Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fudgy Oat Bars

First, my apologies for my relative absence from the blog. It's an unfortunate reality that things like my day job and other obligations sometimes prevent me from spending time in my kitchen causing disasters all over the place. Thankfully, last Friday I had the opportunity to spend some time making one of my favorite desserts: Fudgy Oat Bars.

This is a recipe that has been in my family for quite a while, which usually means that it was in a kosher cookbook somewhere and my mom wrote it down for future reference. I remember eating these when I was growing up and it's one of my favorite desserts. I suspect that my mom made these in an attempt to get me to eat more oatmeal, since I'll eat most things that are covered with chocolate. And yes, I know how that sounds. When I moved to Washington, DC after college this was one of the first desserts I made in my tiny apartment kitchen.

Unlike the previous posts on this blog, I've made this recipe enough times that there were very few mistakes or hilarious moments while I made these last week. The only "bad idea" moment was when I tried to get dough off the paddle attachment of my mixer by raising the head of the mixer while it was running. I've seen this done before without ill effects, but somehow I managed to turn the mixer on too high as I lifted the head up. As the paddle rose out of the bowl, time slowed to a crawl and I could clearly see a couple of pieces of dough being flung from the paddle at high speed and travel across half my kitchen as if in slow motion. It was a trainwreck I could see coming but was powerless to stop. Thankfully, the amount of dough I lost was minimal and easy to clean up. I also had a minor accident cracking an egg, but magically I avoided getting any eggshell into the mixing bowl.

The only significant change I made in this recipe involved what type of oats to use. The recipe just says "quick cook oats" but there'a a lot of different oats marketed as "quick cook." Traditionally, my family and I have used Quaker rolled oats, which can cook in about a minute. Early in my time in DC, I started using Irish rolled oats, which advertise a cooking time of three minutes and have a slightly different flavor and texture. For this time around, I decided to take a crack at steel cut oats. I've read in many places that they have a completely different flavor and texture, so I thought it would be an interesting variation. They're also billed as "quick cook," but with an eight minute time, it's much longer than the others. Still, why not try them out and see what happens?

The answer is that they're not a great fit for this application. Steel cut oats are very coarse and the longer raw cooking time meant the bottom oat layer was much crunchier than I wanted it to be. They were also more difficult to incorporate evenly as they had a tendency to collect in the bottom of the bowl where they never came into contact with the dough. I frequently had to scrape down the bowl with a spatula and manually mix things around a bit until they were sticking to the dough. In the future I'd stick with rolled oats, which cook faster and have a more pleasing texture in this dessert. But if all you have is steel cut oats, you'll get a perfectly fine dessert as well.

With all of that oat of the way (see, a pun!) I strongly recommend you make these bars. Be warned that the chocolate layer can be very rich, so you might want to scale back on the chocolate chips/apple juice mixture if it's too much. I've never tried adjusting it, but I'm sure that it could work. But if you're looking for a dessert that combines a toasted oat topping with a rich fudge layer, this is the dessert to make.
Fudgy Oat Bars (adapted from the Spice and Spirit Cookbook)

Oatmeal mixture
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup margarine softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 cups quick cooking oats
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • ¾ cup apple juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla

1) Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9x12 pan.

2) Mix brown sugar, margarine, eggs, and vanilla, in a large mixer bowl. Stir in flour, baking soda, and oats.

3) Reserve 1/3 of the oatmeal mixture and press remaining mixture into pan.

4) Heat chips, and juice in a pan over low heat. Remove from heat and mix in vanilla

5) Spread chocolate mixture over oatmeal dough. With rounded teaspoonfuls spoon remaining dough over chocolate.

6) Bake until golden brown 30-40 minutes. While warm cut into 1x2 inch bars. Cool in pan.