A cake bar, also known as a dessert bar or simply a bar or square, is a type of American “bar cookie” that has the texture of a firm cake or a softer-than-usual cookie. They are prepared in a pan and baked in the oven, then cut into squares or rectangles. Cake bars are popular at bake sales, birthdays, and during the holidays, and can also be found at coffee shops and bakeries.
Cake bars, dessert bars, or simply bars or squares, are a type of American ‘bar cookie' that has the texture of a firm cake or softer than usual cookie
Answered from Larrisa
What's a Cake Bar?
As someone who loves baking and trying new dessert recipes, I recently came across “cake bars” in a few recipes online. I had never heard the term before and wasn't sure how cake bars might be different from regular cakes or cookies. After doing some research on what defines a cake bar and trying making some at home, here is what I learned about what cake bars are all about!
What is the definition of a cake bar?
Simply put, a cake bar is a sweet, baked dessert that combines elements of a cake and a cookie in both texture and shape. Cake bars:
- Are made from thick, cake-like batter poured into a pan and baked.
- Have a soft, moist, and somewhat dense interior, similar to cake.
- Are cut into bar or square shapes rather than round like cakes.
- Have crispy edges with a more cookie-like texture.
So cake bars take on some qualities of cakes, while their shape and exterior give them cookie-style attributes. Their hybrid nature gives them their name!
How do cake bars differ from cakes?
While called “bars”, cake bars differ from typical cakes in a few ways:
- Shape – Cake bars are rectangular and flat, while cakes are round or sheet style.
- Thickness – Bars are thicker, often over 2 inches tall. Cakes are usually 1 inch or less.
- Serving style – Bars are cut into individual portions. Cakes are sliced wedge-style.
- Texture – Bars are denser and more solid all the way through compared to soft, layered cakes.
- Toppings – Bars may be topped with crumbles or frosting. Cakes have more decorative icing.
So while cake bars do have a tender, cakey interior, their shape and construction give them a distinct identity from cake.
How are cake bars different from bar cookies?
Cake bars are often lumped under the broader category of “bar cookies” along with brownies, fruit bars, blondies, and others. However, typical cookie bars have some differences:
- They spread out more during baking, giving them a thinner profile. Cake bars bake up taller.
- Traditional bar cookies are often crumbly. Cake bars hold together better when cut.
- Cookie bars like shortbread have a crispy base. Cake bars are soft throughout.
So while they're bar-shaped like cookie bars, the cake batter makes cake bars softer and taller than most bar cookies.
What about the texture of cake bars?
The texture of cake bars hits a sweet spot between cakey and cookie-like:
- Moist and tender like cake, but also more sturdy and sliceable.
- Softer and more uniform than cookies, but with crispy edges.
- Thicker than cookies bars for grabbing and eating out of hand.
Getting the perfect texture takes a bit of practice! Underbaking leaves them too soft, while overbaking makes them dry. Look for moist yet firm bars that hold together well.
What are some classic cake bar recipes?
Popular cake bar recipes include:
- Brownies – Dense, fudgy, chocolatey squares.
- Lemon bars – Tart lemon curd over a buttery shortbread crust.
- Pumpkin bars – Spiced pumpkin cake base with cream cheese frosting.
- Oatmeal fudge bars – Chewy oats, chocolate chips, and coconut.
- Rice Krispie treats – Marshmallowy squares with crispy cereal.
From fruit flavors to nuts and chocolate chips, the options are endless!
What ingredients are used to make cake bars?
Cake bars use ingredients found in most cake and cookie recipes:
- Fat – Butter, oil, or margarine for moisture and richness.
- Sugar – Granulated white sugar or brown sugar.
- Eggs – For structure and binding.
- Flour – All-purpose or cake flour serves as the base.
- Liquid – Milk, water, juice, or coffee to thin the batter.
- Leaveners – Baking powder or soda to make them rise.
- Flavorings – Vanilla, cocoa powder, spices, extracts, etc.
- Mix-ins – Nuts, oats, dried fruit, chocolate chips, etc.
Cake bars are highly adaptable, so feel free to get creative with add-ins!
Should I frost or top cake bars?
Cake bars can be enjoyed plain or with some type of topping:
- A streusel crumble topping adds lovely texture.
- A dusting of powdered sugar or drizzle of glaze is easy.
- Cream cheese or buttercream frosting pairs nicely with fruit or spice flavors.
- Chocolate ganache or fudge frosting works great for chocolate varieties.
Toppings are optional but can take cake bars to the next level! Add them sparingly though so they don't overwhelm the base.
When should I make cake bars vs. cookies?
Both delicious, cookies and cake bars each shine in certain scenarios:
- For potlucks or parties – Easy to transport and serve
- To deliver as gifts – Can be neatly wrapped up
- For lunchboxes – Sturdy and tidy to pack
- For mailing gifts – Ship better than fragile bars
- For decorating – Fun to decorate cookies individually
- For kids – Easy for little hands to grab and dunk into milk
- For packaging gifts – Range of packaging options for different cookie shapes
So consider portability, use, and personal preference when deciding between cake bars and cookies!
How do I properly store and serve cake bars?
To enjoy cake bars at their best:
- Allow bars to cool completely before cutting for clean slices.
- Cut into smaller portions for easy grabbing and eating.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to one week.
- Freeze extras up to 2-3 months; thaw before serving.
- Bring to room temperature or slightly warm before serving for best texture.
Slice neatly, store carefully, and serve fresh for cake bar bliss!
Trying cake bars was an enlightening baking experiment for me. Now that I know how tasty yet easy they are to make, cake bars will be finding their way to my kitchen table much more often!