Treats and Tricks: Spiced Oat and Chocolate Chip Blondies

plated3Halloween is all about sweet treats and for me, that means blondies.

I don’t prepare homemade goodies for the ghosts and goblins coming to our door because we live in the city and it’s just not done for safety reasons. But these bars, individually wrapped and hand delivered to neighbors, would make an excellent Halloween treat! They would also be a welcome addition to any Halloween party and great to have on hand as sustenance for those who service trick or treaters, too!

plated 1What makes these blondies so special is the addition of warm cinnamon spice, vanilla and oats. For a while now, I’ve wanted to translate an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie into a bar and these bars are the tasty result.

This is an easy recipe which comes together in a jiffy. And while I’m not going to say that these are healthy…they do have butter, sugar and chocolate after all…they are healthier than most blondies. In the vicinity of 100 calories per bar, they’re a reasonable indulgence for those of us that need to watch such things! (Me.) Most of all, they are absolutely delicious!

To make these bars my own, I omitted some of the sugar from the traditional blondie recipes I’ve seen (holy cow, is there a lot of sugar in those recipes!), as well as some of the butter, and I used only light brown sugar. Then I added rolled organic oats and chocolate chips to the batter, along with a touch of cinnamon for warmth and a really good dose of bourbon vanilla extract to enhance the overall sweetness. The resulting deliciousness was exactly what I wanted. A tiny bit chewy from the oats, toasty caramel flavor from the sugar and butter, decadent chocolate with a hint of spice and a vanilla hit to amp up the whole bar. Perfect.

plated4These blondies certainly aren’t just for Halloween. In combination with some hot tea or a glass of milk on a cool Fall afternoon, these are delightful. Need something sweet for a summer picnic? These treats will do the trick. They freeze incredibly well, too. In fact, I plan to make more and freeze them to use for the upcoming holidays. Just take what you need out of the freezer, thaw to room temperature and plate, and you’ve got instant holiday or hostess gift, party food…or cookies for Santa.

Below are a few simple “tricks” to ensure making perfectly browned and moist blondies:

Trick number 1: Properly prepare your pan. Click on any image above for instructions.

Trick number 2: Melt your butter only until it is ALMOST melted, then take it off the heat or out of the microwave and stir it until it finishes melting. This will keep it from “cooking” the sugar when you combine it to make batter. Do NOT add hot melted butter to your batter. If you do, you may end up with hard as brick edges to your bars and an uncooked middle!

Trick number 3: Removal from the pan. Click on any image above for instructions.

chili1

On another note, I always make a batch of my Spooktacular chili for Halloween and this year will be no exception. You can see that recipe by clicking here and it’s a great idea for Halloween parties, too. Make a chili bar and let your ghosts and goblins decorate their own chili with the fixings. Boo!

Happy Halloween!

punkitties2

Spiced Oat and Chocolate Chip Blondies
Makes 36 small bars

Ingredients:
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted* (see “trick” number 2 above)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten to combine
2 teaspoons Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1/4 teaspoon good quality ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

waxed paper and scissors
2 – Wire cooling racks that will fit 13″ long

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with butter. Measure and tear off a piece of waxed paper slightly larger than the 13″ length of the pan. Turn the pan over and cut the waxed paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Turn the pan right side up and fit the cut waxed paper into the bottom of the pan and butter it. (See trick number 1.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla until just blended. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder and salt until well mixed. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and stir just until well mixed. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Turn out the batter into the prepared baking pan. The batter will be thick. Spread it so that it evenly covers the bottom of the pan. It will be a thin layer, but will rise during baking. Bake in the oven for 18 minutes and check for doneness. The bars will be done when the edges are golden brown, the blonde top is just starting to brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Run a table knife gently around the outside of the bars. Place one of the wire cooling racks on top of the pan, then using oven mitts, invert the pan so that the blondies will fall onto the wire rack. You may need to give the bottom of the pan a rap. When the blondies have released, remove the pan. Gently peel the waxed paper off the bottom of the blondies. Place the second wire rack over the bottom of the blondies and invert again so that the top side of the blondies is up. Allow the blondies to cool to room temperature. Slide the blondies off onto a cutting board and cut into 36 even bars. EAT! These blondies may be frozen in small freezer bags for up to two months. Thaw before serving.

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Toffee Bars and Gratitude

Yes, may I have another?

Yes, may I have another?

I fully intended to post this before Christmas, which is when I actually made these and delivered them…but you know, it’s a busy time! Even so, I think this is a great idea for any time of the year, so this post is timely.

It all started with reading about Cooking Light magazine’s “Bake a Second Batch” challenge in the December 2013 issue. The idea was to make a second batch of whatever your holiday baking entailed and give it to your favorite teacher, worker, policeman, etc. This brought to mind that I really wanted to do something to say thanks to the firemen and first responders that came to our home when lightning struck last summer. So in the midst of holiday preparations, I decided to make these Turtle Bars from a recipe I wanted to try that I’d saved in my files from the 2003 issue of Bon Appétit magazine.

