Thursday, January 24, 2013

Brown sugar meringue crowns chocolate chip bar cookies

I don't know why these bar cookies came to mind this week, but I'm glad they did. My grandmother and my mother made this recipe regularly, but I've rarely pulled out my copy. In fact, I'd be surprised if either of my children remember it.

And that's a shame. This recipe is delicious and unusual. It takes a little more time and requires a few more bowls than many bar cookies, but I think the results are worth it.

Rich, buttery cookie dough makes up the bottom layer. I find that the best way to spread it evenly in the pan is to pat it out with my fingertips. Next come the chocolate chips, sprinkled evenly over the dough. They'll melt and spread out a bit as the bars bake. The top -- and the component that sets this recipe apart -- is brown sugar meringue, sweet with just a hint of caramel flavor. The day you bake these bars, the meringue will be shatteringly crisp. Cover any leftovers well, and by the next day, the topping will have a stickier consistency that might remind you of marshmallows.

Yield: About 40 bars

For bars:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

For meringue topping:
2 egg whites
1 cup sifted light brown sugar (see note)

Prepare the bars: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 10-by-15-inch baking dish.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, granulated sugar and packed brown sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, water and vanilla; beat until well combined.

Sift or whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add gradually to the butter mixture, beating on medium speed until incorporated.

Using a spatula or your hands, spread the batter evenly in the baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips.

Make the meringue: Using a clean mixing bowl and clean beaters, whip the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. Slowly beat in the sifted brown sugar, then beat the mixture until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue over the batter and chocolate chips, covering the entire surface. Use a spoon to pull the top of the meringue into peaks.

Bake until the meringue starts to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool, then cut into bars.

Note: The best way to sift brown sugar is to force it through a fine mesh strainer with a wooden spoon. After the sugar has been sifted, spoon it gently into a measuring cup.

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