Congo Bars

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Congo Bars = the ultimate blondie! Perfectly chewy and so much easier to make than a batch of cookies, this foolproof recipe is a childhood favorite that has stood the test of time. 

Congo Bars = the ultimate blondie! Perfectly chewy and so much easier to make than a batch of cookies, this foolproof recipe is a childhood favorite that has stood the test of time. 

 

 

 

Readers occasionally ask me if I ever really mess up a recipe – and the answer is a definite “Yes!”

Earlier this summer, I was baking a batch of these time-tested blondies to send in a care package to my younger son, who was a camp counselor in Maine.

As I pulled the bars out of the oven, the surface appeared a little lighter than usual. (The batch in question is pictured immediately below⇩.) Upon cutting, the texture seemed somewhat cakier-but apparently not enough to make my mistake occur to me.

Congo Bars = the ultimate blondie! Perfectly chewy and so much easier to make than a batch of cookies, this foolproof recipe is a childhood favorite that has stood the test of time. 

At least not yet.

As I was packaging the cooled bars, I had a quick visit from my mom, brother and two nieces. They happily devoured the few that didn’t fit in the container destined for Christian. As they were snacking, I asked if the bars tasted normal to them. They all seemed unfazed, so off to the post office I went.

And then, as I was driving home from the post office, my mistake suddenly hit me. For accuracy (there’s a good bit of irony here), I use a kitchen scale instead of measuring cups. In this case, I converted cups to grams in my head, and in a careless moment…I inadvertently weighed and used half the necessary amount of sugar!

Of course, I had the light bulb moment as I was driving home from the post office. (Timing is everything!) Now I knew why the bars seemed different than the countless batches I’ve consumed over the years. And although the reduced-sugar bars actually tasted okay fresh from the oven, I figured they would likely dry out quickly and possibly become rather hard in a day or two-likely by the time my loving care package arrived for Christian and his friends to enjoy!

But as they say, it’s the thought that counts, right? Nevertheless, I figured a redo was in order!

The silver lining is that I had planned to make a double batch so I could also send some to my older son, who was taking summer classes at college. As luck would have it, I didn’t have enough eggs to double the recipe. At the time, this seemed unfortunate, but it was surely a small stroke of luck given my mistake. (Not to worry, I restocked and John did eventually receive his care package!)

When made according to the recipe, these bars are simply divine. (You may have noticed the difference in the color and texture of the two batches.) My favorite part is the chewy edges, but the tender center squares are rather fabulous, too. The signature flavor and texture lies in the use of all brown sugar-no granulated sugar, as with traditional chocolate chip cookies.

Congo Bars = the ultimate blondie! Perfectly chewy and so much easier to make than a batch of cookies, this foolproof recipe is a childhood favorite that has stood the test of time. 

All credit goes to Mrs. LeFever, the amazing mom of my longtime friend, Christine. Mrs. LeFever frequently baked Congo Bars for Christine, sister Linda, and I to enjoy as an after-school snack. When she arrived home from work, she’d often brew us a cup of tea, which she made sweet and creamy, to enjoy alongside. (To this day, I drink my coffee black, but I prefer tea just the way Mrs. LeFever made it for us all those years ago.)

So as another academic year begins, the time seemed right to share this favorite after-school snack here. Christine’s splattered recipe card ⇩⇩ shows just how often she’s baked the bars for her family over the years. The bars are especially convenient when you don’t have the time or patience to portion out a batch of cookies. They’re equally perfect for potlucks, school bake sales, packed lunches and after-dinner treats.

Congo Bars = the ultimate blondie! Perfectly chewy and so much easier to make than a batch of cookies, this foolproof recipe is a childhood favorite that has stood the test of time. 

Mrs. LeFever used the whole box (8 ounces/2¼ cups) of brown sugar, but Christine reduced the amount to 2 cups, which is what I always use. She also cuts into 36 bars, but I opt for 24 slightly larger bars and have noted that number of servings in the recipe card below. Feel free to cut as small as bite-size or as big as you desire. If in a hurry to cut, I place the partially cooled bars in the refrigerator to chill, as the bars slice more cleanly when cooled completely.

Congo Bars = the ultimate blondie! Perfectly chewy and so much easier to make than a batch of cookies, this foolproof recipe is a childhood favorite that has stood the test of time. 
Congo Bars = the ultimate blondie! Perfectly chewy and so much easier to make than a batch of cookies, this foolproof recipe is a childhood favorite that has stood the test of time. 

