Pineapple Carrot Bars

Before taking off on our Yellowstone adventure last week, Shaun and I attended a summer picnic at his parents place. To me, nothing quite beats a barbecue on a beautiful summer day and this was no exception. Part of my excitement for picnics (or of being invited anywhere for that matter) stems from choosing what to make for the occasion. Since I'm still honing my baking skills and feel as though one can never go wrong with an Ina Garten recipe*, I dug out her Pineapple Carrot Cake which I had seen her make years ago and have been longing for it ever since.

While she made hers into a decadent two-layer cake, I took a chance and thought that they might work as a more picnic and finger food friendly bar. And oh was I right.

While they are heartily filled with carrots, raisins and walnuts (no shortage of fiber here!), they also incorporate pineapple, which is a personal favorite and a fun summer twist on this heavy dish. The finished product was nothing short of mouth watering, and in fact, my own mom proclaimed them one of my best yet. Are you sold?

Pineapple Carrot Bars
*Adapted from Ina Garten, 2007
2 C granulated sugar
1 1/3 C canola or vegetable oil
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 C plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 C raisins
1 C chopped walnuts
1 lb carrots, grated (this was about 3 C grated carrots), plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup diced pineapple, plus extra for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter and flour a 13x9 inch baking pan. While Ina recommends also adding parchment paper to also butter and flour, I went the peanut butter and jelly bar route by skipping this step. Luckily, I didn't have a repeat incident of depressing broken cake.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or using a hand mixer), beat the sugar, oil and eggs together until the mixture is light yellow. In a separate mixing bowl, sift together 2 1/2 C flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until combined. Once this mixing bowl is empty, add the raisins and walnuts, mixing with the remaining 1 tbsp of flour (Note: coating the raisins and walnuts with flour keeps them from sinking to the bottom of the cake). Fold in the grated carrots and the diced pineapple Note: to make this super easy on myself, I used my food processor with the grater attachment for the carrots which got 'er done in a snap.

I also used Dole canned pineapple chunks which I cut in half before adding to the mixture.

Add this mixture to the batter and mix well.

Pour into baking pan and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares with a good seraded knife.

Cream Cheese Frosting
12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 C confectioners' sugar

Oh how I love a basic cream cheese frosting. Mix the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer. Add the sugar one cup at a time, mixing until smooth and fluffy. With a knife or spatula, spread onto each bar. Garnish with shredded carrot and pineapple slice.

So there you have it - a round up of one of my favorite baking endeavors thus far. What do you think? What is your favorite picnic food or summer ingredient?

*For even more Ina fun, check out my twist on her Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars, Pink Coconut Cupcakes, Herb Roasted Turkey Breast, and Slow Cooker Beef Brisket.