My sister Linda cheerfully admits she doesn’t like to bake or cook. She does bake more than I do however, being more of a dessert person than I am. When we were baking at her house recently we were laughing over her cupboards. She took pictures of some of the things we were laughing over and gave me permission to expose her wacky ways.
We were making a lime version of what we call Neiman Marcus bars. Years ago when Linda was single and teaching in a small town fresh out of college, she sent me the recipe and said it was so good. I happen to make them and put them on my Christmas Eve buffet, and they’ve been a tradition to this day.
Most years I’ve made two pans of them to last through the holidays. In typical Linda fashion, she has no memory of ever making the bars or giving the recipe to me. She maintains that it is an urban legend; she had nothing to do with the creating of this tradition.
By the name of the bars I assumed it was one of those recipes like the $250 cookie recipes that were popular awhile back. Someone would claim that they asked for a recipe and ended up paying dearly for it. Most of those stories are urban legends.
Or the other explanation would be the store itself. I’ve never lived in a town where there was a Neiman Marcus, but vaguely knew they had a café in their department store. More likely the bars were made and served there and someone either got the recipe or figured it out for a copycat recipe. Either way, we were charmed by them and have never tired of the recipe.
I’ve since seen the recipe called ‘Gooey Bars’. At some point people even credit Paula Deen with creating them. Not true, methinks. The recipe I have been using for 30 years is more likely to be an offshoot of something from Neiman Marcus. I think Paula Deen was still delivering lunches in paper bags back then. The bars may be gooey but they will always be Neiman Marcus to us. Besides, I just hate the phrase “ooey gooey” and if I hear it on a food show that show is history. Not sure why. I just hate it.
So we were making the lime version of these bars and laughing that Linda had to stick her fingers in her unmarked canisters and taste the contents to figure out if it was powdered sugar or flour. We needed both for this recipe.
We also needed a zester for the lime zest. Linda thought this would zest the limes but I explained that it was a mandolin and it only slices. Since her grater had been left at a friend’s house when they were making soap, we had to make do without the lime zest. The finished bars would be slightly less lime.
Linda mixed the cake mix, eggs and stick of margarine for the first layer of the bars. She spread it into a baking pan. I’m wondering what the Wondra was used for; perhaps it was just setting there for some unknown reason. There is no Wondra in this recipe!
Next she measured out the ingredients for the second layer into a bowl. Using a hand mixer she beat it until it was smooth.
Pouring the second layer over the first, she smoothed it with a knife.
Finally Linda slid the pan into her preheated oven. Again we giggled and she photographed her oven and said I must show how little she cares for her oven. I winced, it’s been awhile since I pressed the self-clean button on my own oven, but it’s not quite this… bad. Yet. I want to quickly add that Linda’s house is absolutely spotless besides this oven. You could eat off of her floors. But she has dogs, so don’t do that.
The bars baked for one hour at 300° F. We let the bars cool while we drove the few miles into Fargo and did some shopping and spent girl time drinking lattes.
Later we cut the pan up into small bars. My theory is that you can eat more than one that way. The bars are a little messy to eat so they’re easiest handled in small pieces anyway.
The bars have a nice citrus profile in the almost cream cheese-like top layer. The lime zest would have made them a touch more flavorful, but we loved them just the way they were. I would like to make them again, and maybe try the other flavor profiles I’ve collected over the years. I’ve listed them after the recipe.
I loved this plate to pieces, I want one. Hint, hint, Linda.
Lime Neiman Marcus Bars
1 yellow cake mix
1 stick margarine; softened
1 lb powdered sugar
8 oz cream cheese
Mix cake mix, margarine and eggs with fork. Press into a 9×13 pan sprayed with cooking spray.
Beat rest of ingredients with hand mixer until blended; pour over top of crust.
Bake 1 hour at 300°F
Pumpkin: Follow the original recipe, adding a 15-ounce can of pumpkin pie filling and an extra egg to the cream cheese filling. Bake as usual, remove from oven, and allow to cool. Cut into squares and top each square with a pecan half. Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
Pineapple: Add a 20-ounce can of drained crushed pineapple and an extra egg to the cream cheese filling. Proceed as directed above.
Lemon: Use a lemon cake mix in place of the yellow cake. Add the juice (approximately 1/4 cup) and zest of 2 lemons to the cream cheese filling. Proceed as directed above.
Carrot Cake: Use a spice cake mix, and add 1 cup chopped nuts and 1 1/2 cup finely grated carrots to the cream cheese filling. Proceed as directed above.
Peanut Butter: Use a chocolate cake mix. Add 1 cup creamy peanut butter and an extra egg to cream cheese filling. You can sprinkle the top of batter with 1 cup chopped peanuts if you like. Proceed as directed above.
Chocolate Chip: Use either yellow or chocolate cake mix. Sprinkle 1 cup chocolate chips and 1 cup chopped nuts on top of filling. Proceed as directed above.
Banana: Use a yellow cake mix. Prepare cream cheese filling as directed, beating in 2 ripe bananas and an extra egg. Proceed as directed above.