Sunday, January 15, 2012

7-Layer Bars, Improv Style

This is the tale of the confluence of a series of events leading to another Adventure in Cooking! 

I love sweetened condensed milk. I eat it straight out of the can because I do not love my arteries nearly as much. Recently, I bought a can of the stuff and discovered, upon reaching home, that it was dented at the rim. I am OK with a dent anywhere else on a can, but if it's on the rim, I worry that the integrity of the can may have been compromised and germs have scurried their way inside. I prefer that my death by sweetened condensed milk occur gradually, rather than in one bacterial showdown, so I put it back in the car to return to the store and left it there for several weeks. During those several weeks, we had a few warm spells which heated my car to tropical levels, and when I found the can again, I decided it would be too hazardous to return it to the store, lest they restock it and unwittingly infect someone with salmonella. But I couldn't let it go to waste, so I decided to heat it for a short time in a double boiler to sort of pasteurize it. This is normally how you make dulce de leche, but I figured if I just didn't heat it as long as they recommend for making dulce de leche, then it wouldn't caramelize.

Alas, when I opened it, it had turned a light caramel color, and no longer tasted quite like sweetened condensed milk. And while caramel is good for many things, it is not good for eating straight out of the can, so I put it in the fridge and let it sit.

Enter Event #2. I also love 7-layer bars. I first discovered them at Firehook Bakery in DC and promptly decided they were my new favorite cookie. Assuming they were some proprietary recipe of the local establishment, I made a point of picking up one of the delectable bars every time I passed by. Later, I encountered them at Bob Evans in Sylvania under the pseudonym of 7th heaven bars (ironically, right after having brought one of the DC bars to Ohio so I would not go dessertless in a potential time of need).

The availability of 7-layer bars in multiple locations made me believe that the recipe may not be such a closely kept secret after all, and with a going rate of $2.25 a cookie, being able to prepare them myself could be quite a financial boon. So I searched the Internet and found the recipe with embarrassing ease. Immediately I noticed that one of the ingredients was sweetened condensed milk, and I thought of my lonely caramelized can sitting in the fridge.

Here are the ingredients, and how to prepare them with Val's Galorious panache.

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/3 cups shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350°F and get out a 13x9-inch pan.

Make the graham cracker crumbs first. Assume that one plastic-wrapped package of graham crackers equals 1½ cups, and crush them in the package by banging them against the countertop. When that fails, step on them. When that is not wholly effective either, transfer them to a colander over the 13x9 inch pan and shake them until all that remains in the colander are the big bits. Crush them with a ladle.

Then read the recipe, which tells you that you are supposed to melt the butter in the pan first. Transfer the cracker crumbs to a plate and melt the butter in the pan. Go ahead and use salted margarine—who actually has unsalted butter just lying around? When it is melted, slosh it around all over the pan and replace the graham cracker crumbs. Follow them with the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, walnuts, sweetened condensed milk (this will be quite a challenge, because the milk has thickened in the heating process and has subsequently been stored in the refrigerator, and your fingers are already occupied, being crossed in the hope that your modified milk will not ruin the recipe), and finally the coconut.

Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown around the edges.

The result of my Adventure in Cooking? Pretty good. The modified sweetened condensed milk didn't seem to have any detrimental effect on the overall taste. They were a little gooier than the bars I buy in stores, but I like gooey, so they were perfect for me! And the salted margarine was actually a nice counterpoint to the outrageous sweetness of the rest of the ingredients. But the graham crackers were not uniformly mixed with the margarine. Next time I think I'll stir it up and pat it in.

One more thought: Since the object of making these at home was to save myself a bit of dough, it's only sensible to calculate the total cost of this endeavor:
chocolate chips--1.70$,
(I don't have my original receipts, so most of these prices are just guesses, and it bears saying that I usually don't buy candy chips unless they are discounted to less than the standard price that I used in the calculation.)
Total price for the recipe: about 9.55$.
Divided into a minimum of 9 bars (and those would be pretty hefty bars), that's a dollar a bar--a significant savings over the store-bought ones. Guess I know how I'll be getting my 7-layer bar fix from now on.


Julie said...

All I can say is: I LOVE SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK!!! It's soooo good... I dip fruits in it, I eat it plain, I lick out the can.. oh man.
AND I LOVE 7 layer bars! I've never been hard working enough to actually make them myself, but heck I eat other people's any time I ever have the oppourtunity. And when I am rotating at UC Davis, they have 7 layer bars in their cafeteria 24/7 for FREE (because I have a meal card there)... HEAVEN!!!

Valerie said...

You lucky duck!