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Friday, October 9, 2009

Soggy Bottom Boys

'twas the night before meeting
and all through the house
not a creature was stirring
except for a frustrated sleep-deprived baker

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I'd been having far too good a run of late, what with all these new recipes over the past few months turning out beautifully on the first attempt, and I'll admit that I was starting to get a little cocky. Oh don't get me wrong, I hadn't thrown caution to the wind and stopped weighing and measuring, but I was expecting great results every time. Last night put a stop to that.

Today was my fortnightly research group meeting, and I needed to make something that was both relatively quick (as I didn't have a lot of free time last night) and would also keep well in the car while I was busy prior to the meeting. So, no croquembouche or cheesecake! (Although, a croquembouche cheesecake would be awesome...)

I was flicking through my Canadian baking cookbook from which I have produced such delights as Almond & Black Pepper Biscotti, Onion & Walnut Scones, Baklava and Snippety Snip Cake, and came across a simple and tasty looking slice - Orange Raisin Squares, which apparently are "rich-tasting squares with the wonderful combination of orange and raisins".

Orange Raisin Squares
(from Company's Coming: Baking - Simple to Sensational by Jean Paré)

Bottom Layer
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 Tb cocoa, sifted if lumpy

Top Layer
2 large eggs
1 cup coarsely chopped raisins
1/3 cup flake coconut
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tb orange juice
1 Tb all purpose flour
1 Tb cocoa, sifted if lumpy
1 Tb finely grated orange zest
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Bottom Layer
1. Combine all 4 ingredients in medium bowl until crumbly.
2. Press evenly in bottom of ungreased 9 x 9 inch (22 x 22 cm) pan.
3. Bake in 375 F/190 C oven for 15 minutes.

Top Layer
4. Beat eggs in separate medium bowl until frothy.
5. Add remaining 9 ingredients. Stir well.
6. Spread evenly over bottom layer in pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm.
7. Let stand in pan on wire rack until cooled completely. Cuts into 36 squares.

(1 square: 74 calories; 3.7 g total fat (0.9 g mono, 0.2 g poly, 2.3 g saturated); 19 mg cholesterol, 10 g carbohydrate; 1 g fibre; 1 g protein; 54 mg sodium)

After making them and waiting patiently, I finally decided that it was cool enough, and sliced it up into 36 little squares. I was quite pleased with my efforts, as they looked and smelled quite nice, but then I tried one. The first word that came to mind, apart from "ugh" was "powdery". The base was as dry as it possibly could be. Drier than talcum powder flying through a desert, drier than my skin was when living through a Montreal winter, drier than my eyeballs when playing a particularly close race in MarioKart. Disaster! Luckily the top was delicious and moist, but the base seemed unsalvageable. I was also now quite thirsty.

Goddamn you recipe!

By this stage it was getting pretty late, and I was quite tired, so trying to think of how to fix this powdery mess was quite taxing. I still had some oranges left over from the zesting, so I thought that perhaps I could sit the slice in some orange juice briefly to let it soak some up. I did this, and although it looked like it had done the trick, closer inspection revealed that now the base was an inexplicable combination of dry/powdery and soggy. Awesome. Soggy bottomed slice. Slipping further into baking delirium I then began singing the Soggy Bottom Boys song "I am a man of constant sorrow" (which I still have stuck in my head).

Hoping my sighing and singing was not floating upstairs to my sleeping housemate's bedroom, I then decided that the base was a totally lost cause, and so out came the knife and off came their bottoms.

Chop chop!

At this stage I should have gone to bed.

But no. I decided, in my infinite midnight wisdom, that these formerly soggy bottom slices simply would not do for my meeting, and I would have to make something else to supplement the half slices. Something that would be quick and easy and keep well and I had all the ingredients to make. I remembered reading of these Tropical Granola Bars on For the love of cooking recently, and thinking how tasty they sounded. A quick scan through the recipe revealed I had almost everything I needed and could fiddle with the rest.

So, back into the kitchen and back on with the oven. This recipe was super easy and fast and I had it cooking away in no time. Although it would be hilarious if I then fell asleep and it burnt to a crisp, it was soon cooked, left out on the stove to cool, and I was tucking myself into bed.

