Cook up some bar cookies to be the hit of the fall festival

September 19, 2012 

School carnivals, fall and Halloween festivals and church bazaars are on the near horizon, and with them come bake sales featuring all sorts of goodies, especially bar cookies that can be sold individually or in packages of multiples.

Bar cookies often save time-starved home cooks. The bar cookies are spread into a pan and do not have to be individually dropped onto baking sheets.

My late grandmother loved to bake and was awesome at it, but she disliked making cookies. She didn't have the patience. Baking cookies took too long, so I became her cookie baker. When my daughter was in school, I always volunteered for cookies. Holidays are not the holidays without baking cookies.

Today, home cooks do not have the time to bake dozens of cookies, but they can pop a pan or two of bar cookies into the oven. The bars usually take less than an hour from start to finish and offer a variety of flavors from citrusy fruit squares to chocolaty brownies to rice cereal treats to healthy snack bars.

The hardest part of these bar cookies is not overcooking them. Home cooks often check the bars' doneness with a cake tester or toothpick. If the center of the bars still seems too gooey, they pop them back into the oven. The result? Burned crusts or crispy bars that should have been moist in the middle.

My daughter does this with brownies and another friend with lemon squares. There are few things as disappointing to cooks and their eaters as crunchy brownies and burned bars.

Before starting a bar recipe, cooks should check to see if the bars are to be moist or to spring back at the touch. Some bars

should be the texture of ooey gooey butter cakes; others a crisp granola.

Keeping an eye on the bars is a must. Just because a recipe says 30 minutes cooking time does not mean 30 minutes in each individual home oven. My gas stove cooks about five minutes faster than recipes say, sometimes 10 minutes depending on how much I have used the oven that day. Remember, gas ovens cook on retained heat.

If fruit or gooey fillings are set on top, it is time to take them out of the oven. Overcooking will place the bars into the trash instead of onto a cookie platter.

In preparation for upcoming festivals, I thought I would share a few bar cookies from readers that are not run-of-the-bake-sale chocolate chip bars or brownies. These may make you the star of the bazaar.

Valerie Crane of Gulfport, Miss., uses a cake mix and marshmallows for the crust part of her gooey-chewy Payday bars. Crisp rice cereal, peanut butter chips and corn syrup are some of the topping ingredients. This bar cannot be checked with the toothpick method. Timing is everything with these bars.

Barbara Salloum, also of Gulfport, makes healthier oatmeal squares that are crispy, but still chewy. Marmalade, apple butter or jelly is used as the filling. Watch that these bars are not overcooked. The crust and topping can burn.

In the family cookbook, "From Our House to Your House," Peggy Ryland shares her chocolate peanut butter squares. These require no baking, but the topping is cooked in a double boiler. Perhaps an easier cookie for those who are bar-challenged. Graham crackers and crunchy peanut butter are in the cookie base. The topping is chocolate chips, butter, vanilla and pecans.

PAYDAY BARS

Base:

1 package yellow cake mix

1/3 cup softened margarine

1 egg

3 cups miniature marshmallows

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, combine cake mix, margarine and egg. Beat at low speed until crumbly. Press into bottom of ungreased 13-by-9-inch pan. Bake for 12 to 18 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with marshmallows. Return to oven for 1 to 2 minutes or until marshmallows just being to pull. Cool while preparing topping.

Topping:

2/3 cup corn syrup

1/4 cup margarine

2 teaspoons vanilla

12-ounce package peanut butter chips

2 cups crisp rice cereal

2 cups salted peanuts

In large saucepan, heat corn syrup, margarine, vanilla and chips, just until chips are melted and mixture is smooth, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in cereal and nuts. Immediately spoon warm topping over marshmallows; spread to cover. Chill. Cut into bars. Makes 36 bars.

-- Recipe by Valerie Crane from "Tastes of Temple"

OATMEAL SQUARES

1- 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1- 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 tablespoon grated orange peel

1 cup brown sugar

1- 1/2 sticks butter

1 cup orange marmalade, strawberry preserves, apple butter or your favorite jam or jelly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, rolled oats, orange peel and sugar. Add butter, working it into flour mixture with fingers until it looks like coarse cornmeal. Press half the mixture into a well-buttered 8-inch square pan. Spread with jam then top with remaining butter-flour mixture.

Bake 40 minutes. Let cool, then cut into squares

-- Recipe by Barbara Salloum from "How to Be a Star (in your kitchen)"

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER SQUARES

Base:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup butter, softened

1 pound confectioners' sugar

1 (16.3-ounce) jar crunchy peanut butter

Combine above ingredients and press mixture into a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Topping:

2 (12-ounce) packs semi-sweet Hershey chocolate morsels

3 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup pecan pieces

Combine chocolate and butter in top of a double boiler. Bring water to a boil in bottom of double boiler; reduce heat to low and cook until chocolate melts. Add vanilla. Pour over base mix and top with pecan pieces.

-- Recipe by Peggy Ryland from "From Our House To Your House: Original Recipes from The Friendship House & Log House"

CHOCOLATE POUND CAKE

"I made a very good chocolate pound cake using the Grand Prize Pound Cake recipe from your Sept. 5 column, but using a box of a good dark chocolate cake mix instead of coconut or yellow," said Ed Walker of D'Iberville, Miss.

For those who may have missed this recipe, here it is with Walker's cake mix substitution.

GRAND PRIZE POUND CAKE

1 dark chocolate cake mix

1 cup sour cream

2/3 cup sugar

4 eggs

2/3 cup oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cake mix and sugar with mixer. Add oil, sour cream, eggs and vanilla and beat 2 minutes. Pour batter into a greased and floured Bundt pan and bake for 45 minutes. Do not open the oven! Remove from oven to wire rack. Cool 10 minutes and remove from pan. May dust with confectioners' sugar. Makes 12-16 servings.

-- Submitted by Ed Walker

More on salsa

A reader requested recipes for good salsas, and Sheryl Miller of Palmetto shares her family's favorite.

FRUIT SALSA

1 apple (any type of sweet apple)

1 kiwi

8 strawberries (more if you want)

Cut all fruit into small pieces and mix together. Serve with tortillas or cinnamon pita chips.

-- Submitted by Sheryl Miller

Still seeking these recipes

Readers are looking for a chocolate pound cake with a raspberry filling and gluten- and dairy-free recipes. Also, feel free to share your favorite bar cookie recipes or fall festival goodies. After all, 'tis getting to be the season.

Please send, contributions or requests for this column to Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567. If requesting a recipe, please include the name or briefly describe it and the ingredients. You can reach Andrea Yeager at 832-8568 or to ayeager51@cableone.net.

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