Have you ever cooked something with a really specific idea of what you were making, only to have it come out as a completely different recipe? I thought this recipe was going to be the ubiquitous but multi-named “Seven Layer Bars,” “Magic Bars,” or “White Trash Candy” that I grew up eating at every party I ever attended in the state of Kentucky. I read the ingredients and assumed that's what the end result would be, so I was completely surprised when it turned out to be a recipe for something significantly different, though no less good.
So what is this a recipe for, exactly? It's sort of like a chewy, dark-chocolate covered macaroon, these bars manage to be sweet without crossing over into cloying because the mix of flavours and textures is so perfectly balanced: salty crust, sweet filling, bitter chocolate topping. The perfect blend. If you were serving these at a party, I'd cut them into truffle-sized, single bite servings. If you're serving them at a girls' night where the goal is less elegance and more decadence, you could cut them into slightly larger, two or three-bite sizes.
I can imagine Eleanor and her friends snacking on these while they played bridge. They're easily transportable, they look incredibly fancy when cut up on a plate because of that smooth chocolate layer, and they're so decadent they'll make even the sweetest tooth swoon with happiness.*
These bars are rich, and, as we've already discovered, Eleanor's sweet tooth ran deep, so I guess that makes sense. Strangely, I haven't been able to think of an American equivalent, but they taste awfully similar to Millionaire's Shortbread-- a Scottish dessert comprised of shortbread topped with caramel and covered in chocolate. The good news is that this recipe is way easier than millionaire's shortbread because it doesn't require you to make caramel (always a plus in my book!), and it makes a ton, because you're gonna want to cut them small. Plus, they keep well in the fridge for at least a week (possibly longer, but that was when we ran out).
I usually don't pay too much attention to the type of butter I use in baked goods, but for this one you're definitely going to want to use salted butter. The slight saltiness in the crust offsets the sweetness of the other layers just perfectly and without it, I think these would cross into sickly-sweet territory. If you can get your hands on desiccated coconut instead of the usual shredded stuff, it might make the bars easier to cut into uniform cubes, but it also probably cuts down on the coconut texture/flavour that shredded gives, so if you're into that, go for shredded.
*I have no picture to show you of how fancy they look once they are cut, because I got distracted with how delicious they were as soon as we started cutting them and totally forgot to take a picture. Next time, friends.
5 spoons out of five. They're rich, delicious, and easy, they keep well, and the recipe makes a lot. What more could you possibly want?
Triple Layer Cookie Bars
½ c salted butter
1 ½ c rich tea biscuit crumbs, or graham cracker crumbs
7 oz desiccated coconut
14 oz condensed milk
12 oz bittersweet baking chocolate
½ c creamy peanut butter
Preheat oven to 176C/350F.
In 13x9 pan, melt butter in oven.
Once butter is melted, sprinkle crumbs evenly over butter (no need to pack it down or try to stir it into a "crust," it will form on its own in the oven).
Top evenly with coconut, then condensed milk (tip: sprinkle the coconut and pour the condensed milk easily-- you're not gonna be able to level them out much after you add them to the pan without disturbing the bottom crust).
Bake 25 minutes until lightly browned (will be mostly dry but still sticky looking).
During last 5 minutes of baking, in a small saucepan over very low heat, melt chocolate with peanut butter, stirring constantly to avoid burning.
After bars are done baking, pour melted chocolate mixture evenly over hot coconut layer.
Chill thoroughly before cutting bars.
Store loosely covered at room temperature, or in the fridge if you're not going to eat them for a few days.
Yields 30-36 small bars, depending on size.