Congo Bars

I feel a bit guilty posting this recipe.  It’s been around my mother’s family for as long as I can remember and I don’t want anybody thinking I created or discovered it.  Grandma Dickson gets all the credit for that.  (I did double the chocolate though, and I will take full credit for that.)  I feel guilty because I am quite certain there were a few people Grandma did not want to have this recipe.  But since Grandma has passed on and I don’t believe in recipe hording, I’m willing to divulge her secret.  That, and I am pretty sure that all of my cousins have this recipe too, and I have lots of cousins, so it’s not really much of a scarce resource anyway.
If you have never had a Congo bar before, they are something like chocolate chip cookie bars, only better.  Some people call them blondies.  Some people add coconut and white chocolate (I don’t).  People with discriminating palates add chopped walnuts. Some people with nut-averse husbands leave them out….
The beauty of Congo bars is that they travel well and will stay fresh in an airtight container on the counter for several days or in the freezer for several weeks. But most importantly, a pan of Congo bars can please nearly everyone.  Those who prefer a more substantial chew will like the edges, while those who favor caramel gooeyness will appreciate the interior zone.  Just take care to not overbake and you will be rewarded with at least 3 different zones of texture.
The only downside to this recipe is the pan. I have a strong preference for baking the bars in a jelly roll pan that measure 10.5″ by 15.5″.  You could use a 9 x 13 pan instead, but the bars will be thicker and you will need to add a couple of minutes to the baking time.
Congo Bars
Adapted from Grandma Dickson
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (11.25 ounces if you use a scale)
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter (5 3/8 ounces) at room temperature
3 eggs at room temperature
2 ¼ cups light brown sugar (18.5 ounces if you use a scale)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 12-ounce package chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts, optional
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. (Or you could sift the ingredients, if you are that type of baker.  I’m not.)  Set aside.
In a mixing bowl cream brown sugar and butter together until well combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, making sure each is incorporated before adding the next.  Add vanilla and beat until mixture is smooth and no lumps of sugar remain.  Don’t get carried away mixing here.  If you beat until everything is light and fluffy the Congo bars will be too cake-like.
Add flour mixture and mix just until combined.  Add chocolate chips and mix again until chips are evenly dispersed.
Spray a jelly roll pan with cooking spray.  Spread dough evenly on pan – much easier imagined than accomplished – and bake for 18 minutes, or until congo bars resemble the picture above.
Remove pan from oven, place on cooling rack and cool until firm enough to cut.
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