Chocolate Brownie Bars

FullSizeRenderA combo of Hershey’s cocoa and semi-sweet chocolate chips give these bars a rich, chocolatey appeal, and are pretty quick to throw together. I clipped the original recipe from a magazine ad for Eagle Brand® sweetened condensed milk (the same one where I got the delicious Squirrel Bars recipe previously posted), and they were called Triple Layer Chocolate Bars. Now, I’m no Einstein when numbers are involved, but I couldn’t come up with three distinct layers in these. My co-workers called these “brownie bars” when I brought them in to work, so let’s go with that. (My husband was kinda “meh” about this particular recipe, and I could see he wasn’t going to finish off the pan, so that’s why my colleagues were summoned for a second opinion. People, I’ve created a monster! His standards for baked-goods has risen significantly since I first met him, scarfing down a sleeve of Oreos after his Arby’s roast beef sandwich.)

These aren’t super sugary sweet, and hold together fairly well because of the sweetened condensed milk in the middle. They’re an easy picnic or potluck take-along, so give them a whirl and see what you think. Just don’t offer any to my husband Rich. I’m sure you can find a more appreciative audience.

Makes 20 bars

1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (1 package, plus 2-3 more crackers)*
½ cup cocoa, divided into ¼ cup and ¼ cup
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick), melted
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk!)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 (12-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips, or 1½ cups of same

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine graham cracker crumbs, ¼ cup of the cocoa, sugar, and melted butter in medium bowl. Stir until butter is thoroughly incorporated. Press into bottom of 13″x9″ baking dish. In medium bowl attached to electric mixer, beat sweetened condensed milk, flour, egg, vanilla, and baking powder. Stir in nuts and pour mixture on top of graham cracker crust. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Bake 25 minutes or until set. Cool before cutting. Store tightly covered.

*NOTE: Use gluten-free graham crackers to make these if you’re GF.

Also, I wondered if maybe a step was missing in this recipe. Usually a graham cracker crust recipe has you baking the graham crackers for 10 minutes or so before adding other layers. That would make these have more distinct layers, and would make for a crispier crust. I might try that next time, and will update the process here if I do.

Flourless Fudge Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_1131This treat has a trick—no gluten, but when the GF crowd needs a cookie, this rich chocolatey wonder fills that craving for baked goods. With only 6 ingredients and none of them being flour, it’s hard to believe the thin batter will actually bake up into anything resembling a cookie, but it does. Word of warning: lack of flour does not equate healthier. This recipe is mostly sugar, with a few eggs for binding things together. So they toggle somewhere between a cookie and a meringue. I tried these after finding the recipe online, and it had been posted and reposted by a few bloggers—chocolateandcarrots.com had gotten it from keepitsweetdesserts.com, who had gotten it from recipegirl.com. It appears Lori Lange of recipegirl.com deserves the credit for creating the original recipe, so I’ll stop there. She used bittersweet chocolate chips in her recipe, which I’ve never seen in the stores (only bittersweet sold in squares for baking), so I used Nestle semi-sweet morsels, a kitchen staple. At least it’s a staple in my kitchen—how about yours? 

(Also pictured here are Ginger Crinkles, a previously-posted fabulous fall or holiday cookie, with sugar and spice, and everything nice. Not gluten-free.)

Makes 16 cookies

Rating: easy

3 cups confectioners sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, or Hershey’s cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 large egg whites, at room temperature (or use 2 egg whites and 1 whole egg)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (a necessity, not an option, for this recipe.)

In a large bowl, whisk together confectioners sugar with cocoa powder and salt. Whisk in two egg whites and vanilla, and beat just until the batter is moistened. You want a thick and fudge-like batter consistency. If it seems too thick, add another egg white, then a 4th one if it still seems too thick. (Or start with the two egg whites, and add in one whole egg, yolk and all.) Gently stir in chocolate chips.

Spoon batter onto the prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet. Bake about 14 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked. Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto wire racks. Let cool completely, then peel cookies off parchment and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. (But they won’t last that long.)

Oatmeal Carmelitas

FullSizeRenderOats and caramel and chocolate—oh my! This recipe was entered in the Pillsbury Bake-Off by Minnesotan Erlyce Larson in 1967, and won hands down. One bite of these gooey taste treats, and you’ll agree whole-heartedly with the judges decision. My friend Lois brought these to a gathering at our house, and they were the hit of the dessert table. (I consumed more than my fair share, so that’s why there are so few left on the plate in the photo. Sadly, this image doesn’t do them justice.) My mother makes a similar Caramel Candy Bar (posted a few weeks ago). Mom’s recipe is to die for, but her recipe requires laboriously unwrapping dozens of caramel candies to make the luscious middle layer, while this recipe uses a short-cut—a jar of caramel ice cream topping. Next time you’re planning a party, invite Lois. And ask her to bring these heavenly bars. Mmmmmm.

