Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

I'll get to these cookie bars in a second, but first, a little coming-of-age-story...

One day when I was about twelve years old, I had a sudden urge to be self-sufficient and ironed my own shorts.

(For all our Fancy Dancer friends out there, these were the white shorts we wore with the red recital t-shirt with a train on it. I've forgotten the name of the actual recital...but I haven't forgotten that we had to wear white shorts. White shorts, Miss Patty? Really?!)

I was so full of pride that I had successfully ironed my shorts all by myself, that I ran to Mama B and announced my accomplishment.

"Congratulations," she smirked. "You can iron all your own clothes from now on."

And that's exactly how things proceeded in our house, whether I liked it or not.

Now, back to the cookie bars.

Mama B made chocolate chip cookie bars for every BBQ and birthday party when we were kids, just like she used to make Rice Krispie treats, and just like she used to do my ironing. She has stopped doing my ironing, as discussed above, but still makes chocolate chip cookie bars.

Our Aunt Jan also makes chocolate chip cookie bars. To be more precise, she makes mint chocolate chip cookie bars. 

(I know - "mint chocolate chip cookie bars" sounds a bit weird, right? I always thought so too, but trust me, once you taste them, you realize that if they are weird at all, they are definitely the good kind of weird.)

So between Mama B and Aunt Jan, Becky and I certainly had our fill of chocolate chip cookie bars as kids. They probably accounted for 43% of all the food we consumed at family functions.

But whenever I've tried to make Mama B's recipe, my bars always turn out dry, or just don't taste as good as Mama B's. I blame it on Mom Magic. You know what I mean - things just taste better when made by your mom, right?

And I've never even attempted Aunt Jan's cookie bars, because I'm afraid that if I demonstrate I am capable of making them myself, Aunt Jan will stop sending Becky and me home with tins of cookie bars for our freezer.

Which would be tragic.

So Mama B and Aunt Jan, let me be very clear: this is not an "I ironed my own shorts" situation. Like yours, these cookie bars are moist and gooey and chewy and oh-so-chocolatey. BUT, they are not your cookie bars. They are purposely made from a third recipe - one that Becky and I now claim as our own, one that our kids will someday eat at BBQs. By posting this recipe here, we by no means wish to give the impression that you are to stop making yours just because we are old enough to now make our own.

Because seriously, I get choked up when I think about a world without Mama B's and Aunt Jan's cookie bars.

I may have been ready to iron my own shorts at twelve, but at more than double that age, I'm not nearly ready to make my own cookie bars if it means I have to give up the ones that are dear to my heart.

Okay, Mama B? Capisce, Aunt Jan?

- Katie

P.S. - The cookie bars in these photos are actually not nearly as gooey as they usually are. Check out the original recipe for a better photo. I blame this batch's lack of gooey-ness on 1) slightly over baking them, and 2) using generic chocolate chips, which never work as well as Nestle or even higher quality chocolate chips. So learn from my mistakes, friends. Don't skimp on your chocolate, and watch that oven carefully.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies Bars
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes approximately 24-30 bars

2/3 cup (10 2/3 tablespoons) butter
2 cups + 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon espresso powder, optional
2¾ cups flour
3 cups chocolate chips; or a combination of different flavored chips, or chips and nuts
*Use 1 teaspoon salt if you use unsalted butter.

1.     Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9×13-inch pan with parchment paper.

2.     Melt butter and stir in brown sugar. Add salt and vanilla, stirring until well combined.

3.     Allow mixture to cool slightly, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape sides and bottom of mixing bowl midway through this process.

4.     Add baking powder, espresso powder, and flour, stirring to combine.

5.     Stir in chocolate chips or other additions.

6.     Scoop batter into prepared pan, spreading to edges with a wet spatula or wet fingers. Smooth top as best you can.

7.     Bake bars 30 to 32 minutes until they have risen and the top is shiny and golden. Center will still be quite molten; as long as no wet batter is showing farther out towards the edges, bars are done. As they cool, center will solidify.

8.     Remove bars from oven. If edges have risen, use a heatproof spatula to press them down. Let bars cool completely before cutting. Once bars are cool, wrap airtight. Store wrapped bars at room temperature for a couple days.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Berry Cornmeal Crumble Bars

It was 70 degrees and sunny in New York City on Friday. The weather put me in such a good mood that I actually skipped down the hallway at work. I also did a few time steps in the elevator bay.

Not that me tap dancing while waiting for the elevator has anything to do with the weather. I always tap dance in the elevator bay, no matter if it's snowing or cloudy with a chance of meatballs.

But my renegade tap steps definitely had a little extra "umph" on Friday. Spring and sunshine just put me in a good mood.

When it comes to baking, berries are to spring as pumpkin is to fall. And just like sunshine, berries make me happy. I've just got to bake with berries in the spring.

So when I received my Everyday Food in the mail this week and saw this recipe for Raspberry Cornmeal Crumble Bars, I texted Becky right away--could she pick up some raspberries on the way home?

Beck's a good sis and understands that when one is called to a recipe, sometimes one must answer the call immediately, so she came home with frozen raspberries.

