Belly up to the bars (cookie bars, that is)

It’s the weekend before Labor Day, and time to think about what to make for dessert for the annual block party (not that I really need an excuse).  For an informal party, cookies make a good choice for dessert, as the ease of eating a cookie, and having different flavors to choose works well.  In this blog, I’ve talked about cookies and blondies, so today, let’s look at other bar cookies.

I don’t know about you, but I love turtles, the candy of caramel and pecans covered with chocolate.  Here in Chicago, if you go to Fanny May’s Candy, they call them Pixies, but it is the same thing.  I prefer them coated in dark chocolate, but you can find them with milk chocolate as well.  The flavor combination is a classic.

Now, I readably admit that I am a food and cooking snob, and I do not apologize for this.  I like to control what I eat, and I refuse to use any recipe that utilizes prepared food products.  I do make a few exceptions; one of which is the Ghirardelli Triple Brownie mix (which I can only find at Costco as I’m not talking about the double chocolate Ghirardelli Brownie mix found at the supermarket).  My brownie gold standard is the Ina Garten Outrageous Brownie (made from scratch, not from the outrageously priced box), but the Ghirardelli Brownie is an excellent choice.

Many of the recipes on the Web for turtle bars use store bought caramels.  I recently bought a new cookie cookbook, The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett (copyright 2001 Houghton Mufflin) and in the chapter on bar cookies is a recipe for Turtle Bars.  I figured that I had to try it, as it calls for making everything from scratch.  Basically, it is a turtle candy on a shortbread cookie base.  The caramel is created from butter, cream, sugars, and heat.  As long as you have a candy thermometer, it is no problem to make.

Turtle Bars

Turtle Bars (modified from Nancy Baggett)


2 1/2 cups pecans

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut in small dice

4 tablespoons whole milk

For the caramel:

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup unsalted butter

2/3 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter the inside of a 9×13 inch baking pan.  Using heavy aluminum foil, create a sling the width of the pan and overhang the length of the pan by 2 inches.  Place in the pan and butter the inside of the foil.  It is not necessary to flour the pan.

2. Toast the pecan pieces in the oven on a baking sheet for 7 to 10 minutes, being careful not to burn them.  Let cool in a small bowl.  Take 1 3/4 cups and coarsely chop, and finely chop the remaining 3/4 cup.

3.  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt.  Cut in the stick of butter using a pastry blender or your fingers.  Sprinkle the milk over the mixture and combine to create a dough that just holds together, but is not too wet.  It might take anywhere from 1 1/2 tbs to 5 tbs of the whole milk to accomplish this.  Do not overwork the dough.  Press the dough into the baking pan to create an even layer of dough all the way to the edges.  Refrigerate the pan for at least 30 minutes.

Chill the dough in the fridge

Chill the dough in the fridge

4. Bake in the center of the oven for 21 to 25 minutes, until the center is firm, and the edges are slightly brown.  Do not overcook.

5.  In a large saucepan, combine the cream, corn syrup, 1/2 stick (1/8 lb) butter, the brown and white sugars, and salt.

Combine the sugars, salt and cream in a heavy saucepan and mix together.

Combine the sugars, salt and cream in a heavy saucepan and mix together.


Bring to a boil and reduce heat to keep at a mild boil.  This will boil out much of the water.  Put a candy thermometer in the pot and you will see the temperature remain at boiling for several minutes.

Use a candy thermometer to take to a hard boil, 245 degrees F

Use a candy thermometer to take to a hard boil, 245 degrees F


Stir with a heat proof spatula occasionally.  As with any candy making, be careful not to splash any of the very hot mixture anywhere!  Carefully control the heat under the saucepan, and stir the caramel as the temperature rises above boiling.  As soon as the temperature reaches 245 degrees F, remove from heat, and add the coarsely chopped pecans and the vanilla.  Stir thoroughly, and pour onto the prepared shortbread, using a spatula to even the layer out to the edges.

Pecan caramel layer spread on top of cookie dough

Pecan caramel layer spread on top of cookie dough

Immediately, sprinkle the chocolate morsels evenly over the hot caramel.  After a couple of minutes, the chocolate will be melted.  Using an offset spatula, even the chocolate layer to the edges.

Melted chocolate spread evenly over caramel layer

Melted chocolate spread evenly over caramel layer

Sprinkle the finely chopped pecans on the warm chocolate as evenly as possible.  Refrigerate until completely cooled.

6.  Lift the foil sling to remove the slab.  Cut with a sharp knife into small squares.  Serve either at room temperature or slightly cooled.

The turtle cookie--shortbread dough, caramel pecan layer, chocolate top with finely chopped pecans

The turtle cookie–shortbread dough, caramel pecan layer, chocolate top with finely chopped pecans

Another winner of a bar is the black and white bar, a lovely combination of brownie base and coconut top.

Brownie Coconut Bars

From the show Everyday Food on PBS

Recipe Type: Cookies, Desserts, American

For the chocolate base:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, dutch process
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
For the coconut topping
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
7 oz sweetened shredded coconut, (1 package) reserve 1/2 cup for sprinkling

1. For chocolate base: Preheat oven to 375°. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a slight overhang; butter bottom and sides of foil (not overhang).

2. Place butter in a large microwave-safe bowl; melt in microwave. Add sugar and salt; whisk to combine. Whisk in egg, then cocoa and flour until smooth. Spread batter in prepared pan.

3. Bake just until sides begin to pull away from edges of pan, 10 to 15 minutes (do not overbake). Let cool slightly while preparing coconut topping. Keep oven on for topping.

4. For coconut topping: In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with sugar and vanilla. Gently mix in flour and coconut (except ½ cup reserved for sprinkling).

5. Drop mounds of mixture over chocolate base; spread and pat in gently and evenly with moistened fingers. Sprinkle with reserved ½ cup coconut.

6. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Lift cake from pan, peel off foil, and cut into 24 bars. Store in an airtight container 3 to 4 days.

Yield: 24 cookies

Try these, they are both winners!


About trustforce

A well trained amateur chef, I have learned by taking some master classes and doing a lot of reading and experimentation. I cook and enjoy many different cuisines. The fun is getting it right, with great taste and presentation. The smells and appearance add to the pleasure of eating well. I can enjoy a great Chicago style hot dog or an Italian beef sandwich, or have equal pleasure from haut cuisine. All my recipe postings are extensively tested by me unless I state otherwise. I will sometimes post a recipe that sounds like it should be good before I actually make it myself, but I will always come back and revise the "untested" recipe after I've made it, with valid comments to keep old posts accurate and current. If I am not the originator of a recipe I will always correctly attribute the source author, even if I have modified the recipe. I will occasionally post reviews of local restaurants on the site. The big problem that I have with eating out is that I know too much about restaurants and I find it hard to ignore or forgive sloppy technique or bad ingredients. I pull no punches in my restaurant reviews!
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