Bon Appétit (February 2009)
We're big fans of Molly Wizenberg's Orangette blog. Her writing is fantastic, and her blog is a joy to read. And we're eager to get our hands on her new culinary memoir, A Homemade Life, which just came out this week.
Which explains why we were really excited to try the Coffee Crunch Bars she wrote about in the February issue of Bon Appétit.
It should also explain why we were so surprised when these delicious-sounding treats turned out to be...not so delicious.
On paper, these Coffee Crunch Bars have everything going for them: a dark, heady blend of espresso, almonds and chocolate. And the promise of a satisfying crunch? Sold!
But when we made them -- it's a super-easy recipe, especially if you're using an electric mixer -- they didn't turn out as we'd hoped. The recipe says to bake them for 45-50 minutes, when "the edges are lightly browned and beginning to crisp." But the bars smelled like they were burning after only a half-hour.
We took them out after 40 minutes. After cutting the bars and allowing them to cool, we bit in.
Instead of a rich, dark blend of flavors, the coffee and the almond tastes seemed to duke it out, leaving the chocolate sweetness nowhere to be found.
And rather than a nice, crunchy crispness, our bars turned out dusty, dry, dense and brittle enough to hurt your teeth. It was more like biscotti gone terribly wrong.
Convinced we had goofed, we went online to read the recipe. That's when we noticed that we weren't alone. Commenters on the recipe had had similar issues. A sampling:
"I was SO disappointed when I made these for company and they burnt to an (almost) crisp."
"I am so angry after making these! I did not read the comments online (I actually subscribe to the magazine) and I smelled these burning in my oven at 40 minutes. They were inedible. I cannot believe I wasted my time and ingredients on these."
"This is my first ever posting; I'm so upset about this recipe I want to scream!!!"
Because of all the negative comments, Bon Appétit even felt compelled to weigh in, posting Molly's original recipe (which the magazine had adapted slightly). The biggest difference? Molly's cook time is only 25 minutes.
In addition to the shorter cook time, we amped up the amount of chocolate and added an egg to the batter, at the suggestion of another one of the commenters on the Bon Appétit site.
How'd we do the second time around?
Well, as you can see, our second batch of bars (the ones on the left in these photos) turned out luscious and rich with a perfect blend of flavors. The texture was great -- slightly more in the direction of a brownie (thanks to the egg), but with a terrific, unique crunch.
We're glad these bars redeemed themselves -- the end result was worth the trouble. If you make them, though, stick with Molly's original recipe and its shorter cook time. (We'll post both recipes below.)
And consider adding a little more chocolate and an egg, as we did. We were quite please with the results.
Let us know if it works for you!
(This photo: Bon Appetit)
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups (firmly packed) dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 325°F. Whisk first 3 ingredients in medium bowl to blend.
Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in another medium bowl until blended, about 2 minutes. Add espresso powder and almond extract; beat 1 minute. Stir in flour mixture in 3 additions, mixing until just absorbed after each addition. Stir in chocolate chips and almonds (dough will be thick).
Turn dough out onto ungreased rimmed baking sheet. Using hands, press dough into 12-inch square. Pierce all over with fork at 1-inch intervals.
Bake until edges are lightly browned and beginning to crisp, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on sheet 1 minute. Cut into 48 bars. Immediately transfer to rack; cool (bars will crisp as they cool). DO AHEAD Can be made 5 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.
MOLLY WIZENBERG'S ORIGINAL RECIPE:
Coffee Crunch Bars
Adapted from Leah Reich and her grandmother, Mamie Chaiffetz
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup tightly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup tightly packed dark muscovado sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 Tbsp. instant espresso or instant coffee
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another medium bowl, cream the butter and sugars with an electric mixer, beating until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the almond extract and instant espresso, and beat 1 minute more. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture in three doses, mixing until just absorbed. Stir in the almonds and chocolate chips. The dough will be thick. Turn the dough out onto an ungreased (approximately 12-inch x 17-inch) rimmed baking sheet. Using your hands, press the dough evenly into a 12-inch by 12-inch square. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the top looks set. Cool in the pan for 1 minute; then, while still hot, cut into 24 (2-inch by 3-inch) bars. Transfer immediately to wire rack to cool completely. Bars will crisp as they cool.
Note: Bars will keep, sealed in an airtight container at room temperature, for up to 5 days. Their flavor improves with time.
Yield: 24 bars