High altitude baking: Chocolate-oat bars (recipe)
Editor’s note: High altitudes 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 that make baking in the mountains successful.
Crispy oats, gooey chocolate and crunchy nuts — these bars please almost everyone. I’ve been making them for more than a decade, and they’re always well received.
The recipe is versatile. You can use any nuts, omit the glaze, cut the cookies into triangles or fingers rather than squares, or double the recipe and make it in a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan.
Once baked, the cookies freeze well. If you plan to freeze them, cut the slab into squares after defrosting; this helps prevent the cookies from drying out during the process.
(Make in an 8-inch-by-8-inch metal baking pan. Adjusted for altitude.)
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk (half a can, which is ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons)
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
¾ cup chopped nuts
1 cup all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick), cut into 8 pieces
1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
Scant 1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
½ teaspoon mild vegetable oil (I use canola)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the baking pan with Reynold’s Release nonstick aluminum foil or with regular aluminum foil, greased with a vegetable oil-flour spray. Extend the foil a few inches beyond the pan on opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked pastry. Make sure the entire pan is either lined or greased.
Combine the sweetened condensed milk and chopped chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl or saucepan, and heat at a low temperature (in the microwave or on the stovetop), stirring frequently, until the chocolate is melted and thoroughly combined with the milk. Remove the mixture from the heat, and set aside.
To make the crust in a food processor: Place the flour, baking soda and brown sugar in the bowl, and pulse to combine well. Add the pieces of butter and vanilla and almond extracts, and pulse to blend. Dump in a mixing bowl, and stir in or knead in the rolled oats (the dough is stiff; I usually have to knead them in).
To make with an electric mixer: Let the butter soften, and then beat it with the brown sugar, vanilla and almond extracts until the mixture is light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda, and add them to the butter mixture, using a low speed of your electric mixer or stirring them in by hand. Stir or knead in the oats until well combined.
Divide the dough in half. Set one half aside. Break off pieces from the other half, scatter them over the bottom of the prepared pan, and then press them together to form a smooth, level layer (wet your hands so the dough doesn’t stick to them, or press through a piece of plastic wrap). Stir the chocolate mixture again, and spread it evenly over the dough; sprinkle on the nuts, and gently press them into the chocolate. Strew clumps of the remaining dough over the top of the chocolate-nut mixture. Gently press and smooth them so that they are distributed evenly and cover almost all of the filling.
Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown; start checking after about 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and cool it completely on a rack.
If using, make the glaze: Melt the chopped chocolate in the microwave at a low temperature (I use No. 3 or No. 4) for about 1 to 2 minutes, remove it, stir, and if necessary, continue microwaving until the chocolate is almost all melted and only a few lumps remain. Remove it from the microwave, and stir until it is thoroughly melted and smooth. Stir in the vegetable oil.
Cool the mixture until it is slightly thickened. Drizzle it over the cooled, uncut cookies in a pretty design. Set the glaze by placing the pan in the refrigerator for about 15 to 20 minutes or leaving it at cool room temperature for an hour or more.
Cut into bars, and serve at room temperature. Store the cookies, airtight, at cool room temperature or freeze.
This recipe is a variation of one in “Brownies, Blondies and Bar Cookies.” Vera Dawson is a high-altitude baking teacher and author of two high-altitude cookbooks, “Baking Above It All” and “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Next Page in Frisco). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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