Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Congo Bars

Some good-hearted person in the office* keeps refilling the candy bowl with Halloween treats - Reese's cups, 3 Musketeers, and all sorts of other evils. How can I possibly resist the lure of a sugar rush when I'm tired and unsuccessfully attempting to concentrate on a spreadsheet? The only way is to fight back with my own treats.

Eric and I went through the recipes Hilarie had given us and chose Congo Bars. I had all the ingredients except chocolate chips, so we took the dog for a walk to the nearby Walgreen's (and I felt a little better that I'd had at least a teeny bit of exercise before baking horrendously sweet treats). But they didn't have any chocolate chips. "Not until Christmas," the lady at the counter said. Who only needs chocolate chips at Christmas? I settled on a Hershey bar, which I chopped into tiny pieces when I got home and (honestly!) I only ate a few of them.

I looked at the recipe again. The second ingredient: 2 1/3 cups brown sugar. I gulped and poured a little less than a cup, practically shaking at the thought of the sugar rush that even that might induce. And then my rebellious healthy side took over. I refused to put eggs in after reading the warning about checking for blood in them (see below) and used egg replacer and one of those little applesauce cups instead.  I added cranberries and walnuts. At the very last minute before putting it in the oven, I realized that there was no way this thing was going to brown, and added a teaspoon of agave nectar in the hopes that it would help the process along. It didn't. When I opened the oven door 25 minutes later, it looked exactly the same as it did when I put it in. A toothpick test revealed that it was indeed done and it was going to look like that no matter what.

Eric and I stood in the kitchen, leaning against the countertop while we taste-tested several bites each. I moaned and groaned about how I can't follow directions and I should have at least kept the eggs and how this whole project was doomed while we each grabbed another bite. Eric rolled his eyes and left. A couple of minutes later, he returned with a treasure--a newspaper clipping from the Beaverton Valley Times in 1976. "Read this," he said.

It was an yellowed article in about Passover seder meals with advice and tips from Eric's own mother. It took me a minute to realize that the woman in the picture with a plate in her hand was Hilarie, aged 31. After explaining the seder, Hilarie revealed the secret to it all: "Jewish cooks never follow recipes."

I could have hugged her right then. Instead, I hugged Eric, who was standing there grinning as he watched me read. "See," he laughed. "You're doing it right."

I turned the pan over and put the Congo Bar on a cutting board to cool upside down and gave it an encouraging pat. Ten minutes later, gravity had done its work and when I flipped it right-side up, the top was just as smooth as if I'd planned the whole thing.

I realized that I had discovered a long-lost secret that shiksas had heretofore never known. The possibilities danced before my eyes. If Hilarie, the greatest cook I've ever personally known, could cook like she did without following directions, then there is hope for me, gluten-free and all.

*Dr. Dukes, of course.

Congo Bars for an Eric


2/3 cups Earth Balance Natural Spread, melted
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 3/4 GF Flour Mix (I used Bob's Red Mill)
3 egg replacers (Ener-G)
1 applesauce cup
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 Hershey Bar, chopped into tiny pieces
3/4 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Pour the melted margarine over the brown sugar. Prepare egg replacer, beating until slightly frothy, and pour over the brown sugar mix with the applesauce cup. Mix well. Add the vanilla and mix again. Mix the baking powder, salt, xanthan gum, and flour. Add this slowly to the rest of it. If it is too dry, add water a little bit at a time to moisten it. Add the chocolate, cranberries, and nuts. The mixture will be thick and sticky to the touch. Spread evenly in an 11x7 pan. Cook for 25 minutes, let it cool in the pan and then cut into squares.

Hilarie's Congo Bars

CONGO BARS (Easy chocolate chip bars)
pan size: 10” by 15”
oven temp. 350 degrees
cooking time:  25 minutes

Preparation:  (1) Preheat the oven.
                  (2)  Line the pan with foil. Spray with Baker’s Joy™

INGREDIENTS:  2/3 cup margarine, melted
               2 1/3 cup (one package) brown sugar
               3  eggs
               2 3/4 cup sifted flour
               2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
               1 tsp. salt
               1 tsp. vanilla
               1 package (12oz.) chocolate chips
               1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

METHOD:  (1)  Pour the melted margarine over the brown sugar.
           (2)  Break one egg into a small bowl.  Check to be sure there are no traces of blood in the egg.  If clear, pour the egg over the brown sugar mix.
           (3)  Break the second egg into the bowl.  If clear, add it to the brown sugar mix.
           (4)  Break the third egg into the bowl.  If clear, add it to the brown sugar mix.
           (5)  Mix well until everything is blended.  Use a mixer or beat well by hand.
           (6)  Add the vanilla and blend well.
           (7)  Mix the baking powder, salt and flour together.  Add slowly to the above mixture.
           (8)  Add the chocolate chips and nuts (if desired).
           (9)  Use a spatula to spread the mixture in the pan.  The mixture will be thick and sticky to the touch.  Spread evenly in the pan.
           (10) Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
           (11) Cool in the pan.  Remove the baked dough and cut into bars.
           (12) Cover well with Saran Wrap™ to keep bars chewy.                         

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