This is my gourmet take on going ghetto. Park Avenue meets Trailer Park.
And I say this because the roots of these sweets — part confection, part cookie, completely indulgent — are to be found in the realm of no-bake simplicity that is the hallmark of the sort of kitchen crafting upon which foodies tend to look down.
What a true foodie — a TRUE culinary maestro — should know above all else is that food is value, calculated the same way we value any other material good. If price (in this case not just monetary, but also in terms of time investment) is justified by quality of the goods, then it is valuable. And these treats, my friend, are worth a King’s ransom.
These came into my world as a no-bake no-brainer, but I’ve found that a quick stint in the oven helps the whole thing set up so much better, plus it makes the flavors harmonize like they just wouldn’t in a traditional no-bake cake or cookie bar. These are highly adaptable, and this is just the first of my now begged-for creations along the line of the basic Mother Recipe. In addition to penning Mama below, I’m sharing the details for her first born — Bacon, Chocolate and Sea Salt — and will post my further prunings of the family tree as I go (let’s just say that kid sibling, White Chocolate Chili, literally had friends’ eyes rolling back into their heads when I introduced them at a birthday party in a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen; proudly, it’s the first time I’ve elicited that reaction in such a venue with my fly still up).
I’ve named these “Sticky Toffee Bites” for the following reasons: these share a close kinship with “beggar’s toffee”, which is an old confectionery staple that utilized a combination of saltine or soda crackers, sugar, and butter. Those are generally baked to the point of a more brittle bite, and since these provide more of a finger-licking gooey finish, “sticky” applies here the same way it does to buns and baked puddings.
I have adapted the single-bowl method through which I developed these to the more modern (and simple) single-food-processor-session preparation you’ll see below. It is not essential that you go New School with these, as they’re still easy as hell to throw together the old fashioned way. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.
3 Sleeves Ritz Crackers (or similar)
1 Can (14 oz.) Sweetened Condensed Milk
In bowl of food processor, pulse crackers to coarse crumbs. IF DOING A VARIATION WITH NUTS OR CANDY ADDITIONS, add these now and pulse a few times to chop them a bit.
Pour sweetened condensed milk into the cracker mix. Pulse several times to mix completely.
Bacon, Chocolate and Sea Salt Bites
1 Batch Sticky Toffee Mother Recipe (see above)
6-8 Slices bacon (fried, drained, and crumbled to equal about 3/4 C.) or equivalent, divided
1 Bag (11.5 or 12 oz., depending on variety) chocolate morsels of choice (I use Nestles or Ghirardelli semi-sweet), divided
1 tsp. Coarse sea salt
Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8″ x 8″ baking pan with waxed paper or parchment, leaving at least an inch of overhang to help lift out finished bars (if using flexible silicone bakeware, lining isn’t necessary).
Begin with preparation of Mother recipe; reserve 1 Tbsp. of the crumbled bacon, and add the rest of the bacon and roughly 2/3 the bag of chocolate morsels to the processor bowl, pulsing several times to chop along with the crackers. Add the sweetened condensed milk, and pulse several times to mix completely.
At this point, you have a choice: the larger crumb as it is will provide a very nice, more cake-like bite to your toffee bars. Further processing until it resembles more of a coarse cookie dough (a few more pulses or a brief steady run on “low”) gives a more dense, soft-cookie finish. Sadly, I cannot recommend one over the other, because happily, I’ve done both and enjoy them equally. So like “salt and pepper to taste” in any recipe, I’ll say this “pulse for consistency to taste.”
Dump the contents of the processor bowl into the baking dish. Press the dough evenly into bottom of pan, then wet a kitchen tablespoon and smooth the top with the back of the spoon to get it to as even a thickness as possible.
Bake for 8 minutes. Open oven, sprinkle remaining 1/3 bag of morsels equally over top of baked toffee, and return to the oven for 2 minutes more.
Immediately remove the pan from the oven and, using an offset spatula or the same big spoon you used a few minutes ago, spread the melting chips around to evenly frost the top of the toffee. While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle evenly with the reserved 1 Tbsp. of bacon bits and the sea salt, pressing any runaway bits into place.
Allow the bars to cool in the pan (placing pan on a cooling rack will help) at least an hour. This lets the chocolate top set up, but a time-out in the freezer will help to totally harden it after the base is cool.
I’m lying to you and myself if I say this is necessary. If you’re packing it and giving it away, yes: you want to cool it completely so the chocolate is solid, cut it into neat little 1″ squares (and YES, I use a ruler and a mezzaluna to accomplish this because — hello, are you new?).
But these are really totally ready to eat warm out of the oven if you so fancy. And that could mean anything from popping it out of the baking pan, cutting it into bars, and serving with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream, to standing over the sink in your underwear and eating it straight out of the pan with a spoon. Or your fingers. But then you’d be scraping chocolate out from under your fingernails with your teeth, and that’s a great way to fuck up both a manicure and a pricey set of veneers in one fell swoop, and personally I don’t want to be liable for any such personal tragedies.
So cool them completely, cut them into nice, bite-size pieces, and share with people you love.
Or with people you hate and tell them they’re only a point a piece on Weight Watchers and watch them get really really fat because they’re so stupid they believed you.