Crust

2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups margarine or butter, softened

Filling

1 (12.5 ounce) jar (1 cup) caramel ice cream topping
3 tablespoons all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 13″ x 9″ pan. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.

Squirrel Bars

IMG_0896Don’t worry—no squirrels were harmed in making these scrumptious chocolate and pecan bars. Originally called “Chocolate Nut Toffee Bars,” this recipe came from a magazine insert promoting Eagle® Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk and Hershey’s products. And of course there’s a story behind our re-naming… The first time I made these, I set them out on our porch to cool. When I went out to get the bars an hour later, all the nuts had been stealthily removed, and there were tiny little claw marks marring the top chocolate layer. It looked like a miniature version of Wolverine had attacked the pan. Henceforth, the bars have been called “Squirrel Bars” at our house. We have often wondered if some poor little squirrel needed a few cavities filled after digging into our treats…

The bottom layer is similar to shortbread, only cocoa powder has been added to give the crust a chocolate twist. As simmered sweetened condensed milk makes up the middle layer, and just chocolate chips and nuts top them off, they whip up rather quickly. The hardest thing about this recipe is waiting for them to cool so you can eat them. But if you happen to be a squirrel, no need to wait. Feel free to dive right in.

Makes 24-36 bars

1 cup butter, softened (divided)
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
1 (14-ounce) can Eagle® Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (NOT evaporated milk)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips*
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the softened butter for use later. In large mixer bowl, beat remaining butter and sugar until fluffy. Add flour and cocoa, mix well. With floured hands, press cocoa mixture into bottom of prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in medium sauce pan, combine reserved butter and sweetened condensed milk. Cook on medium to low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Pour over baked crust. Bake 10 minutes longer, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately top with chocolate chips. Let stand 1 minutes, then smooth out melted chips with back of large spoon while still warm. Top with nuts. Cool. Cut into bars. Store covered at room temperature.

*I’m a fan of Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips myself, but I have to be true to the originators of the recipe here.

Caramel Candy Bars

IMG_0884Some foods are good because of the warm memories attached to them as much as the ingredients. These gooey caramel and chocolate bars fall into that category. My mother always made these for trips to my cousin Dale’s lake property, and my sisters and I couldn’t wait to get to Swan Lake—of course we were pumped to go water skiing, but digging into these decadent bars was a top priority, too. Mom would make a couple batches, cut and stack them in a Folger’s coffee can with wax paper between each layer, and stash ’em in the freezer. (Unlike most baked goods, these suffer no ill-consequences from being frozen!) Once these were pulled from their secret hiding place, the frozen squares would thaw in about 15 minutes, and were the consistency of a chewy candy bar. With mouths full of chocolate-caramel goodness, we could forget about itching our mosquito bites for a while. (And how deathly afraid we were to go to the latrine alone.)

A couple nights ago, we took a trip down memory lane when my Mom brought over a pan of bars. They were even better than I remembered—partly because this time we weren’t covered in mosquito bites, and dreading trips through the dark woods to the outhouse.

These are very similar to the Pillsbury Bake-off Carmelita Oat Bars (to be posted later), except this recipe uses caramel candies, more butter, and has double the amount of chocolate chips and nuts. More butter, chocolate, and nuts? Can’t go wrong there.

Makes 45-48 bars

Crust

2 cups All-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups margarine or butter, softened

Filling

64 Kraft caramels, unwrapped*
1/2 cup half and half, or milk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease large baking sheet (10″ x 15″). In large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and butter; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine caramels and milk in glass bowl or large glass measuring cup, and heat on high in microwave for about 3 minutes, or until mixture can be stirred smooth.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with melted caramels; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes to 1 hour, then cut into bars. Store bars in airtight container with wax paper between layers. They can be left at room temp once completely cooled, or frozen to be served at a later time.

*This is a bit of a chore. If unwrapping these candies is too tedious for you, call my Dad. He has the patience of a saint and happily performs the task, knowing the end result will be some sinfully delicious treats.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_0760When you need a chocolate fix bad, these double-chocolate cookies will definitely do the trick. I got this recipe years ago from a B&B that placed one warm, delicious cookie on the pillow of each guest in their rooms. (Don’t recall the name of the inn…) Our cookies never make it past the kitchen, as they get gobbled up lickety split. At first glance these look just like the Devil’s Delight Chocolate Cookie recipe I posted for Cinco de Mayo, but those have heat and spice, and these are just gooey goodness. They’re also a little easier to throw together than the Devil’s Delight.

