Monday, December 27, 2010

Alice Medrich's Toffee Bars

I come by my sweet tooth naturally… or rather, genetically. My parents are the kind of people who never miss dessert after a meal. There are always at least two kinds of cookies in their house as well as one of my mom’s delicious cakes. Cake, as I might have mentioned previously, is Mom’s stock in the baking trade. She can make a cake so good you’ll want to beat your Grandma. (I’m not advocating elderly abuse, it’s just an old family saying to signify that something tastes so good you can’t be held liable for irrational actions.)

As I was preparing to travel home to my parents’ house for the holidays one of the items on my to-do list was to make a batch of cookies to take to the ‘rents. I settled on cookies because I am not the champion cake maker that my mother is. Besides, cake wouldn’t have traveled particularly well.

Luckily, I recently acquired a new cookie cookbook from Alice Medrich when she made a stop at Austin’s Central Market Cooking School to promote Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt in your Mouth Cookies, a compilation of her favorite cookie recipes by texture. I had the great pleasure of volunteering for Alice’s class. I knew from her previous cookbooks that this would not be just simple cookie making as Alice’s recipe instructions are precise, with a capital “P.” And she in no way disappointed.
Typically, the volunteers and cooking school staff prepare the food in advance for the class tasting from the chef’s recipes and then set up a mise en place for the demo ingredients. That way the chef only has to show up and teach. Alice left instructions that we were to prep and mise all ingredients for her but that she would arrive early to mix the doughs and bake the cookies herself. When she arrived, she set to work like a whirlwind and we mostly stayed out of her way.

Thankfully, Alice was just as kind as she is exact and she explained exactly why she asked for everything to be prepared in the manner she requested. I learned a book's worth of information before the class even began.

I’m sure it goes without saying but I’ll do so any way- Alice’s were the best cookies I’ve ever tasted. But then I expected no less!

Toffee Bars
adapted from Alice Medrich's recipe 

I choose these super sweet toffee bars with milk chocolate and pecans from the crunchy section of Alice’s book as I knew they’d fit my parents’ palates to a “T.” I’ve tried to interest them in less sweet, more nuanced desserts to no avail. I once made them brownies that contained almost $20 worth of delicious Valrhona dark chocolate. Mom deemed them too bitter. After that I gave up- there’s no accounting for taste. As I expected, Mom loved these cookies. I liked them as well (of course an Alice recipe would be delicious) but if I were making them for myself, I’d use dark chocolate for the topping and would add some sea salt to the toffee. *Alice recommends using a scale to weigh ingredients for which weight measurements are given. 

12 T unsalted butter
1/3 c (2.33 oz) sugar
1 t vanilla
¼ t salt
2¼ c (10 oz) all-purpose flour
2 c (7 oz) pecan halves

1 T water
¾ c (5.25 oz) packed brown sugar
8 T unsalted butter, cut into 4 chunks
2/3 to 1 c (4-6 oz) milk chocolate, chopped (or use chips)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the rack positioned in the lower third of the oven. Line the bottom and sides of a 9- by 13-inch pan with foil, leaving an overhang.
2. To make the crust, melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add flour and mix just until incorporated to form a loose, crumbly dough.
3. Press the dough evenly into the foil lined pan. Arrange the pecans over the dough and cover the nuts with another piece of foil so that the nuts will toast without burning. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned at the edges.
4. Meanwhile make the toffee topping. Combine water and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat while stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat and whisk in the butter.
5. When the crust has finished baking, remove the pan from the oven as well as the foil that covers the pecans. Pour toffee topping over the crust. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the toffee is dark and bubbling. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool.
6. Melt the chocolate in a small heat proof bowl in the microwave in 30 second increments being careful not to allow it to burn. Pour the melted chocolate in the pan and spread with a spatula to smooth. Set aside to allow the chocolate to harden. If needed, place in the refrigerator if the chocolate doesn't set up at room temperature. 
7. When the chocolate has set up, using the foil overhang to lift, remove from the bars from the baking pan and transfer to a board for cutting. Cut to make approximately 24 bars.


  1. How lucky are you to have met Alice ! These look so good. I just flipped through that cookbook at the bookstore tonight and it's on my wishlist. I can't get them out of my mind now after staring at your wonderful pictures !

  2. this looks so sweet and yummy.
    thanks for sharing
    have a nice day
    bises from France

  3. I love toffee! These look really delicious.

  4. These look fantastic! Can't wait to find them in the book. Love the idea of adding a little sea salt too.

  5. Thanks ladies! I'm really enjoying delving into this book. More cookie posts to come!

  6. amazing photogrphy and gr8 writing skills:)

  7. Those look completely fabulous. Please look the other way while I put a few of them into my very designer handbag!
    Wishing you a fab 2011. Happy New Years to you and your family :)
    *kisses* HH

  8. @HH- Happy New Years to you too!

  9. I wish I'd been at the class. I tried to sign up for David Lebovitz's, but it's already sold out. Are you going? Also, thanks for making that particular recipe. I just got the book as well and that one sounded so good.

  10. @Anna It was a good one! Yea, I'm going to see David. I made sure to enroll as soon as I saw the class posted b/c I had a feeling it would see out. Sorry you'll miss it. Enjoy Alice's book- can't wait to see your posts on the cookies!

  11. Oh wow!!! these are calling my name. Can't wait to try them :)