Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado High Country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Imagine a super-rich chocolate chip cookie in a thick, square shape, and you’ll know what to expect from these chocolate-brown sugar bars.
The dough boasts that well-loved butter and brown sugar flavor, enhanced by a little bourbon, which sweetens it and adds a welcome complexity. Swirled through this base are pecans and real chocolate, chopped large enough to melt to a soft, smooth consistency. Simple, but, oh my, the overall effect is good.
The bars are satisfying any way you serve them. Chilled, they’re dense and chewy; when slightly warm, they’re soft and gooey (take care, if too warm, they fall apart); and at room temperature, they’re somewhere in between. When we need a dessert, we cut larger squares and use them as the bottom layer for a very pleasing sundae. We warm the squares, pile on a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream, add a sprinkle of chopped pecans and top the whole thing with warm chocolate sauce. It’s a fine way to end a meal.
Overbaking these babies will destroy all their decadent qualities, so pay close attention while they’re in the oven and determine when they’re done by their look and feel, rather than by time.
Chocolate-brown sugar bars
(Make in a 9-by-9-inch metal baking pan. Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and higher.)
1 ¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons flour (spoon and level)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
13 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup dark-brown sugar, firmly packed
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into quarter-inch pieces
¾ cup chopped toasted pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the pan with nonstick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil, extending it several inches beyond the pan on two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the bars. If using regular foil, grease it well.
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, and whisk until well mixed. Set aside.
Cut the butter into pieces, place them in a large saucepan, and heat over medium-low, until about half of the butter melts. Add the brown sugar, and stir until the butter is completely melted and the two are fully blended. Bring the mixture to a boil, and boil for about 1 1/2 minutes. Set aside to cool completely (refrigerate to speed up the process).
Add the egg to the cooled butter mixture, and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until fully incorporated. Repeat this process with the yolk. Put in the bourbon and vanilla, and beat again. Add the flour mixture, and using your mixer’s slowest speed or by hand, blend in the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed throughout this step.
Add the chopped chocolate and the nuts, and mix by hand until they are evenly distributed through the batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, level and smooth it, and then bake until the dough is set but soft and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. This takes from 25 to 30 minutes in my oven.
Remove the pan to a rack to cool completely. Use the foil handles to remove the slab from the pan, and cut into bars. Store the bars in the refrigerator for three days or freeze for a month. Serve cold, at room temperature, or slightly warm, if serving as cookies. If using in a sundae, serve slightly warm.
This is a variation of a recipe from “Caprial’s Desserts.”
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.