This recipe wasn't always bars; it started as pie. Chess pie. The first time I made it I followed the Milk Bar recipe and made it into a pie and that was great. But it struck me that the pie would make great cookie bars too. There is something about pie that demands an occasion. A party or a weekend dinner. A pie wants guests, planning, intention. A bar cookie is not similarly demanding. It is an afternoon snack, and a dessert and it is almost appropriate with coffee in the morning. It is potlucky, midweeky, casual, nonchalant. A bar is ready for you anytime.
Chess pie is a kind of sugar pie from the southern US. If sugar pie isn't ringing bells for you, other varieties include pecan pie, buttermilk pie, shoofly pie and butter tarts. Sugars pies have sticky, gooey, runny, not quite set up fillings in pastry or another crust, with or without extras like nuts, chocolate or fruit. Even if you make it in pie-form, this recipe is a big departure from traditional chess pie; the pastry crust has been replaced by an oatmeal cookie crumb crust.
A note on weird ingredients: the corn powder in the filling is tricky to find. If you find a source of powdered, freeze-dried corn, that's perfect. If not you can look for whole freeze-dried corn kernels and grind them finely into a powder. I found mine in a Victoria institution, Capital Iron, a camping-gardening-kitchen-furniture-antiques-hot tubs-miscellany-everything store. It was in a kind of survivalist/prepper area of the store, with big drums full of food and supplies to outline the zombie apocalypse. The only size available was a huge four litre tin, bigger than my head. I am the now proud owner of a lot of freeze-dried corn. More than I can ever foresee using. It's worth it to find the corn, it give a nice, nutty, hard-to-put-your-finger-on sort of flavour, it's not like other sorts of sugar pie I have tried. If you can find very finely ground cornmeal, that will work too, though the freeze dried corn is more flavourful. If you need to skip it altogether though, you'll still have a respectable sugar pie and you can certainly add nuts or fruit or chocolate to make it more exciting.
Adapted from Milk Bar. Note: This makes enough crust for two pies. The crumbs will freeze well so you can save them for next time. Or just eat the extra cookie.
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tbs granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/8 tsp baking powder
pinch baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Beat butter and sugars in a stand mixer until very fluffy. Reduce speed, add egg yolk and then return to high speed until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides. Add all dry ingredients and mix on low speed until there are no dry spots. Dump the dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and flatten it with your hands.
Bake at 350 for around 15 minutes, until it is golden brown and cool on a wire rack. Break apart into large chunks and pulverize them into a rough rubble in a food processor. Divide in half and set one half aside for later.
Adapted from Milk Bar.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tbs light brown sugar
2 tbs milk powder
2 tbs corn powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
160 g (3/4 cup) heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
Combine sugars, milk powder, corn powder and salt in the bowl bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add melted butter and beat to combine. Add cream, egg yolks and vanilla and beat on low until combined and silky.
2 tbs butter, melted
1/2 recipe of oat cookie crumbs
1 recipe filling
Heat oven to 350. Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper. Mix oat crumbs with melted butter and press into the bottom of the parchment lined pan. Pour the filling over the oat crust. Bake for 15 minutes, the reduce the oven temperature to 325. Keep the door open for a couple minutes to help the temperature reduce. Then continue baking for about 5 minutes, until the middle of the pie is semi-set but still somewhat wobbly. Chill on a wire rack and then transfer to the fridge. Chill for at least three hours, preferably overnight.
Photos: Tyrel Hiebert