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Reddit loves this '70s dessert that's a 'Cherry Dream' come true

Lola Whalen said she didn't come up with Pillsbury's Cherry Dream Bars recipe, but she did turn up the cherry flavor.
We spoke to the recipe developer behind Pillsbury's Cherry Dream Squares from the '70s.
We spoke to the recipe developer behind Pillsbury's Cherry Dream Squares from the '70s.Terri Peters

Growing up in a small Iowa town, Redditor GardenerAndScientist, who prefers to remain anonymous, remembers loving all things cherry.

"My birthday is on George Washington's birthday," she told TODAY Food, "and I was about every cherry — you know, cherry tree story and all. I remember there were even embroidered cherries on my favorite dress."

But one thing GardenerAndScientist didn't love was birthday cake.

Not a fan of cake icing or even pie crusts, she said she likely challenged her mother to find a birthday cake she would like.

Cherries were the obvious answer — specifically a '70s Pillsbury recipe for Cherry Dream Squares that used boxed white cake mix and cherry pie filling and was baked in a 9x13 pan until golden-brown, then cut into squares.

Reddit user GardenerAndScientist said she didn't like birthday cake as a child, so her mom made her this cherry dessert each year instead.Terri Peters

"Having what I called 'my birthday pie,' — a cherry 'pie' — for my birthday seemed fitting," she said. "Mostly I remember the topping with oats and nuts. It was a bit strange with birthday candles, but to me it was so much yummier than frosting."

GardenerAndScientist, who now lives in California, also remembers sharing her birthday treat.

"My next-door neighbors were an elderly gentleman and his wife, and his birthday was the day after mine," she recalled. "So each year on my birthday, after blowing out the candles, my mom would wrap up a piece and I would bring it next door. The next day, he would deliver a slice of his birthday cake. That went on until I left for college."

After finding the old Cherry Dream Squares recipe while helping her mother clean out her home, she decided to share it again, posting a photo of the dessert and the recipe in the Old_Recipes subreddit.

Curious where these Cherry Dream Squares came from, I reached out to Pillsbury, who directed me to Lola Whalen, a 1974 graduate of the University of Minnesota, who got a degree in consumer food science and went to work for Pillsbury.

During her career, Whalen developed recipes, edited cookbooks and even worked on the Pillsbury Bake-Off team. While she developed countless recipes for the company, Whalen says the Cherry Dream Squares recipe didn't come from her.

"Cherry Dream Squares was originally developed by someone else," said Whalen, who didn't make changes to the recipe until the late '90s. "What I did was modify it by making it in an 8-inch square dish. I wanted more cherry impact in each bite."

Whalen said layered bar recipes have always been popular in the baking community, adding that the recipe works perfectly in most homes because people typically have pantry staples like boxed cake mix and canned pie filling on hand.

"It was an easy step to use cake mix in the crumb mixture," said Whalen, "and another convenient product, canned pie filling as the middle layer. Many women keep cake mix and canned pie filling on hand to quickly prepare a homey dessert, so we knew this recipe would have a lot of appeal."

After talking to both GardenerAndScientist and Whalen, I was sold, so I tried the Cherry Dream Bars recipe in my own kitchen.

My "squares" turned out a bit more like a crumble, but they were still delicious.Terri Peters

Like Whalen, I'm all about a bit of extra cherry goodness, so I made my "squares" in an 8x8 pan instead of the 9x13 called for in some versions of the recipe.

It was delicious, although not square: The depth of the pan made it more like a crumble, but I wasn't complaining. It was the perfect mixture of sweet and tart and tasted like I had spent way more time (and ingredients) on it than I had.

With its rich history and the love of GardenerAndScientist's family behind it, Cherry Dream Bars are a cherry dream come true and are definitely worth whipping up.