My colleague, Steve, has made pistachio squares for office functions over the past number of years. Last week, in preparation for my company’s dessert potluck, I asked him if he would share the recipe so I could see if I could make it without refined sugar. When he showed me the recipe, I started to get excited, because I could easily make the crust, cream cheese and whipped cream layers. As for the pudding…how could I make it without cane sugar? I was puzzled. I found a recipe for vanilla pudding and decided to give it a go.
My first batch looked like sweet milk…it never solidified. Hmm…I was stumped. So I tried again, this time using a bit more cornstarch and stirring the warm mixture on the stove for much longer. Within one hour in the fridge I had pudding! Instead of making pistachio-flavored pudding I stuck to the basics and created the vanilla version although I added chopped pistachios in the second layer and on the top. I enjoyed the result – it was nice and sweet with pudding and whipped cream and a nice crust. Thanks, Steve, for the original recipe that inspired this version!
Here are a few cooking notes: Make the vanilla pudding (third layer) first. While it is chilling, bake the crust (first layer) and allow to cool. Next, make the whipped cream (for the second and fourth layers) and then chop the pistachios (for the second layer and topping). Once all of these pieces are made and cooled, assemble the layers and voila – vanilla squares with pistachios!
First Layer (Crust):
Mix 2 cups all-purpose flour with 1 cup melted butter. Press the mixture into a 9×13 pan. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Allow to fully cool before layering.
Blend 8 ounces of cream cheese with 2/3 cup agave nectar, 1 cup homemade whipped cream (see fourth layer for instructions) and 1/3 cup chopped pistachios.
Third Layer (Homemade Vanilla Pudding):
In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 cups milk until bubbles form at edges. In a bowl, 1/3 cup agave nectar, 4 tablespoons cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour into hot milk, a little at a time, whisking to dissolve. Continue to cook and stir until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, approximately 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon butter. Chill completely (about one hour); add as the third layer.
Fourth Layer (Homemade Whipped Cream):
Blend 1 pint whipping cream, 1/4 cup agave nectar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a mixer on a high speed until stiff peaks form. Use 1 cup to blend in the second layer, and the rest as the fourth layer.
Sprinkle with you favorite toppings, such as chopped pistachios and chocolate. Cover and keep chilled until ready to serve.