Monday, November 23, 2009

Kitchen alchemy

I don't know what it is about some recipes. You stir a few perfectly straightforward ingredients together, slap the mixture in a pan, and bake it. You let it cool, cut it, and serve it to a random gathering of people. Women swoon. Men ask to marry you. Hell, women ask to marry you. Children smear it all over their faces. In very short order, you are left with nothing but an empty container and a circle of smiling people with chocolate in their teeth.

I've watched it happen with this one over and over again. My mother has been making these my whole life, and I've watched relatives gobble them up, friends embarrass themselves, and brothers-in-law swear they've only had two (not five) when they go for the last one. And it's not just a Boston thing: I swear there are still people in England who know me only as So-and-so's friend who brought those…things…to that party that time.

This weekend I was invited to a barbeque, and asked to bring a dessert, so I tried these out on an Australian contingent: partly because the recipe was about all I had the mental energy for, and partly out of curiosity to see if I would get the same reaction.

The result: the only reason I had those two available for picture-taking is because they wouldn't fit in the container that I took to the party.

Please try these and tell me if you get the same reaction. I'm always looking to broaden my data sample on just what it is about this recipe that drives people crazy.

Congo bars
Adapted from Rosie's Bakery All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No-Holds-Barred Baking Book
My mother's recipe uses Crisco, but I've found English and Australian vegetable shortening to be quite different in texture and density, and producing different results when used in baking. So I hunted down this version that uses butter, and now I like it even better, if that's possible. (Oh, and no, I don't know why they're called congo bars either. If you do, please enlighten us.)

1 1/3/280 g cups plain/all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
9 Tbsp (1 stick + 1 Tbsp)/125 g butter, softened
1 ¾ cups/350 g light brown sugar*
1 ¼ tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup/120 g semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup/60 g coconut

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Grease an 8 in x 8 in/20 cm x 20 cm square baking pan.

Blend dry ingredients and set aside.

With an electric mixer on medium, cream butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add eggs, mix on high briefly (about 3-5 seconds), then on medium until well blended (about 7-10 seconds).

Add dry ingredients and mix on low until combined (8-10 seconds).

Fold in chocolate and coconut until thoroughly mixed through. Spread evenly in baking pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, or until it has a rich golden crust and the center has sunk. Cool in pan for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

Makes 25 1-inch bars.

* I use whatever kind of brown sugar I have on hand. It changes the texture somewhat, but they're pretty much always good.


Sad Rabbit said... Best Blogger Tips

but they are sooooo fact aren't you the hockey player who used to bring them to training? ;-)

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

Hee hee...yes, and I'm sure that more Oxford players remember me for these than they do for my defense-playing skills!

SarahKate said... Best Blogger Tips

You know what else has that impact on people??? Rice Krispies treats! People gobble them up! I made a batch last night, with butterscotch chips stirred in, and brought them to my office this morning. It's barely 11am and the whole batch has already disappeared.

Celia said... Best Blogger Tips

Looks and sounds delicious, Lemon! What an intriguing name - I wonder what its origin is?

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

SarahKate - yes, I am amazed at the universal popularity of the Rice Krispie treat! People go wild for them here too.

Celia - When I was looking for recipes, I found that a lot had nuts in them, which made me wonder if the name came from some exotic nut used in the past. But even Cook's Illustrated doesn't know.

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

My parents had a huge argument over these one day. Dad had the audacity to call them "bongo" bars! She makes them without the coconut, but the reaction is ALWAYS the same. For whatever reason, they are CONGO bars. Not "Bongo" or "Blonde Brownies". They are magical!

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi Anon - thanks for stopping by! Your story made me laugh out loud, not least because the husband of one of my friends here *cannot* stop referring to these as "bongo bars". As in, every time his wife comes back from a visit to my house, "What's in that bag? Did she make any more of those bongo bars?"

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