Blond but never bland

Entertaining

Entertaining: Congo Bars are quickly made and quickly consumed, and everyone will ask for the recipe.

Sunday Gourmet

February 17, 2002|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many of my friends love to cook and entertain as much as I do, and so they often stop me in the market to tell me when a recipe they have tried has been a particular success. Without fail, they offer to share the recipe, encouraging me to try their latest discovery.

For example, a few weeks ago one of my neighbors approached me to describe the Congo Bars she had baked several times that month. "They're so easy I can whip them up in less than an hour, and everyone I've served them to has asked for the recipe," she announced. Within minutes she pulled out a note pad and wrote out the recipe by heart.

I filed the instructions away, and later that month, instead of making my usual dark chocolate brownies, I decided to try the Congo Bars, a "blond" brownie made with a batter of butter, flour, brown sugar and eggs, studded with chocolate chips. My friend was right. The bars took minutes to assemble and a half-hour to bake.

After they had cooled, I put them in an airtight container, thinking that my husband and I could nibble on them for several days, but they didn't last that long. The petite woman who helps me clean my kitchen abandoned her diet with a generous serving. Then she hinted that her husband would love some, so I gave her a small bagful to take home that night. Two culinary assistants ate the Congo Bars with abandon, and a young man who was helping me with computer programs was also a willing tester.

When I asked my neighbor where she had found this particular recipe for Congo Bars, she told me that a friend from Boston had explained that the bars were often brought to potluck suppers at the First Congregational Church, thus the "Congo" in the name.

There are many variations of these bars. Sometimes the chocolate chips are used as a glaze on top, and occasionally chopped nuts are added to the batter. The version which follows is the simplest I have encountered and the most delectable. I've made the bars four more times and am planning to take them to a winter potluck party later in the month. They keep well in an airtight container for up to three days.

You could serve them with a bowl of apples or pears for dessert after a light lunch or supper. They would also be delicious offered with mugs of hot mulled cider after some cross-country skiing or an afternoon of ice skating. Or invite several people over after the movies and serve Congo Bars to dip in hot tea or coffee.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

Congo Bars

Makes 16 large or 32 small squares

butter and flour, for preparing baking pan

2 1/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks

one 16-ounce box light-brown sugar

3 large eggs

12 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate chips (see Note)

Arrange rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter 9-by-13-inch baking pan and then dust with flour. Shake out any excess flour.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Melt butter in large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar until dissolved and mixture is smooth. Stir in eggs, 1 at a time. Stir in dry ingredients. Mix in chocolate chips. (It's OK if chips start to melt slightly.)

Bake 30 minutes or until tester inserted in center comes out clean (check after 20 minutes). Remove and cool to room temperature. Cut into 16 large squares or 32 small ones. Store bars in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Note: Ghirardelli's Double Dark Chocolate Chips, available at many supermarkets, are particularly good in these bars. They are intensely chocolate in flavor and slightly larger than regular chips.

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