Monday, May 28, 2012

Almond Joy Cookie Bars

 Difficulty level: Easy
Time consuming: No

Every month at school, the special education team gets together to go over things.  I started baking for these meetings back in the fall when one of our intervention specialists became pregnant and was always hungry, and have continued to bake for each meeting ever since.  Our special ed director said that people have never been more prompt for our meetings since I started baking.  Yay!  I will feature some of my other treats here in the future!  This month, for our last meeting of the school year, I brought these:

Doesn't it look delicious?  I had been thinking about making a coconut dessert for awhile but was unsure if people would like it.  Coconut is kind of a love hate thing, don't you think?  While waiting for an IEP meeting to start, my boss found the teachers candy stash and promptly helped himself to an Almond Joy candy bar.  The intervention specialist and myself quickly followed suite and were caught in the act by the teacher we were mooching from.  Fortunately for us, she didn't care.  But that was it, that's how I knew I could make a coconut dessert and at least 3 people sitting at that table would eat it.

The recipe is actually pretty easy.  Cream butter and brown sugar together, then add flour and salt.  

Press into a foil lined and buttered 13x9 pan, sprinkle with chopped almonds, and bake.  

While that's baking, mix coconut with sweetened condensed milk and vanilla and mix.  Spread evenly over top of crust, then bake again 'til the top layer becomes lightly browned.  

While that's going, make ganache.  I didn't have any heavy cream on hand so I used skim milk, and guess what!? It turned out just fine!  Pour your finished ganache over the coconut, garnish with chopped almonds, and set in the fridge to cool completely. 

When it's cool, use the foil to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into whatever sizes your heart desires.  I made sure to get at least 20 out of mine so that I could bring some to my meeting and share with some other teachers as well.

I think next time I would either use a larger pan (maybe a foil lined cookie sheet, although the edges might not be high enough...) or cut the coconut layer in half.  These bars were thick.  But man were they good.  My boss, who is on a diet and didn't eat the Halfway House cookies I brought to last months meeting, ate two of these.

**Sidebar.  Did you know that it's actually possible to scorch chocolate even when using a double boiler?  You can.  In fact, I did.  I was trying to melt the chocolate using a double boiler with some butter and tried to thin it out with a few tablespoons of milk.  I ended up with a seized up chocolate disaster.  I was so sad, that was two whole bags of chocolate chips, and I was not about to waste them.  I microwaved some milk until it just started to boil and poured that over my chocolate and whisked until smooth.  I learned two things: 1) that you can scorch chocolate on a double boiler if the water is hotter than a simmer (I have a stupid, old gas range that's either off or really hot, no in between); and 2) if you want to add a liquid to chocolate, you have to add a lot or else the chocolate will seize.  That's why my few tablespoons of milk were a problem.

Here's the recipe:

10T of room temperature butter (1 1/4 sticks)
3/4c packed brown sugar (I used light)
2 1/2 c flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2t salt
1/4 sliced almonds, chopped (this part isn't rocket science, use as much or as little as you want)

Coconut layer (I'd consider cutting this in half, but I haven't tried it yet myself)
28oz sweetened, condensed milk (that's 2 cans)
28oz shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened; that's 2 bags)
1 1/2 t vanilla extract

 3c semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (2 bags; you really could use whatever chocolate you prefer)
1/2-3/4c skim milk (but heavy cream is better)
2T butter

Garnish (optional)
A few tablespoons of sliced almonds, chopped.

Ready, set, go!

1) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 13x9 baking dish with foil, leaving some hang over the sides so you can lift your bars out of the pan when you're done. Coat your pan with something nonstick, like spray, or butter, or shortening....etc.

2) In the bowl of your stand mixer or with an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar.  Since I have a stand mixer, I used this time to sift together my flour and salt.  **Don't sift before you measure, or you might end up with a significantly different volume of flour than what I used which would alter the results.  Slowly add flour mixture to butter.  Mix until it has a chunky lumps, like peas.

3) Press the dough evenly into your pan.  Sprinkle your almonds on and lightly press so they stick into the dough.  Bake for 8 minutes.

4) While the cookie layer is baking, in a large bowl combine your sweetened condensed milk, coconut, and vanilla, and mix until the coconut seems evenly coated.

5) When your cookie layer has baked and cooled slightly (or not, if you're impatient like me), spread the coconut mixture evenly over top.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top has started to brown.  (I only baked for 20 minutes but probably should've gone a little bit longer).  If you're worried about uneven baking, rotate your pan halfway through baking.

6) While the coconut layer is baking, make your ganache.  Combine butter and milk in a medium saucepan and heat on the stove until it just starts to boil.  Immediately remove from the stove and pour in your 2 bags of chocolate chips.  Let it just sit and hang out together for a minute or so, then whisk until the chocolate is smooth.

7)  When your coconut layer has finished baking, pour the ganache on and spread evenly with a spatula.  Garnish with almonds.  You can let this sit at room temperature or stick it in the fridge to set the ganache.

8) When everything is cooled and set, remove the bars with your foil handles and cut into whatever size your heart desires.

9) Enjoy.  Maybe with a glass of milk because these are pretty rich.

This recipe is adapted from Just A Pinch

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