(Even better than recipes that use berries are recipes that use frozen berries, because these recipes allow you to answer "the call" even if the berries you seek are not quite in season.)

When Beck got home, however, she realized she'd picked up one bag of raspberries and one bag of strawberries, instead of two bags of raspberries, as the recipe called for.

"No problem!" I said. "We are not berry exclusive in this kitchen!" (Yes, I like me a pun now and then. Go ahead and groan. I am used to it.)

Hence, Raspberry Cornmeal Crumble Bars became Berry Cornmeal Crumble Bars. Because let's face it--"Raspberry Strawberry Cornmeal Crumble Bars" is just too much to say, especially if your mouth is full of strawberry-raspberry-cornmeal-crumbles.

These bars are buttery and not too sweet, and remind me of strawberry shortcake, minus the whipped cream.

Speaking of which, I'm told NYC can expect a little "whipped cream" of our own later this the form of snow.

Really, NYC? Really?!

If you don't mind, I think I'll carry on as if spring were here to stay, tapping my feet in the elevator bay and baking with as many merry berries as I can find.

Happy Spring!


Berry Crumble Bars
Adapted from Everyday Food (April 2011)
Makes 24-28 bars

1 1/2 cups natural almonds
1 cup yellow cornmeal
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp coarse salt
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
Approximately 16 oz. frozen berries

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 9" x 13" pan with parchment paper.
  2. Pulse almonds in food processor until finely ground.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together almonds, cornmeal, flour, sugar, and salt.
  4. Add butter and stir until dry ingredients are evenly moistened.
  5. Press about two-thirds of dough into baking pan.
  6. Scatter berries over top and crumble remaining dough over berries.
  7. Bake until top is golden brown, about 50 minutes. Let cool in dish on wire rack. Cut into 24-28 bars.
  8. Store in air-tight container, or tightly wrapped in plastic, at room temperature, up to 3 days.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mardi Gras King Cake

Hey everybody!

Beck is back from New Orleans, where she didn't crash the 15-person van. Yay, Beck! We knew you could do it!

Perhaps Becky will tell you all about her trip soon (well, about the food at least), but in the meantime, I'll tell you about the New Orleans treat I cooked up while she was gone: A Mardi Gras King Cake.

Did you know that King Cake is basically a giant cinnamon roll?!

Yeah, I didn't either! But it's actually even better than a giant cinnamon roll because it's got confetti-colored sugar on top, and a little baby king inside.

A naked baby king, if you go to the same party store I did.

...But I guess that's neither here nor there.  Let's just not think about the naked baby inside the cake, okay?

Confetti-colored sugar and plastic baby aside, there's another reason I like King Cake more than cinnamon rolls: it's a treat that's meant to be shared. The tradition states that whoever gets the baby in their slice must host the Mardi Gras gathering or bring the King Cake the following year. The very cake sets up the expectation that you'll share in this celebratory meal - and therefore in each other's company - in the year to come.

Good food and good company: two things that will make anyone feel like a king.

A note about the recipe for those of you as scared of using yeast as I am - it's not as hard as it looks. Make sure you have a warm place for the dough to rise and a little patience, and you're set. Mardi Gras is all about turning the world topsy-turvy, after all; perhaps it's time to throw your old baking habits out the window and try something new. And hey, even if the cake doesn't rise correctly, you still get to make it  pretty with green, purple, and yellow sugar. And a naked baby.


Mardi Gras King Cake

Adapted from

Makes 1 cake (easily doubles to make two cakes)

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast)
  • 1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • juice of one orange
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • milk as needed to reach desired consistency

green, yellow, and purple sparkling sugars
plastic baby, crown, or chocolate coin


  1. Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.*
  2. When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the egg. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down.
  4. Preheat oven to 335 degrees F. Grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
  5. To Make Filling: Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. In another bowl, combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, 1/2 cup flour, and melted butter and mix until crumbly.**
  6. Roll dough into large rectangle (approximately 10x16 inches). Using an offset spatula or spoon, spread cream cheese mixture in a thin layer over dough to within 1/2 inch of long edges, all the way to short edges. Sprinkle cinnamon mixture over the cream cheese and spread evenly.  
  7. Roll up dough tightly like a jelly roll, beginning on a long side. Bring the ends of roll together to form an oval shaped ring. Place ring on prepared cookie sheet. Grease a small oven-proof bowl or ramekin and place in center to help maintain center hole while cake rises and bakes. Cover cake with plastic wrap or tea towel and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  8. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until top is golden brown.
  9. Transfer cake to wire rack. While cake is still warm, push baby into bottom of cake, and frost.  Sprinkle with colored sugar.

*If using instant yeast, omit proofing step and instead just add water to milk mixture, and add yeast with flour.
**For a different flavor, try using canned pie filling in place of the cinnamon brown sugar mixture.

Other notes
On yeast: I am by no means a yeast expert (I can count on one hand the number of recipes I've tried involving yeast). What I do know is that keeping the dough warm while it rises is essential. I have found that the best method for me is turning on the oven and letting the dough sit on the stovetop.