of cup meausements, much prefer something I can weight out on scales especially when it comes to baking as it has to be so precise most of the time.

  18. Daily Spud

    OysterCulture: Well, the first step in conquering any phobia is to admit you have one :D Enjoy the bars!

    Tangled Noodle: they do pack in a lot of my favourite things, that’s for sure – how could I not emerge victorious? :)

    Sophie: aw thank you, the end product was definitely a good one…

    sarah: of course providing both types of measurement is the most helpful thing for the reader – wish I could get it together enough to do that all the time!

    gastroanthropologist: it can indeed be confusing – and do try the rice flour trick or use cornstarch for the same kind of effect

    Lisa: sorry to taunt – you’re just going to have to break out either your scale or your cups and make some :D

    Travel Food Phil: that, I have to say, is precisely how I feel…

  19. Dana

    you are great! this is really very useful especially because of the christmas season. I am always wondering what i can do this christmas to surprise my family and friends.You gave me the greatest idea.
    P.S. these look delicious :)

  20. Daily Spud

    Why thank you Dana, hope you enjoy. Thanks so much for stopping by and hope that you had a wonderful Christmas.

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