There are few foods better than chocolate chip cookies. Think about it. I mean, really think about it. Whether gooey or crunchy, mini or monster, raw or baked, chocolate chip cookies represent the Mary Poppins of tasty treats–they’re practically perfect in every way. I can remember coming home after school and finding that my mom had made fresh cookies to surprise my siblings and I. Maybe as a reward for our hard work at school. Maybe to fulfill a craving of her own. Maybe as a treat for no particular reason at all. Regardless, the lingering aroma of baking cookies, when greeting us as we walked in the door, instantly made the day infinitely better. I’m sure we didn’t even take off our coats or put down our backpacks before we snatched a cookie or two. Fresh out of the oven, the cookies were sweet, warm, comforting blankets. With or without an ice-cold glass of milk, the cookies were so much more than an after school snack–they were symbols of our mother’s love for us.
After leaving home, I would occasionally make the chocolate chip cookies my mom made for us growing up. But they always seemed too labor and time intensive to me. Usually when I wanted cookies, I wanted them right then and didn’t want to wait (how American of me). When my mom taught me how she made cookies following the recipe on the back of the Nestlé Toll House bag of chocolate chips, she insisted on mixing everything by hand. I rarely thought I had the time for that. So, over the years and out of a desperate need to expedite the process from separate ingredients to finished product, I tried several methods to speed things along. Once I melted the butter completely, but that failed miserably. The cookies ended up being the size of pancakes, and thin ones at that. Then I started using an electric mixer to combine all of the ingredients–even using it to mix in the flour though my mom told me not to. The resulting cookies tasted just as good as mom’s, and I thought I had struck gold. However, I still had to plan ahead to bring the butter to room temperature and then spoon the dough onto cookie sheets, which seemed to take a fortnight. After I stumbled upon the magical utensil that is a cookie scooper, I was excited. I realize the scoop was not a new thing–professional and home bakers had been employing it for decades. It was new to me, though, and proved to be a cookie-baking revolution in and of itself. With the scooper, the cookies took a lot less time to parcel out, and I didn’t make as much of a mess. Plus, the cookies all ended up roughly the same size and shape.
Once I got comfortable with the Toll House recipe and the cookie scooper method, I began experimenting. It’s a scary proposition, tinkering with the precise measurements required for baking. But I never seemed to hit any snags. For example–try mashing up a couple ripe bananas into the cookie dough and stirring in some chopped walnuts or pecans for banana-nut chocolate chip cookies. Yum, right? Another winning combination grew out of my fondness for the marriage of orange and chocolate. Try adding the zest of one orange to the dough for a nice fresh zip. My absolute favorite addition, though, was a cup of sweetened, flaked coconut. I’ve loved the tropical fruit/nut/seed as far back as I remember, and one day the thought just struck me–I should add coconut to my chocolate chip cookies! Since then, I rarely make a batch without coconut.
Yet as much as the baking process was shortened by the scooper and as much fun I had tweaking the recipe, making cookies still required a significant time commitment. Of course, the end product was always worth it, but sometimes I wanted cookies in less than an hour from start to finish. A couple years after I began experimenting with new mix-ins, I noticed the recipe for the bar cookie version on the Toll House bag. Score! An even faster way to turn dough into baked goodness! I had discovered my new favorite trick when I wanted chocolate chip cookies but didn’t want to spend the time preparing individual cookies–the magically delicious blondie became my lucky charm.
The blondie method allowed me a little more wiggle room for experimentation while answering my impatient calls for quick cookies, and that’s when I conjured up the mixture that remains my go-to blondie recipe. On top of the coconut flakes, I started adding bits of Heath toffee (without the chocolate), stirring in some almond extract (I love the stuff), and doubling the vanilla (how bad could that be?). Provided they’re not over baked–a mistake I recently made–the resulting blondies are soft and gooey on the inside with a little crunch from the toffee bits. A touch of saltiness from the salted butter and toffee also balances out the sweetness. They’re good on their own or topped with a scoop of ice cream (like my homemade Heath Toffee Ice Cream). Not only do blondies truly have more fun, so do I.
Coconut Toffee Blondies*
2-1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. Kosher salt
2 sticks salted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. light OR dark brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips (milk chocolate chips work well, too)
1 c. sweetened, flaked coconut
1/2 to 1 c. Heath toffee bits (sold as Bits o’ Brickle in the grocery store)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a separate, larger mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract and beat until the eggs are fully incorporated into the mixture. Pour approximately half of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix (with the electric mixer) until all of the flour has mixed in. Repeat that step with the remaining dry ingredients, and stop mixing as soon as the flour has been incorporated completely. Dump in the chocolate chips, coconut flakes, and toffee bits and stir the dough until the mix-ins are evenly distributed. Turn the dough out into a greased 9 X 13 or larger bar pan and spread in an even layer. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes (depending on your oven and desired level of doneness). Once the edges and top are just starting to turn golden brown, remove the blondies from the oven. Allow to cool slightly–the bars are best when served warm. Enjoy!
*Adapted from the Toll House recipe