SOMETHING TO PLEASE EVERYONE COOKIE BARS
BOYS WILL BE BOYS! I have always been amazed at the mysteriousness of my sons. I do not mean the mystery that is an adolescent male, their ever-changing facial features and physiognomy, their mood swings or even how they make me feel as if I have suddenly been cut off just below the knees and now stand nose to chest. No, the mystery that completely eludes me is how two young men, just two years separating them, raised together, fed the same meals, have such different tastes? For all of their differences, their strengths at school, their hobbies, pastimes and interests, the one that has always fascinated me the most are the differences in their eating habits.
For those of you who know me, this revelation comes as no surprise. Being married to a man who can eschew candy, sweets or dessert with the same nonchalance that most of us turn down the offer of dung beetles, I have gotten used to it, although it rarely makes me happy, seeing as it usually is a dessert that I have made myself or sweets that I have purchased. But I have accepted that this may in fact be due to cultural differences, a will power developed in a home that was more centered on pot au feu than tarte tatin. Or maybe it is a male thing, seeing as how my brother is the same, but I don’t think so.
Yet this difference in my sons is astounding. Clem, from the earliest age, has been gobbling down vegetables although he has to practically be bribed to eat a sweet, seasonal fruit. Simon, on the other hand, would never eat a vegetable come hell or high water., yet fruit, any kind of fruit, he would happily munch at any hour of the day. Clem has always had an adventurous palate, eating garlic and lemons, sharp cheeses or the national dishes of almost any country in the world, the more exotic the better. Simon grew up eating white rice, pasta and anything fried. Clem, left to his own devices, prepares himself a mixed salad, a cheese platter, hummous or reheats a slice of quiche. Simon? Breaded, fried chicken cutlets, chicken nuggets or, at best, a hamburger with lots of ketchup and a side of chips. And pizza. I have often thought that this was due to my pregnancy cravings – with Clem I had to absolutely eat couscous or something flavorful and spicy every day. With Simon, I stopped every single day at Burger King for hamburger and fries and finished it off with a brownie.
But the strangest difference between my two sons is their sweet tooth or, in Simon’s case, the lack thereof. Clem has a sweet tooth in high gear – the creamier, the chocolatier, the richer the better for him. Chocolate mousse, tiramisu, lava cake, ice cream with hot chocolate sauce and whipped cream, actually, everything smothered in whipped cream! Any kind of cake or brownie or cookie or pie will do. And add ice cream and whipped cream.
Simon, on the other hand, will always choose a bowl of fresh strawberries doused in sugar. Other than that, he has his repertoire of 3, maybe 4 treats he will eat, all rather simple: a quick, plain coffee cake with mini chocolate chips in the streusel, chocolate chip cookies and my Special Chocolate Cake. And occasionally a bowl of vanilla ice cream with perhaps some colored sprinkles if he is feeling a little bit wild. His one great concession – his one big discovery this year – are Profiteroles, though hold back on too much chocolate sauce.
So trying to keep this family in treats is no easy thing. Simon stomps around accusing me of committing something on par with a federal crime if I stray from his Triple Crown of snack choices, Clem berates me for either having nothing to snack on in the house or going overboard and shoving food down their throats. And when I do make something, it is a delicate balance of too sweet or fancy, too simple and bland. Or anything in between. How to please everyone?
I first tasted these bars at Johey’s house and immediately asked for the recipe. These are truly the ideal cookie bar as one can blend in almost anything one likes, practically anything except the kitchen sink, a way to meet the challenge and handle all the persnickety ones in the family while satisfying the sweet tooth of the others. You can add some healthier ingredients like wheat germ or throw in whatever is at hand, changing the list from week to week.
SOMETHING TO PLEASE EVERYONE COOKIE BARS
2 ½ cups flour
2 cups brown sugar (I used half soft packed light brown and granulated brown)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, softened, really softened
2 tsps vanilla
2 cups oats (good old Quaker oatmeal worked for me)
Mix-ins of choice, some, all or other things :
1 cup (or more for the more gourmand among us) chocolate chips (I used mini chips)
½ cup – 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts of choice
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup grated coconut, toasted or not (I used lightly sweetened)
¼ - ½ cup wheat germ
¼ - ½ cup ground hazelnuts or almonds
1 cup raisins
I would have loved adding in the peanut butter, but peanut butter in baked goods is a definite no-no in both their books, strangely enough something they agree on. I added the cup of coconut and cup of chocolate chips.
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
Butter a 13 x 9-inch baking pan or do as I did and line it with foil leaving a “handle” of foil hanging over two opposite sides, then butter the foil.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and continue beating for about a minute until, well, light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, beating after each addition, until very well blended and creamy. Beat in the vanilla.
(If adding peanut butter, I would beat it in now).
Beat in the flour on low speed, adding it in two or three batches for easier working.
Now, blend in the oats and the additions. This is best done by hand. In fact, I had little luck with a wooden spoon as it is quite stiff and ended up practically kneading it all together with my hands just to make sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed and the mixture is smooth and homogeneous.
Spread the very stiff batter in the pan. I pressed it in and around with my fingers.
Bake for about 30 minutes until the cake is puffed and golden brown and seems set when pressed in the center.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for maybe 10 minutes.
Lift the “blondies”, if you will, out of the pan by the foil overhang on each side and set on a cooling rack to finish cooling.
Cutting into the bars while still warm (the cookies, not you) will give you a cookie bar that is gooey and moist and bordering on the uncooked, but truly scrumptious. As it continues to cool, it will firm up somewhat, giving you a chewier bar. These are really sinfully rich and buttery and delicious, a sweet treat without being overly, cloyingly sweet. Just very rich.
Now let’s see who eats them…..