School is in session. When my son, James, was in grade school I felt a little melancholy knowing how quickly these days slipped by and the beginning of classes was finite evidence that my boy was growing up. On the bright side, I looked forward to driving him to school every morning… the time when I didn’t have to share him with anyone. I happily anticipated Fall activities and Christmas with all its traditions, magic and love. But I REALLY counted the days before the first of many bake sales. I loved every bake sale. And there were many. James’ baseball teams, his school and class, student council, youth group and church all hosted the great fundraiser… the bake sale. I prepared trays, baskets and platters of homemade goodies. Everything from baked bars to sheet pan bars. From jewel-like thumbprint to gooey sandwich cookies. I baked luscious layer cakes and mixed up decadently sweet pralines. And let me add, the end result was not always photo perfect, “styled” eye candy. Oh, no. Some layer cakes tilted to one side, downright wonky, many a pie shell cracked and I can’t tell you how much filling melted and oozed out of scores of cookies. But that’s okay. I think a homemade treat should look a little flawed and just the slightest bit unpolished. I would never want any of my handmade sweets to look even the slightest like a chemistry test product from the grocery store. (Ever check the list of ingredients in conventional, store-bought dessert? Scary.) Anyway, I’m devoted to the recipes exchanged between friends, the simple, unsophisticated, down-home treats that kids and grown-ups love. I even took this to my BFF, Andrea’s, house after her father’s funeral.
This is one of those recipes. An old recipe originally from Hershey, I think, it’s buttery and creamy tasting. All ingredients are easily accessible, marry well, travel well. As with many recipes, this one can quickly be made yours and handed down to family members by changing one or two of the ingredients. Change out the white chocolate chips for caramel chips or cinnamon chips. Instead of lemon zest and juice substitute orange zest and juice or a slurry of molasses, water and brown sugar. How about coconut milk and sweetened, flaked coconut? The recipe is yours to tinker with and claim. I strongly suggest you read the recipe through before starting. Although it doesn’t read easily it’s a simple recipe. This batch of goodies is packed for James’ office, go Canes! I urge you to embrace all those bake sales ahead of you. They’re over faster than you think. Sigh.
White Chocolate, Lemon & Pecan Bars
- 1 12-ounce bag white chocolate chips, divided
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- zest of 2 lemons
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups rolled or quick cooking oats, not steel-cut
- 1 cup pecan pieces, toasted
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon shortening
- Pre-heat oven to 350°. Cover a 9×13 inch pan with non-stick spray and set aside.
- Combine condensed milk, lemon juice and zest and mix well.
- Set aside 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup chocolate chips to be used later in the recipe. Add the remaining chips in the bag to the condensed milk mixture.
- In a separate bowl beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and mix well. Set aside.
- In a small bowl mix the flour, oats, pecans and baking powder. Add the beaten egg and mix well. You may have to use your hands. When well combined, remove 1 1/2 cups of the flour mixture and set aside. This will become the topping.
- Press the flour mixture left in the bowl onto the bottom of your prepared pan firmly with your hand.
- Add the remaining chips from the bag to the condensed milk mixture, mix well and pour over the crust spreading the mixture evenly.
- Add the 1/3 cup of chips to the 1 1/2 cups of the flour mixture and mix well with your hand. Scatter the crumb mixture evenly over the condensed milk layer and press down gently with your hand.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until lightly golden at the edges. Cool the bars on a cooling rack.
- In 30 second intervals, melt the remaining 1/4 chips with the shortening, Stir often until the icing is smooth. Drizzle over the uncut bars and allow the bars to cool completely and the icing to set before cutting into bars or squares.
- Store cut bars in an airtight container for up to one week.