Today we have a treat from Cindy Arora, author of the delicious debut novel, Heartbreak Cake, and short stories Christmas at Mulberry Inn and Cake Therapy, appearing in our anthologies Merry & Bright and Petit Four, respectively. For Cindy, food is serious business, and she is quite the culinary scribe! So, any dish she says is her favorite, has to be absolutely divine! Read on for her favorite recipe and even a special interview with a baker extraordinaire!
Several years ago I was the food section editor for a small newspaper in Central California and decided just after Thanksgiving that I wanted to have a holiday cookie contest with our readers. I figured a few dozen locals would submit some recipes, I’d have a reason to eat cookies for lunch, and I’d get a chance to meet some readers. No. big. deal.
Boy was I wrong, as it turned out, people are passionate about holiday cookies. From peanut butter thumb prints, snickerdoodles, peppermint chocolate bark, brownie bars, and brown butter shortbread – we had every type of cookie come through our newsroom. I did eventually recover from my sugar coma, and lucky enough, it was through this contest that I ended up discovering my own favorite holiday cookie: The Layer Bar. A delightful medley of all of my favorite flavors –walnuts, coconut, chocolate, graham cracker, oatmeal all thrown into one sweet & savory cookie.
I have followed the simple recipe, from the contest that I was a judge in, which I have included below. These are always a hit at a holiday potluck or just to whip up a batch at home to share with your family or to eat on your own while watching Love Actually.
- 2 sticks or 1/2 lb. butter
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups Quick cooking oatmeal
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 2 tablespoons of butter.
- 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 2 cups chopped walnuts
Cream together butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. Sift flour, baking soda and salt and then stir into butter mixture. Add oatmeal and nuts and mix until combined. Layer 1/2 of this dough in the bottom of a 9×13 dish sprayed with cooking spray.
For the fudge layer, melt chocolate chips, butter and milk over low heat. Add nuts and stir. Layer chocolate mixture over dough, then add the second half of the dough mixture on top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Cut into bars. Recipe will make 24 bars.
“It’s just really appreciated by your family,” said Michelle Croce-Burkhard of Lodi. “And just seeing them smile makes you want to do it again.”
Her gram’s bar – a combination of oatmeal, chocolate chips, walnuts and condensed milk – originated with her health-conscious grandmother, who put the oatmeal and walnuts in her recipe as “good food” ingredients.
Coincidentally, a few weeks back I stumbled upon a small baking company called The Broadway Baker, who happen to have a layer bar called Grandma’s Mix Up bar that is sinfully unreal.
I decided to interview Jim Osorno, owner and lead baker of Broadway Baker to get some insight on what makes his Mix-Up bar so unforgettable. These make great stocking stuffers or holiday gifts for those people in your life who have a sophisticated sweet tooth.
Thanks to Jim for sharing some of his baking secrets with me!
What makes your Mix-Up Bars so darn good?
I grew up baking with my Mom and Dad and my Grandma O. Grandma O always had a stocked pantry and I remember big glass jars filled with her Mix-Up Bars and All Butter Shortbread! She wrote down in her own handwriting all of her recipes (100s of pages) and passed out her recipe books to all of her grandchildren. Because I believe in making real food from real food and using premium ingredients, we make our own graham crackers for the base of her bars! Unsalted European creamy butter, dark brown sugar, pure cane sugar, artisan flour, molasses, kosher salt and a little bit of baking soda round out the base. Next I pile on unsweetened (sulfite-free) coconut, 60% Ghirardelli chocolate chunks and crushed pecans–then it’s all topped off with sweet cream. As the bars bake off, they caramelize, become golden brown and end up being (what I think is) the perfect salty/sweetness!
What is a Mix-Up Bar?
Folks know similar bars as Hello Dollys, 7 layer bars — I think what makes mine (my Grandma’s) stand out are the made-from-scratch grahams, awesome ingredients and a great family recipe
What are some of your favorite holiday sweets?
I love spices, and for the holidays, I love making Pumpkin Chocolate Pecan cake w/ Dark Chocolate Ganache (I love pumpkin and chocolate together), Banana Cranberry Walnut loaves, and I love shortbread– and with an awesome base shortbread recipe (like my Grandma’s), the sky’s the limit as far as flavor combinations. Some of my favorites are cinnamon shortbread, dark chocolate orange shortbread, cranberry pecan shortbread. I also love dark chocolate espresso wafers w/ peppermint buttercream.
Cindy Arora was a staff writer at The San Gabriel Valley Tribune, The Orange County Register and Sacramento Magazine. She’s been published in Saveur, Tasting Table, Orange Coast Magazine and Fodor’s. She’s also mama to an adorable little boy, a feminist, a whiskey enthusiast, and proud to call herself a Chick Lit author. Heartbreak Cake is her debut novel. To learn more about Cindy, please visit her website