This is another recipe to make when you only have one egg in the frig—but you still have cocoa, chocolate chips, and nuts, that is. You can certainly use Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder, but I prefer the Dutch process cocoa from Penzy’s, which is processed for a “milder, smoother flavor” (quote from their website). You can also get this cocoa through King Arthur’s Flour, or at higher-end grocery stores. Now, unless you’ve got the princess-and-the-pea living with you, your cookie devourees may not notice the difference between the two right away. But I do find the Dutch process cocoa makes rich, smooth baked goods. It’s especially awesome in chocolate buttercream frosting, but that’s for another blog post…

Makes 2 dozen

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/12 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans*
1 cup Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine cocoa, milk, and vanilla in a measuring cup, and stir. (It will take a bit for the cocoa powder to break down the surface tension** in the milk and actually allow you to combine the powder and liquid. Stir, let it sit, then come back to it and stir again until you have a dark paste. Use the back of the spoon to press the powder to edge of cup.) Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, cream butter. Add granulated sugar and cream again. Add brown sugar and continue to cream ingredients. Add egg and cream once more. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add to creamed butter and sugar mixture until combined. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips by hand. Drop by tablespoons onto baking sheet and press down slightly on top of dough so cookies bake up flat instead of in mounds. Bake for 12-13 minutes, or just until cookies are no longer glossy in center.

*NOTE: To make these extra delicious, toast the chopped pecans in the preheated oven for 5-10 minutes. Let cool to room temp before adding to dough, or they will melt the butter and make the batter runny.

**My father, the chemist, happened to answer several of our youthful queries with “it’s the surface tension.” This happened so often that we assumed every question we asked could be explained away by “surface tension,” and it became a running family joke.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bars

banana bars IMG_0632Have over-ripe bananas on hand, and you think banana bread is your only option? Think again! I stumbled upon these bars about a year ago when I was slotted to bring treats to a meeting at work. I had planned to make banana bread, but realized last minute there was only one egg in the frig, and it was too late at night to beg another off a neighbor. So I went scrounging through my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, circa 1996, hoping for divine inspiration. Inspiration did come, and my co-workers will tell you, it was divine.

OK, divine might be too strong a word. But the ratio of butter to bananas makes these bars moist and delicious, and once you try this recipe, you won’t bother with banana bread ever again. Seriously! These are also super easy to make. The batter stirs up in about 5-10 minutes, just long enough to preheat your oven. And if you’ve got the over-ripe bananas on hand, you’re in luck, because the rest of the ingredients are kitchen staples. (Note: I had to sub in slivered almonds for pecans in the bars pictured here, but I really prefer the pecans.)

My youngest son has found that these bars also work as currency at college. He’s used them to barter rides with friends. Who knew a silly little banana bar could wield so much power?

Makes 20 bars

3/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2-3 medium)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Nestle semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease a 13″x18″ baking sheet with butter, and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl beat the butter with electric mixer on high until creamed. Add the granulated sugar, and cream. Add the brown sugar and cream again. Add baking powder and salt and cream, stirring down sides of mixing bowl. Beat until all ingredients are combined, and mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then add bananas and vanilla and beat again until combined. Gradually add flour and stir on low until it is all incorporated. Remove bowl from mixer stand and stir in chocolate chips and chopped nuts by hand.

Spread mixture in the prepared baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Store in airtight container (…or bring to work and you won’t have to worry about storing them at all).

Monster Cookies

Monster CookiesThis makes a monstrous batch (thus the name), but it’s usually gone pretty darn quick, as they’re the favorite cookie for 3 out of 4 men in my family. Generous amounts of old-fashioned oatmeal and peanut butter in these chunky treats give granola bars some stiff competition, and make these hearty enough for breakfast, if you like cookies for breakfast. And who doesn’t?

Surprisingly, the appeal of monster cookies spans the globe. Our house guests from Norway, France, and Japan have all requested this recipe, which I’ve packed in their bags along with a set of U.S. measuring cups and spoons. (Easier than figuring out how to convert the measurements into metric…)

Monster recipeI’ve actually halved this recipe from the original to make it more manageable. I got it from a woman who had seven kids, so she needed the jumbo batch. As you can see from my tattered and stained recipe, this really has become a family fave.

Makes 2 1/2 dozen

1 ¼ cups Skippy super chunky peanut butter
¾ cup shortening
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup M&M’s
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. In large mixer bowl, cream peanut butter and shortening. Add dark brown sugar, then white sugar, and cream ingredients until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, and cream. Add vanilla and cream ingredients again.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine oatmeal, flour, and baking soda with a spoon. With mixer on low, slowly add oatmeal mixture to peanut butter mixture until all ingredients are combined. Remove bowl from mixer, and stir in M&M’s and chocolate chips with a wooden spoon until combined.

Drop by large spoonfuls on to baking sheet. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until edges are light brown. Let cookies cool for 10 minutes before removing from baking sheet. Store cookies in an airtight container. Deliver to starving college student.