I have always read cookbooks, starting when I was in middle school or so. In my parents’ house there is a small built-in bookcase in the dining room where my mom always kept her cookbooks, so the easiest thing to grab to read over a snack or solo breakfast or lunch was a favorite tome. My usual pick was Barbara Tropp’s China Moon Cookbook (packed with hilarious stories in the sidebars, as well as fun recipes intros), but I also turned to Italy in Small Bites for mouth-watering descriptions of regional snacks throughout Italy, and to the various works of Maida Heatter for the most precise (and fascinatingly old-fashioned) recipes I’d ever seen.
Heatter, a master of dessert recipes, introduced me to the science of baking–one I’ve never really explored. I need to collect my own copies of her books and give dessert a try. My childhood was studded with Heatter recipes: My favorite was September Seventh Cake, which had a whipped filling, but my mom made the ultra-simple and (to adults–it’s spiked with rum) delicious Craig Claiborne’s Rum Chocolate Dessert for tons of dinner parties before she discovered crostatas. The brownie recipe (these are all from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, I think) is also killer.
But my very favorite cookies of all time are Dolly’s Crisp Toffee Bars. When properly made, the cookies, which contain no egg and LOTS of butter, are very thin and crispy, and have a shelf life of about a month. They’re sturdy and great for care packages, and perfectly toe the line between candy and cookie. I, of course, didn’t make them quite right, but we’ll get to that.
I found this recipe online–Mom, do you mind taking a quick look at the cookbook to make sure it’s right?
Dolly’s Crisp Toffee Bars
From Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts
Makes 32 bar cookies
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark; I used dark), firmly packed
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
4 ounces walnut, cut into medium sized pieces (1 generous cup)
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 cup)
Adjust rack to the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, cream the butter with a mixer.
Add the salt, vanilla, and sugar and beat well.
On low speed, gradually add the flour, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating until the mixture holds together.
Add the nuts and chocolate chips and mix well.
Spread the dough (it will be stiff) into an unbuttered 10 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 1 inch jelly roll pan. (This is where I went wrong: I don’t have that size pan so I used a quarter sheet, which is probably 9X12? Too small. I should have spread them in a half sheet; I could probably have even ignored part of the sheet and just not filled it all the way, since the dough is so stiff.)
With floured fingertips, press the dough firmly to make an even layer- it will be thin.
Bake for 25 minutes, reversing the pan front to back once to insure even baking. The cake will be golden brown. (I then didn’t compensate for the thicker dough by baking longer. Nope.)
Let cool in the pan for only a minute or so.
With a small sharp knife, cut into bars; let stand in the pan until cool.
Transfer the cookies to paper towels to dry the bottoms.
Wrap individually in wax paper or store in an airtight container.
Ok, so mine were just plain bar cookies–they never crisped up and got that toffee flavor or texture. I should have left them in longer. But next time I will make them properly thin and thus super crispy. Maybe I will do that this weekend. Or maybe not, since my 10 year high school reunion is a week from tomorrow and I suppose eating a sheet of cookies isn’t a great preparation method?