I am an obsessive list maker. In my Blackberry I keep a list of cool places to eat lunch in the Loop, countries I have visited and want to visit, all my overnight guests and the days they stayed with me, and other bizarre inventories. I also have a list of things I want to bake or cook. Some of those items are on the Coming Soon… section of this blog. But others like beignets and churros haven’t quite made it that far.
Every so often, when I don’t have a plan (which, for those of you who know me, is not often), I turn to “my what to cook” list for inspiration. At some point I had placed “congo bars” on it, and last week with little time to shop for fresh ingredients, it was the perfect treat for this week. I couldn’t quite remember what a congo bar was, but I seemed to recall coconut and chocolate. So when I went online, I was shocked to find that almost none of the recipes included coconut. So, I created my own recipe (and threw in toffee to boot).
When the bars came out of the oven they looked *suspiciously* like blondies. While no one I knew was able to confirm this, a couple of references from the blogosphere suggested that a congo bar is a blondie with coconut. If that in fact the case, it seems that the internet is full of blondie recipes masquerading as congo bar recipes.
As the congo bars cooled, I had an even greater realization. A blondie is essentially a brownie without chocolate. I am sure many of you have known this for years, but maybe I missed this memo when I was living in Canada.
I’m still not sure why these treats are called “congo bars”. I assume they have no relation to the three (now two) African countries that have used the name Congo. Maybe it is the coconut? Or its a proxy for exotic, as used in the Congo Room in Las Vegas. I have also noticed that the bars are sometimes called Conga bars. Conga seems to have a Latino or Afro-Latino origin. In America the terms seem to be used interchangeably. More about the etymology of Congo/a.
Without digressing into a treatise on post-colonialism, let me say that the congo bars turned out to be slightly flaky on top with a dense and chewy middle. I could especially taste the sweetness of brown sugar and got a hint of toasted coconut (though next time I might use a touch more).
Makes 16 squares
1 cup toasted coconut
3/4 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
8 ounces (1 1/3 cups) toffee bits
- Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Line two 9 x 9 inch metal baking pans (or one 10 x 15 inch baking pan) with a piece of parchment or wax paper to make it easy to remove the squares when baked. This recipe does not require you to grease or flour the pan.
- Once the oven is at 350F, toast the coconut on a cookie sheet for about five minutes. Check frequently, and toss the coconut when you do, since it burns quickly. Cook until just light brown as it will continue to cook even once it is out of the oven.
- Melt butter and stir in white and brown sugars. Cool for five minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time. Mix thoroughly after each egg. Add vanilla and coconut extracts.
- In a separate bowl mix flour, toasted coconut, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly. Add chocolate chips and toffee bits and mix well.
- Pour into baking pan(s). The batter is thick so you may need to use a spoon to evenly distribute it. Bake for 20-25 minutes, just until a tester comes out clean and the surface is golden brown.
- Cool for 10 minutes and cut into squares. Allow the bars to cool to room temperature. These can be stored in an airtight container for a week.
When baking in metal pans, often the batter at the edge gets cooked more quickly than the batter in the center. I love the crispy edge pieces, but if you don't and care enough to do something about it, you can wrap two or three inch strips of aluminum foil along the edge of the pan so that it hangs over the batter. This will reflect heat and prevent uneven baking. You can attach these strips at the beginning and remove them part way, or you can put them on after 10 or 15 minutes of baking until the bars are done.