One of the best parts of the holidays is spending time with family and friends. And between Christmas and New Years', we were lucky to spend a couple of days at the cottage of our friends, the Jay family.
After living in China for three years, the Jays were back in Cincinnati for all of twelve months before moving to Switzerland. With all this traveling, you’d think we’d lose touch with each other. But we see them at least three times a year, on their visits to Canada in the summer and at Christmas. And each time, our girls and theirs pick up their friendship as if they’d never been apart.
This trip was full of traditions, as we went tobogganing, sang Christmas carols and made stone soup over a campfire. And we enjoyed our first annual tournament of Tailgate Toss – a tournament won by Andrew and me! This victory owed much more to Andrew’s good hand-eye coordination than my, uh, good sportsmanship.
Chocolate Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars were the perfect squares to take along to the Jays’. There’s nothing pretentious about them; they’re full of great things like chocolate and peanuts with an oatmeal base. They were as fun to eat as they were to bake.
This recipe comes courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s wonderful cookbook, Baking: From my home to yours. A wonderful Christmas was made even better because my sister bought me my very own copy. Thanks, Gwen!
Chocolate Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars
(from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my home to yours)
For the oatmeal layer
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1 cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
For the chocolate layer
1-14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup raisins (I didn’t use these, due to family preferences)
¾ cup coarsely chopped peanuts, preferably salted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
To make the oatmeal layer:
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until it is soft and creamy. Add the brown sugar and beat for 2 minutes, then add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each egg is added. Beat in the vanilla. The mixture should be light and fluffy. Add the dry ingredients and stir to mix, then stir in the oats and chopped peanuts.
Divide the mixture into two bowls, setting aside 1 ½ to 2 cups of it until later. Turn the remaining dough into the buttered pan, evenly pressing it down. Set aside while you prepare the next layer.
To make the chocolate layer:
Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Put the condensed milk, chocolate chips, butter and salt in the bowl and stir occasionally until the milk is warm and the chocolate and butter are melted. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the vanilla and peanuts (and raisins, if you’re using them).
Pour the warm chocolate over the oatmeal crust, then scatter the remaining oatmeal mixture over the top. Don’t try to spread it, and don’t worry about getting the topping even.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the baking pan to a rack and cool for about two hours.
Run a blunt knife between the edges of the cake and the pan, and carefully turn it out onto a rack. Turn right side up and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cutting. Cut into 32 rectangles and serve.