Thursday, December 15, 2011

Untwisted Dish: Split Levels, AKA The Best Bar Cookies

You may already know that I have a thing for almond extract. What's better than almond extract? Almond extract mixed with chocolate. One of my favorite "Christmas cookies" combines both of these things. It really isn't a Christmas cookie at all, but my Mom always made them for Christmas. Split Levels, as they are called, come from the Pillsbury's Bake Off Cookie Book of 1967. This is where my Mom got most of the cookie recipes she made at Christmas. Things like Meltaway Bars, Cream Cheese Cookies, and Chocodiles. I found my own copy on Ebay a few years ago. Yipppeee!   

My husband likes to point out that these aren't really a cookie. I call them a "bar cookie," and he insists that there is no such thing. There are "bars" and there are "cookies", but no bar cookies. I disagree, and whenever I find something in print about a "bar cookie", I make sure to point it out.

Split Levels are really very easy to make, but call for an 11" x 7" pan.  I've used an 8" square pan, and they turned out just fine. The only twist I make it replacing the walnuts with almonds. I really don't like walnuts, and making them more almondy makes them even better.

The Ingredients for the Chocolate Filling
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
3 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seed
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

The Ingredients for the Crumb Crust
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon backing powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1. In a saucepan, combine the chocolate chips, cream cheese and evaporated milk. Melt over low heat, stirring constantly.

2. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining filling ingredients. Blend well and set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the crust ingredients. Blend well with a mixture until particles are fine.

4. Press half of the crumbs in a greased 11 x 7 inch pan. Spread the filling over the top. Sprinkle the rest of the crumbs over the filling. (A 9" square pan works fine too)

5. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

These freeze well, so I make them ahead and line the pan with foil. This makes it really easy to get them out the pan and wrap them up for the freezer.

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