Battle of the Cookie Bars!

I love cookies.. actually I love most any kind of sweets, but I really love cookies! Especially home-made oatmeal raisin, molasses, or chocolate chip cookies. My big sister made chocolate chip cookies all the time when we were kids… and each and every time, she would burn at least one tray full (which was okay because Mom likes burnt cookies).

Sometimes when we wanted something a little different, we would get out Mom’s recipe collection and find the card for making “Hello Dollies.” Even though I never knew where the name came from, Hello Dollies (also called Magic Bars or Seven Layer Bars) were one of my very favorite sweets as a kid, and since we didn’t make them very often they were always a special treat. These decadent cookie bars are chock full of chocolate, coconut, and nuts — plus a salty sweet graham cracker crust and gooey sweetened condensed milk. Yum! I mean, who can go wrong with combining a few pantry staples and coming up with an extraordinary, sinfully delicious dessert. 

Speaking of “sinfully delicious,” there is another cookie bar treat that I have come to love as an adult — I was introduced to this equally decadent dessert several years ago by a very good friend who comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch cooking tradition of “everything is better with more butter and more sugar in it.” My friend calls her recipe “Sin & Temptation” and it consists of a similar group of pantry staples: saltine crackers, butter, brown sugar, chocolate chips, and pecans. Also known simply as Saltine Toffee Bars these things are truly addicting, and so I rarely make them (lest I eat the entire batch and suffer the wrath of my loving wife’s reminders that I’m supposed to lose weight and stay healthy enough to some day retire).

So if you find yourself wondering what to do with that bag of semi-sweet chips, box of crackers, and the few other odds and ends in your baking pantry… you need to try one of these amazingly quick to make, and hard to resist cookie bar desserts — or maybe make both and have your own Battle of the Cookie Bars!

Mom’s Hello Dollies

Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 30 minutes
Makes: 12-15 bars

1 stick Butter – melted
15 Graham Crackers – made into crumbs (about 1 1/2 cups) 
2 cups (12 oz bag) Semisweet Chocolate Chips
2 cups Sweetened Shredded Coconut
2 cups (about 8 oz) Pecans – chopped
1 (14 oz) can Sweetened Condensed Milk

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with oven rack to middle position.

2. Pulse graham crackers  in food processor to make coarse crumbs. Combine melted butter and graham cracker crumbs in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Press evenly into bottom of “9 x 13” baking dish.
3. Top crust with chocolate chips, followed by coconut, and then chopped pecans. Drizzle entire can of condensed milk over layers.
4. Bake until any crust visible is golden brown and pecans begins to toast, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
5. To cut easily, refrigerate for about an hour before serving. Cut into 12-15  bars. Bars can be stored at room temperature for 3-5 days, or kept in fridge for 2 weeks.

Sin & Temptation Bars

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook/Bake time: 15 minutes
Makes: 20-40 pieces

1 sleeve Saltine Crackers (about 40 crackers)
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 cup Butter
2 cups (12 oz bag) Semisweet Chocolate Chips
1 cup Pecans – chopped
Cooking spray – as needed

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 10 x 15 cookie sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.
2. Cover cookie sheet with whole saltines (don’t break or crush them) in a single layer — sides touching.
3. In a saucepan over med-high heat, melt the butter and 
sugar together and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately (carefully) pour mixture over saltines and spread evenly — taking time to re-position cracker as needed so they lay flat in a single layer.
4. Bake 5 minutes in preheated oven, or until the toffee is bubbling evenly over the whole surface of the crackers. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips, let sit for one minute, then gently spread melted chips with spatula (an offset frosting spatula works best). Sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans, and press down lightly.
5. Cut into individual squares immediately — or cool until firm, then break up into serving pieces. Can be stored at room temperature for 3-5 days, kept refrigerated for 2 weeks, or can be frozen in an airtight container for about 2 months.

Well there you have it, two easy to make treats that should satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth — whether you choose Hello Dollies or Sin & Temptation you will be glad you did. Plus they make a great welcome gift or office treat (if you don’t mind sharing). Both store at room temperature in a sealed container — but keeping them in the fridge helps them from sticking together (or being eaten too quickly). 

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

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