Smitten Kitchen is the only food blog site I trust so completely that I’m willing to send people (friends/coworkers/family) to Deb’s site without having necessarily tested the recipe myself. There’s not a single recipe I’ve ever made from SmittenKitchen.com that hasn’t been a smashing success.
Amelia and I went to Deb’s Smitten Kitchen Every Day book-signing today in Santa Cruz and listened to Deb answer some of the crowd’s questions about blogging, cooking, finishing a dish, what she wears to cook, etc. To me, the most fascinating answer she gave was about her cooking process. She said she approaches a new recipe by doing a ton of research first, reading recipes from multiple sources for the specific dish, drawing on her own experience in the kitchen, watching YouTube videos (sometimes in a foreign language), and ultimately charting out a “best case” scenario outline of the recipe and how to execute it successfully. She measures everything, including the length and girth of her carrots, to ensure the recipe is reproducible, and takes hours detailing every step as she cooks through something. But then that’s it – she’s done. The recipe either succeeds, needs only a few minor tweaks, or is so much of a flop that she moves on to something else for a while.
I’m kind of in love with her process. And I would love to see a deeper glimpse of her kitchen notebook…especially one from when she first started blogging versus now.
Anyways, getting back to the reason for this post, which is these bake winning-est gooey oat bars (which we actually got to sample at the signing, as made by Companion Bakeshop).
I think the name actually does them a bit of a disservice. Yes, they may be gooey oat bars, and yes, they’ll probably sell well at a bake sale, but honestly, they’re like the best version of a seven layer bar. “Oh my gosh, it’s like a really good seven layer bar” were the words that came out of essentially every single person’s mouth who tried these. There’s a delicate but (mostly) sturdy shortbread base, which is parbaked and then piled with a sweet gooey mixture of more butter, oats, sugar, eggs, vanilla, coconut flakes, and your personal selection of chocolate/dried fruit/nuts. I opted for a mini semi-sweet, white chocolate, bittersweet chocolate chunk combo in mine. I think it’s probably the best way to go. Adding nuts or fruit will simply detract from the delicious chocolate, caramel, coconut, and oat flavors that are already present (unless you really love desserts with fruit and nuts, in which case, we have very different opinions about dessert).As cookie bar recipes go, these are pretty simple. You use a food processor to make the shortbread base, blitzing together first the flour, sugar, and salt, then adding in chilled chunks of butter until the dough comes together. Deb says this should take around 30 seconds or so, but to have faith that it will happen. I think it took me closer to 1-2 minutes, but I had faith, it happened. Actually getting the shortbread dough into the 9×13″ baking pan might have been the most challenging part of the recipe, because when I dumped it out of the food processor bowl and started pressing it into the baking pan, it seemed like it only covered about 50-67% of the total pan surface area. I eventually pulled parts of the dough up and moved them to empty spots, eventually getting a thin even layer covering the bottom of the pan. Deb’s recipe says to pat the crust partially up the sides of the pan as well, but I didn’t feel like that was really possible.
It took the full 20 minutes for my shortbread base to turn a light golden brown in the oven. In the meantime, that gave me ample opportunity to brown the butter (brown butter is really having a moment in the limelight). I was a little worried I’d burnt the butter because I was trying to multitask and do dishes at the same time as browning it – it seemed like my butter went from not quite there to black in an instant. Always reluctant to waste butter, I decided to add the sugar and see how things smelled after I gave the butter a bit of time to cool. The sugary butter didn’t smell totally torched, so once it had cooled a bit more, I whisked in my room temperature eggs (taken out when I started making the crust) one at a time, then the vanilla, then the oats and unsweetened coconut flakes. A while ago I mistakenly bought a bunch of vanilla-milk chocolate chips by Guittard, which I stupidly assumed were milk chocolate chips, but are actually vanilla-flavored white chocolate chips. Since the recipe gets laissez-faire about what to add as the final mix-in, I added 1/2 cup white chocolate, 1-1/2 cups mini semi-sweet chips, and another 1/2 cup of bittersweet chocolate chunks.
This all is very easily whisked/stirred together, poured on top of the shortbread crust (which should be done par-baking by now), and baked until the top layer is set, which took another 20 minutes for me and my oven.
Bake Sale Winningest Gooey Oat Bars
- Nonstick spray or softened butter
- 1 ¾ cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or regular salt or ½ - ¾ teaspoon Kosher salt
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (200 grams) unsalted butter cold
- ½ cup (115 grams) unsalted butter
- scant ½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- ¾ cup (145 grams) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt or ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cups (105 grams) rolled oats
- 1/2 cup (48 grams) shredded coconut preferably unsweetened
- 1 ½ cups (270 grams) chocolate chips chopped white or dark chocolate, chopped candy bars, chopped dried fruit, or a mix thereof (don’t use all dried fruit, as the sweetness from the fruit will be overwhelming without chocolate to complement it)
- Powdered sugar for dusting, optional
- Prepare a 9-by-13 inch light metal baking pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper and then lightly coating the sides with nonstick spray or softened butter. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut the cold butter into large chunks and add it to the food processor bowl. Turn the food processor on and run it until the mixture starts to form large clumps. There’s no need to pulse – just keep running it. This may take 30 seconds, or it may take closer to 2 minutes, but it will come together.
- Transfer the dough clumps to the prepared baking pan, distributing them evenly across the bottom of the pan. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan until it forms a uniform thin layer. Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes in the preheated oven, until it turns a very pale golden brown.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and then continue cooking until it begins to turn golden brown and smells nutty, about 7 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
Move the brown butter pan off the heat and immediately whisk in the sugar, brown sugar, and salt. Let the warm butter-sugar mixture cool for another 10 minutes, so it doesn't scramble the eggs. Once cooled to room temperature, whisk the eggs one at a time into the browned butter-sugar mixture, then add the vanilla.
Using the whisk or a spatula, stir the oats, coconut, and chocolate/fruit/candy into the filling mixture. Pour the filling over the parbaked crust, ensuring it is evenly spread over the top. It will look relatively thin.
Bake the bars for 15-20 minutes (start checking at 15 but they will probably take 20). The bars are done when the top is firm and golden and the middle barely jiggles/is set when the pan is shimmied.
Let the bars rest at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving. They are much easier to cut when cold, but they are (obviously) at their gooiest when warm.
Dust the bars with a sprinkling of powdered sugar (if desired) and serve. Baked gooey oat bars will keep for 2 days tightly wrapped at room temperature or 4-5 days covered in the refrigerator.