Before we got our December Bon Appétits, we were hoping an appetizer or snack recipe would stand out as the one we’d each want to make. Both of us had holiday parties we were cooking for and wanted to add something new to the mix. Unfortunately, nothing in those categories really sparked us this time around. We decided on cookies, and after some back and forth (the cover girl speculoos buttons were in the running for a while) we settled on crunch bars. We made a good choice.
Laura’s Take: It took me a couple of reads of the Bon to even notice these crunchy gems. They were hidden in a rather loud feature that I kept flipping past, searching for more serene food styling. When I finally surrendered to the story, I was delighted to see that the recipes were all Dorie Greenspan’s. Everyone on the internet knows how awesome she is and these bars are a great example of why she has such a loyal following: simple ingredients, basic techniques, and outstanding results.
There’s not a lot of elbow grease involved in this recipe, but it’s a little quirky. First you make the cookie base by creaming a generous two sticks of butter to which you add sugars, salt, vanilla, and flour. Then you are supposed to spread that mixture, which tastes divine (no eggs = guilt free beater licking), into a dish lined with foil and spread it around evenly. The magazine describes the dough as “wet and sticky,” which is pretty accurate. It’s like a loose paste and it is not easily spread. I got frustrated using my spatula, made a huge mess trying to use my hands, and finally got the hang of it using an offset spatula.
You bake the dough for about 22 minutes or until it “has begun to puff and crack.” This is where the doubt comes in. I looked in my oven at about 18 minutes and saw a bubbling rectangle of weirdness. The base did not look baked, so I left it in for the remaining four minutes. At 22, it was still bubbling (or puffing and cracking, to use Bon speak), but it looked less wet, so I figured I should pull it. I was prepared for failure, but like magic, the base firmed up quickly into a perfectly buttery, crunchy layer. I spread the base with pieces of dark and delicious Valrhona 64%. I divided my bars into three flavor sections: toasted coconut & roasted almonds, roasted almonds & Heath bar pieces, and Heath bar pieces. I sprinkled the whole thing with some smoked sea salt. My favorite was the Heath bar section, followed by the almonds & Heath. I brought these to my family’s annual Christmas party and they were a hit. My dad noted that they are reminiscent of Almond Rocas. My mom noted that my dad ate all of the leftovers.
Jessica’s Take: This recipe reminded me of a favorite treat I learned about from Sarah of Pink of Perfection: she calls them salted toffee-chocolate graham cracker squares, my sister and I call them crack bars, as they are undeniably addictive (and feel so wrong, even while they taste so good). The difference is that crack bars are made on a layer of whole graham crackers and these awesome crunch bars are anchored by a totally worth the slight effort cookie base.
Laura, who made these first, had warned me that the dough would seem weird while cooking. And I’m so glad she did. It is sticky as all get out as Laura said above (I had better luck spreading it with my fingers, as you can see by my paw prints in the picture below), and does look not quite right in the middle of the cooking process. Luckily for me I had Laura’s texts telling me to trust the process and forge ahead, which made trying a new recipe much less stressful than it might otherwise have been, especially on a day when I was running around doing party prep.
Roughly chopped chocolate is dropped onto the still warm cookie base and put back in the oven until the chocolate becomes spreadable. I used a Trader Joe’s chocolate bar I didn’t read the label of carefully enough for the base chocolate–it had sea salt, which I wanted, and caramel, which I hadn’t noticed before I got it home. This turned out to be a happy accident, especially when combined with crushed up Butterfingers candy and salted pumpkin seeds. I had thought about also using dried fruit or the popcorn suggested in the original recipe, but I’m glad I kept it simple.
Final Thoughts: These were delicious. The clear winner of our Bon Appétit experiments so far. Even if sweet treats feel impossible right now, we’d still recommend making these–one of Jessica’s party guests brought up how much they had loved them just this past weekend, and her party was in the middle of December. And if not right now, then for a Super Bowl party or for Valentine’s Day. But after all, leftover holiday candy would make a fabulous topping…
You can find the recipe on the Bon website.