Congo Bars
Yield: 24 bars
Congo Bars = the ultimate blondie! Perfectly chewy and so much easier to make than a batch of cookies, this foolproof recipe is a childhood favorite that has stood the test of time!
Ingredients
  • 2¼ cups (288g) all-purpose flour (may substitute a cup-for-cup GF flour; see helpful hints, below)
  • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅔ cup (148g or 10⅔ tablespoons) butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400g) packed light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ – 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips*
Instructions

Preheat oven to 350℉.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a stand mixer or a mixing bowl with a handheld beater, beat the softened butter and brown sugar until blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the sugar mixture. Add the vanilla and mix well.

Add the flour mixture, half at a time, mixing until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan (or line with parchment paper, creasing well along all the corners), and transfer the batter, spreading it evenly.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, give or take depending on oven and color of pan (dark-coated pans cook more quickly), or until the surface is golden and the center is just cooked through. Cool before cutting into bars. Store the cooled bars in an airtight container at room temperature (or in the refrigerator if you prefer them cold). Congo bars freeze well, too.

Notes

*The original recipe calls for a 6-ounce package of chocolate chips, which is 1 cup, but I make the bars with 1½ cups. Those who prefer fewer chips may absolutely use the lesser amount, while anyone who enjoys the chips-to-dough ratio in the standard Tollhouse cookie recipe may prefer a full 2 cups of chips. In any case, chunks may be used in place of chips, and dark chocolate may be used instead of semi-sweet.

A few more things: Nut fans may enjoy the addition of 1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts), which can be added along with the chocolate chips.

A light sprinkle of flaky sea salt over the top is a lovely addition for those who enjoy the salty-sweet flavor combination.

Helpful hints: For best results, I recommend using a kitchen scale to measure flour. (However, measuring cup tips follow.) When using gluten-free flour, I’ve had the best results when I stick with the weight of regular all-purpose flour – 128 grams per cup – rather than relying on the weight stated on the package of GF flour. (Many GF blends are heavier than regular AP four, and I’ve found that this can contribute to a heavier, more obviously “gluten-free” tasting end result.) If using measuring cups, be sure to really fluff up the flour (whether regular or GF), lightly scoop it into the cups and then level with the straight edge of a knife. This will help ensure the desired amount of flour is used.

One more option: Christine has reduced the amount of flour she uses over the years to 2 cups in order to make a slightly chewier, gooier bar. She does note that the bars can be a little too gooey if undercooked.

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

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Comments

  1. jane link

    LOL! Just made these a couple of weeks ago and was so tempted to use less sugar, but didn’t!
    I have 4 year old granddaughters who love to cook but mommy does not like too much sugar.
    Do you have any recommendations for cook books to use with little ones? They are beginning to understand using measuring cups and what the numbers mean, can sort of crack an egg and love to mix stuff. All the books I have are all desserts, or pre packaged processed foods that you “doctor up”.
    They love almost all foods, except Tovah , who eats almost no meat!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      That’s too funny, Jane! And I’m with you on sugar, but these bars are the perfect place to indulge! And when cut into 24 squares, you still get a satisfying size piece that’s not overly indulgent. As for the cookbooks, I’ve heard good things about The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs and American Girl Cooking, which happen to be #7 and #8 on this list :https://www.delish.com/kitchen-tools/cookbooks/g24444157/best-kids-cookbooks/. (Quite frankly, I haven’t been overly impressed with some of the ones I own.) As children get older, I would also think about getting The Joy of Cooking. It’s a big book, but it can be combed for great basics and used as a helpful reference when questions arise. Your four-year-old granddaughters won’t be ready for it yet, but perhaps in a few years. When my kids were little, we also made A LOT of this play dough: https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/homemade-playdough/. It isn’t edible (although this recipe isn’t harmful if ingested), but it sure is fun!

      Reply
  2. Judy Nichols

    These sound terrific! I love your recipes! I was making my own baked oatmeal but when reading your recipe you were adding shredded coconut-now I do that and it tastes even better!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      He didn’t…even though I sent him a text when I realized saying he might need a do-over. We could perhaps chalk that up to starving boys who hadn’t eaten much in the way of baked goods for quite a few weeks!

      Reply
  3. Susan Weed

    This was also a favorite old recipe in our family- we called them Congo Squares. Exact ingredients except we used raisins, not chocolate chips. Haven’t made them in years, but loved them as a child!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      I love that you made a raisin version, Susan. Coincidentally, I just made a fresh batch (with chocolate chips) yesterday!

      Reply
  4. Susan Ericson

    In one word-YUM! I used Ancient Grains cup for cup gluten free flour and I don’t think anyone would suspect they are gluten free. I always welcome bar cookie recipes-so much easier to prepare!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      I love the ease, too, Susan, and am delighted these were such a hit. And I agree, gluten-free flour works brilliantly for these. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply