April 20, 2011

it's what's in the middle that counts

"You've been silent for a month and you are giving us bars?! Really?" I know that's what you are thinking and yes, I am. "Oat bars? AGAIN?" Yes, but these are different, I promise. I make bars and cookies and individual things a lot because I'm often doling them out for meetings with large groups of people and as much as I love cake and pie and tarts, you have to save all of that manhandling with the serving knife for your family. That and certain people need portion control. Come on, you all have that person in the office (or home, ahem) who thinks that "just one slice" equates to a quarter of the cake and before you know it a cake for sixteen has turned into a cake for six. Then you have people like me who say "oh just a sliver" and ten slivers later you've had two whole pieces. I am not in denial, people, I know my weaknesses. That being said, there is something awe-inspiring about toting in a nice, round confection eight inches across and six inches deep with simple, chic . I will have to tame the pie wrangler sooner or later.

Back to important matters, these squares are fabulous and I didn't do any crazy tweakage from the original recipe...the first time I made them. I am still perfecting a white chocolate pistachio version and if you master it before I, please let me know. I have a feeling it has to do with much more sugar occurring in white "chocolate" than dark and I need to mess around with that a bit. Ignoring the chemistry behind these for now, though, I have to say, these bars have satisfied my longing for Keebler® MAGIC MIDDLES! Do you remember these? Were you actually birthed when these things were in existence? I think I OD'd on these cookies around the same time I did on Cool Ranch Doritos® and Pizzarias Chips (also discontinued) but like all things from the past, they come back and haunt me every so often and I wonder why, oh why did they ever go away? The centers to these bars have the same melty-but-not-gooey consistency when left at room temp. If you put them in the fridge, they firm up nicely and are equally as enjoyable. However, if you want a trip down '90s junk food lane, leave them on your table and nix the nuts.

Chocolate Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars

adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 32

oatmeal dough
2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 stick and 6T unsalted butter, room temperature
2 C brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
2 t pure vanilla extract
3 C old-fashioned (rolled) oats

chocolate filling
14-oz can sweetened condensed milk, any fat content
2 C (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 T unsalted butter
1/4 t salt
1 t pure vanilla extract
3/4 C salted peanuts, coarsely chopped I think anything goes here. I tried macadamias, almonds and cashews and they all turned out great!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 9-by-13-inch baking pan with foil or grease thoroughly.
oatmeal dough
1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and set aside.
2. With an electric mixer, cream together butter and brown sugar on medium speed until thoroughly combined.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a minute after each egg goes in. Beat in the vanilla. The mixture should be light and fluffy.
4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Still on low speed, or working by hand with a rubber spatula, stir in the oats.
5. Set aside 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the mixture, then evenly press the remaining dough over the bottom of the pan. Set aside while you prepare the chocolate layer.

chocolate filling
1. If you don't have a double-boiler, set a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.
2. Put the condensed milk, chocolate chips, butter, and salt in the bowl and stir occasionally until the milk is warm and the chocolate and butter are melted. Remove the bowl from the pan of water and stir in the vanilla and nuts.
3. Pour the warm chocolate over the oatmeal crust, then drop the remaining oatmeal mixture over the top in clumps.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the chocolate layer is matte and starting to come away from the sides of the pan. Transfer the baking pan to a rack and cool for about 2 hours before cutting.

Nutrition: 341 cal, 17.5g fat, 190mg sod, 42g carb, 23g sugar, 1g fiber, 4g protein

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