The bars came out well, but not like Turtle Bars at all really, in that the caramel wasn’t soft. Yet in spite of being really hard to cut, the bars had a wonderful dark chocolate coating with a hard toffee and pecan layer on top of a delicious crust. We loved them, so I packaged them up and got them ready to go to the fire station.

Now I’m going to digress and tell you a little story, because there are a few things I learned that one must consider when attempting to deliver goodies to a fire station. First and foremost, these guys are really busy. They not only respond to fires, but also are first responders to 911 calls to aid in any emergency. And as a result, they are very hard to catch.

Our first attempt to deliver the goods was met with an open, but completely empty, fire station. Not wishing to enter uninvited or leave the plate, we decided to come back the next morning. Fortunately, these bars keep well when wrapped well.

The next day around lunch time, we decided to try, try again, piled into the car and headed back to the station. (This particular fire station is about 1 mile from our house, and they actually heard the explosion when the lighting hit our home.) As we rounded the first corner on our way, I heard a siren, looked at my husband and said “surely that isn’t our firemen on their way somewhere.” And in the very next moment, they passed us in a huge ladder truck followed by an emergency vehicle and sped down the road in the opposite direction. Not deterred, we drove on to the station to see if anyone stayed behind to mind the store. Foiled again.

So on to the grocery we went, being halfway there already. Thirty minutes later, we had to drive back past the station to go home, since it is along our most traveled route.

We stopped a third time, knocked on the back door and a charming young man answered, hurrah! The smell of something good to eat for lunch was wafting out of the doorway from behind him, and he was still chewing as he came the door. (These guys cook regularly for themselves, you know, and must eat quickly before the next call.)

We stated who we were, where we lived and that we were there because they’d come to our aid in a time of need, and we wanted to say thank you again by dropping off a goodie, and wish them a happy holiday. The young man called out towards the back room for his Superior to come forth, and out came…the very guy who lead the team that responded to our call in June! He remembered us, shook our hands and said how very lucky we were that our house didn’t catch on fire (and we know it). He was also quite the charmer, and seemed so profusely pleased and grateful to be remembered. We were assured that firemen always LOVE sweets and they are welcome any time, and at that very moment he was finishing up lunch, so this would be dessert. Perfect timing.

All-in-all it was just a great feeling to reconnect, reach out and do something nice for someone as a surprise.

And more importantly in some ways, it reminded me that very few of us—certainly I am guilty of this—think about finding ways to do something nice for someone, just because. We get so wrapped up in our day to day lives, or the holidays, or whatever…that we just don’t think of it. I, for one, plan to do this again. In fact, I’d like to start with resolving to do it twice a year at least, and am already thinking on who my next recipient (victim) of kindness might be. It’s a good thing.

So on to this easy recipe for toffee bars and a few tips on making them. You can read the original recipe from the link by name in bold above, and I’m going to reprint it below with my judgement calls and the rename of “Toffee Bars,” because that’s what they were. Do enjoy these if you make them…they are addictive, so perhaps best made for a party or a crowd—or even better, your next intended kindness victim! Have a happy weekend.

Toffee Bars, Slightly Adapted from Bon Appétit
Makes about 70

2 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups light brown sugar (packed), or a mix of 3/4 dark brown and 1 cup light brown
(Note: I used the mix because that is what I had. Many commenters like the light brown only because it doesn’t get so dark, especially the crust)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

3 tablespoons whipping cream

1 cup pecan halves, toasted
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
(Note: the original recipe calls for 3/4 cup chips which won’t begin to spread and cover this. If you need more than I’ve recommended, add it, but keep in mind the extra sweet factor.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, 1 cup of the brown sugar and 3/4 cup of the butter in a processor until well blended and crumbly. Press mixture evenly into an ungreased 9 x 13 x 2 inch metal baking dish. Bake until the crust is light golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and maintain oven temperature.

Meanwhile, bring remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar, 3/4 cup butter and cream to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove caramel from heat.

Sprinkle the pecans over the crust, then pour the caramel evenly over the pecans. Bake until bubbles form and color darkens, about 20 minutes. (Note: here is where you go from Turtle to Toffee. At the full 20 minutes recommended in the original recipe, the caramel will be hard crack stage…which I liked. For a softer version, only bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over. Let stand until the chocolate melts, about 5 minutes. Using an offset spatula, spread the chocolate evenly over top. Chill bars until the chocolate sets, about 20 minutes. (I didn’t have to do this because the house was so cool at the time.) Cut into 1 inch squares. (Note: If you take this to the full toffee stage, as I did, these will be hard to cut. Use a very sharp knife and take your time, and you’ll be rewarded. The cut squares will be a little jagged, as toffee is when you break it. If you do the “Turtle” route, your squares should cut more cleanly and the caramel with be softer.)