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.
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.
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.
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.