As the baking season is upon us, I am attempting to streamline my recipes and techniques. This year, I have discovered the bar cookie.
I may be a bit late to this party — previously I was a devotee of the traditional cookie and had devised a technique to maximize output and variety with a base recipe, an assortment of added ingredients and a number of different dough logs that I would slice and bake as needed.
But this year, my daughter, several nephews and a couple of “faux” daughters (friends of my daughter that I loved almost like my own) went away to college. I sent them all regular care packages to ensure they were well nourished and felt love from home. In packing the boxes, I quickly realized that cookies would be subject to breakage.
This is not catastrophic, of course, as hungry students will eat most anything, and it can be mitigated with careful insulation using waxed paper for cushioning. But the volume I was churning out — I was regularly sending homemade treats to about seven kids — made the production of cookies rather laborious.
And then I realized I could press the cookie dough into a rectangular pan, bake it for about 30 minutes, and produce a couple dozen treats in one fell swoop. I thus avoided the tedium and time it took to drop or slice the dough into individual cookies and pull pans in and out of the oven every 12 minutes.
The following are my top three bar cookie recipes. The chocolate chips are simply classic — they embody everything about the all-American cookie with a different shape and slightly denser texture — which is a bonus. The peanut butter bars are a crowd pleaser. The white chocolate brownies are so moist and buttery they elevate this genre well above the bar cookie.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
I bake these in a standard 13-by-9-inch oblong pan, and they produce a thick, dense bar. The yield, depending on how you cut them, is about 24 bars. Some recipes suggest making these in a jelly roll pan (15-by-10-inch), which makes for a flatter, crisper bar and a higher yield, about 36 bars. If you use the larger pan, reduce the cooking time to 20 to 25 minutes.
2¼ cups flour
1 baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter or margarine, softened
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
10 ounces chocolate chips
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a rectangular pan and/or line it with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars, then add the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture, then add the chocolate chips. Press the dough into the prepared pan and bake it for 30 minutes until done; the edges will be slightly browned and the center will be firm to the touch and no longer glossy or doughy. Cool until set, about 30 minutes or longer, and slice as desired. These keep, stored airtight, for about 6 days.
Peanut Butter Bars
These peanut butter bars mimic their more traditionally shaped cousins, but with far less manual labor. If you want to riff on the retro, you can place a Hershey’s kiss in the center of each bar when they come out of the oven while they are still warm. If you want to go upscale (and are not shipping them to far-flung parts) consider topping them with chocolate ganache or a drizzle of melted dark chocolate.
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup butter or margarine
1¼ cups flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and/or line a 13-by-9-inch rectangular pan with parchment. Cream the sugars with the butter and peanut butter. Add the egg and blend again, then add the remaining ingredients. Press the dough into the prepared pan and bake it for 30 minutes until done; the edges will be slightly browned and the center will be firm to the touch and no longer “doughy.” Cool until set, about 30 minutes or longer, and slice as desired. These keep, stored airtight, for about 6 days.
Makes about two dozen, depending upon how you cut them.
White Chocolate Brownies
These brownies have something for everyone. They are sweet, dense, buttery and replete with white and dark chocolate chips. And they are unique: Regular brownies are wonderful but rather common; this twist on the traditional brings a “wow” factor.
1 cup butter or margarine
3 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
2 cups dark chocolate chips
Grease a rectangular 13-by-9-inch pan. Heat your oven to 325 degrees. Melt the butter with 1½ cups of white chocolate chips using a microwave on 30 percent power. For stovetop melting, set the burner to low and/or use a double boiler to prevent burning (white chocolate burns easily). Pour the melted butter and white chocolate into a mixing bowl and beat in the sugar, salt and vanilla. When the mixture is slightly cooled, add the eggs. It should be cool enough to make sure the eggs don’t start cooking when they are added. Add the flour, blend again and then mix in the remaining white chips and the dark chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until cooked through. The edges should be slightly golden, and the center should be firm and no longer loose. Cool to room temperature before cutting. JN
This article first appeared in the Jewish Exponent, a publication affiliated with Jewish News.