Friday, January 24, 2014

Toffee-coffee-chocolate chip bars

I do bake, as my little hint on the sidebar brags [this was ages ago, of course], at Examiner dot com, but some baked goods are so simple and delicious that I'd like to share them as enthusiastically as possible. Besides, discussing Toffee-coffee-chocolate chip bars gives me a chance both to explore the etymology of some basic food words, and to ponder the joys of wine with dessert. Last weekend, we finished up our grilled-outdoors dinner with toasted marshmallows and sauvignon blanc, and it was delicious.

These bars come from Good Cookies Plain and Fancy, by Annette Laslett Ross and Jean Adams Disney, published by Doubleday in 1963. It's one of those straight-from-another-universe cookbooks which presumes that "busy mothers" nevertheless bake and want to bake and are proud of baking well. "Cookies that will go to school," the authors warn in one chapter opening, "should be the keep-fresh kind (for busy mothers may find once a week as often as they'll have time to bake.)" The little unpunctuated hints at the head of each recipe also bespeak a quainter time -- creamy good, little folks' treat -- though thankfully they are fully spelled out. Usages like rich 'n' chewy always annoy me.

"Coffee flavored," announces the subheading for these simply titled Toffee Bars. As I had leftover coffee sitting handy when this recipe caught my eye, I was further intrigued.

The recipe begins with the greasing of a 9 inch square pan and the preheating of the oven to 350 F. Then, you will melt 1/4 cup of butter in a heavy pot, and stir 1 cup of brown sugar into it until it is dissolved.

This, cooked brown sugar and butter, would seem to be toffee, a British variation of the word taffy, whose etymology is otherwise unknown. If I understand my dictionary correctly, it is not to be confused with caramel, burnt (white) sugar, a word which comes to us from Latin via French, and apparently simply means sugar cane (canna mellis). And what is the difference between the sugars? Brown sugar contains molasses, itself a product of sugar cane refining, either residual or added back to white sugar. White sugar is free of it. In recipes brown sugar is always measured packed, as you see above.

Cool the sugar and butter mix, and then add to it 1 egg. In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add this to the butter mix alternately with 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1/4 cup of strong, cold coffee. Blend well, and then stir in 1/2 cup nuts, if desired, or as I did, 1 cup of chocolate chips.

Bake about 30 minutes.

Not too sweet, with those chocolate chips sunk delectably to the bottom of the pan, these bars would be good of course with tea or coffee or milk. But wine with dessert, not some special choice but whatever wine you had with dinner, can also be excellent and much more interesting.

It's funny. In one of her books, M.F.K. Fisher specifically lists red wine with chocolate as an archetypical abomination. And yet it is just this combination which seems to have become all the rage these days in newspaper articles and at wine shop tastings (we staffed one ourselves, back in the day). She explains, or rather she doesn't bother to explain:

"... ten million men rush every noontime for their ham-on-white and their cherry coke. ....It might be good if you could go to them, quietly, and say, "Please, sir, stop a minute and listen to me. Can you imagine eating bananas and Limburger cheese together? ... Ah! It is horrible? Then how about mutton chops with shrimp sauce? And try herring soup with strawberry jam, or chocolate with red wine" (from "Pity the blind in palate," Serve it Forth).

With a bit of experimentation I've found that I kind of like pinot noir with apple pie, or a jammy shiraz with pecan pie squares, and I did enjoy that sauvignon blanc, all crisp and white, with toasted marshmallows. I fancy champagne or prosecco would be very nice with, say, strawberry shortcake and whipped cream. And with these toffee coffee chocolate chip bars?

I'm still thinking. WWMFKD?

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