We are not what anyone would call an “outdoorsy” family. But this October has been so much like the blazing autumn of our imaginations, instead of the usual raw and gloomy reality, that even we made time to walk to the park on a recent sunny Sunday. After an hour or so of romping through two playgrounds, you need the promise of a snack, a little something, to carry you and your wilting offspring all the way back to the house.
This was the little something waiting for us:
Dolly’s Crisp Toffee Bars, from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. My son, fooled by the resemblance to our regular chocolate chip cookie bars, took a bite and said, “I thought they would be soft!” It was not a criticism. This cookie is a crispy, crunchy, buttery surprise. There’s no leavening to make these chewy or cake-like. Just butter, brown sugar, flour, vanilla and salt. Oh, and the chocolate and nuts.
These mix up in a moment. I didn’t have the walnuts the recipe called for, and I was even short on almonds. The kids aren’t walnut fans, anyway, though I’m starting to include them in recipes whether they like it or not. It’s my duty to develop their palates, right?
I can imagine these beauties gussied up with a thin layer of chocolate spread on top, perhaps with a dusting of finely chopped nuts. Maybe I’m just trying to recreate the toffee bars my friend Kathy’s mom used to make. I remember them fondly after nearly 30 years. (Kathy H., if you’re reading this, maybe you can get me the recipe!) Logistically, a better idea might be to dip the cooled bars in chocolate. Or slice them smaller, drape them in ganache, and now they’re a candy bar with a nutty, buttery cookie center. Hmmm…some of you may be getting these for Christmas.
A couple of directions are essential to this recipe. First, fill the sheet pan with small clumps or spoonfuls of dough, and then press it down into the pan. The dough is quite stiff and won’t spread otherwise. Second, cut the bars in the pan while still hot from the oven. Then let them cool completely in the pan before taking them out. These bars are so crispy, you’ll just shatter them if you try to cut them after they’ve cooled.
Crisp Toffee Bars
not really adapted from Maida Heatter
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup nuts, chopped into medium-size pieces (I believe any kind would be good in these)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter in the mixer; add salt, vanilla and sugar and beat well. Add flour with mixer on low. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula (Are your spatulas rubber? Mine are all silicone!) and beat until mixture holds together. Add the nuts and chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed (I just use the “stir”–very slow–setting on the KitchenAid).
Place small spoonfuls of dough (I used my mini ice cream scoop, but you can also use your fingers) in an ungreased 10″x15″ jelly roll pan. Press the dough firmly with your fingers to make a thin, even layer.
Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown. Reverse the pan from front to back halfway through if your oven doesn’t bake evenly.
Let cool in the pan for just a minute, then cut into bars with a small, sharp knife. Leave the bars in the pan and go take a walk in the park. When you return, serve the cooled bars with hot coffee or cold milk, and start thinking about what to make for dinner. You’ve already taken care of dessert.