Our former neighbor and dear family friend, Liz, is renowned for the plates of cookies that she prepares annually at Christmas. As kids, my sister and I would fight over our favorites, and they would – reliably, mysteriously – disappear in the night time. Blame the straying fingers of elves or a hungry Santa Claus if you wish, or just the magical, irresistible power of her cookies.
None of us live up there anymore, in the shady redwoods of the Santa Cruz mountains, and we miss her cookies terribly every year. So I decided to pay her a visit, to spend a lovely, rainy afternoon in her bright, cozy kitchen, catching up and learning a little bit about the magic that goes into these cookies.
I made the drive south, through sprawling suburbs and then into the redwoods along the disarmingly curved Highway 17 through gossamer fog, forested hills and a light drizzle. It was heavenly. I don’t think I can ever forget how to get back to that neighborhood, my very first and my favorite. It was amazing how much things had not changed – how that stretch of rural highway is still so surprisingly undeveloped, how so many of the old, funky houses are the same, and all those groves of redwoods and dilapidated buildings from a century ago still holding on.
There’s comfort in that, and there’s comfort in these cookies too, with their dense, crunchy base composed largely of butter and brown sugar, and a lovely frosting of white chocolate and toasted nuts on the top. I had always thought that I didn’t like white chocolate. And I also had no idea that these cookies were finished with them. So even if you think yourself averse, give it a try. It’s surprising in its sweet subtlety here. Dark chocolate or milk chocolate would be fine substitutions, but they won’t look as prettily like little jewels made in some magical winter wonderland if you forgo the white chocolate. Your call!
TOFFEE BARS WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE
1 cup (two sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 Lindt white chocolate bars, broken into pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, egg yolk and salt. Slowly fold in the flour.
Turn the dough out onto an old 14×16 inch cookie sheet. (Liz suggests this because you will be cutting the bars while warm on the sheet, and the surface of the sheet will be scored afterwards.)
Using your hands, press the dough towards the edges of the sheet, stopping at one inch from the edge. You will want a roughly uniform surface, but don’t worry about it being totally level. It’s handmade, after all!
Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until a light golden brown.
Spread the white chocolate pieces over the hot cookie. Using a butter knife, press each piece into the crust, and when they are fully melted, smooth the white chocolate over the entire surface.
Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the white chocolate.
Cut the bars into diamonds by first slicing perpendicularly along the length of the cookie sheet in 1.5 inch intervals. Then cut lengthwise vertically to the edge of the sheet. See the photos above for reference.
Cool cookies on wire racks or baking sheets lined with parchment or waxed paper for at least 30 minutes to allow the chocolate to set.
Then challenge yourself to not eat them all immediately!