Tropical Muesli Bars
Adapted from Pam's recipe on For the love of cooking

2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup honey or golden syrup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tb unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips (and extra for drizzling over top if you like)
1/4 cup dried cranberries

1. Grease a 9 x 9 inch (22 x 22 cm) baking pan. Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C.
2. Spread the oats and nuts over another (ungreased) baking pan and toast in oven for 5-7 minutes until it has taken on some colour (and smells tasty!).
3. Meanwhile, combine the honey/golden syrup, brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract and salt in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until the brown sugar has completely dissolved.
4. Once the oat mixture is done, remove it from the oven and reduce the oven temp to 300 F / 150 C. Immediately add the oat mixture to the brown sugar mixture, stirring through, then add the coconut, chocolate chips and cranberries. Stir well to combine.

5. Spread the mixture evenly into the greased pan and press down firmly. It will be quite sticky and a little annoying to work with at first, but then it settles down a bit and will do what it is told.
6. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven, allow to cool completely, then slice however you like. I cut mine into 18 bars. I also then melted some extra chocolate chips and drizzled them over the top for an extra chocolate hit.
8. I think these will store very well in an airtight container, and am sure you could also freeze them if you need to.

Praise the heavens, these were really great! I'm not a huge muesli bar eater, but I'll be making these again for sure. It would be really easy to change up the fruit and nuts in them too... the possible versions are endless, endless I say! Plus, I think they'd make a great pre or post gym snack.

When my British housemate spied the tray of uncut muesli bars in the kitchen this morning, she declared that I had made "flapjacks". According to Wikipedia, "flapjack is a name for two different sweet foods - in the UK and Australia, it refers to a tray-baked biscuit, and in Canada, the US and South Africa it refers to a form of pancake". They then go on to add "similar products are known in Australia as 'muesli bars'". Also, Pam's original recipe calls them "granola bars" so it seems that we have at least three names for these. I've never heard such things called flapjacks before, so I'm wondering if Wikipedia is wrong (gasp!) or if it is maybe an eastern states phenomenon, or if I'm just ignorant? I'd rather not have produced the world's driest biscuit base and learnt of further culinary ignorance in the same day, so I'm hoping that it is not the latter.

Orange raisin squares, soggy bottom boys no longer

After everyone in my research group sampled at least one of each of the slices, they were both declared delicious successes and so it seems I successfully salvaged the soggy bottom boys. I may experiment making them again with a different base, or with no base at all, as the top part is actually really tangy and rich and tasty. It might actually be quite nice on a little pastry, with some custard drizzled over, but that is surely a task for another day. Time now for leftovers and coffee.


Wandering Gourmet October 9, 2009 at 6:13 PM  

Wow, that's what I call persistence! I'd probably have given up and gone to the supermarket. Glad it all paid off. :-)

ps-is that clock from Ikea? I think I recently bought the same one!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella October 9, 2009 at 10:52 PM  

Hehe you are certainly a tenacious and determined cook! Great qualities to have! :D

Cheap Ethnic Eatz October 9, 2009 at 11:08 PM  

Hahaha...love this blog. And I can relate too that when I occasionally miss a recipe I take it as a personal insult to my skills. Good for you for being tenacious.

Oh...and I resent that comment about dry skin in a Montreal winter (but you are right lol)

Pam October 9, 2009 at 11:38 PM  

What a bummer! It happens to all of us.

I am so glad you liked the granola bars - they are so quick, easy and delicious. Drizzling the chocolate on top is a terrific idea, I'll try it next time. Thanks for the shout out and link back to my site.

Conor @ HoldtheBeef October 9, 2009 at 11:53 PM  

Wandering Gourmet - Thanks! And yep, it sure is from IKEA. I think it was something ridiculous like $2 or something. I noticed the same clock in my Doctor's surgery the other day too, so it seems like everyone is getting in on a good bargain!

Lorraine - thank you! Some may call it stubbornness and not knowing when to call it a day, but I'll happily accept tenacity and determination! :D

Evelyne - Cheers :D I know, it was so disappointing! Am sure it was my fault but I think I'll blame the recipe regardless. Oh Montreal, I love you but you do NOTHING for my skin ;)

Pam - thank you so much for the fabulous recipe, I really love it and will be making them again for sure! You were my saviour last night!

tastyeatsathome October 10, 2009 at 12:20 AM  

Congrats to you for coming through on the second recipe, if not the first! I have to admit, I was getting a little cocky on baking (gluten-free) myself, and changed up a recipe last night, thinking it'd be fine. Sawdust. Seriously. I made cornbread that was so dry it was inedible. Oh well! Maybe I need to make muesli bars like this instead!

Brie: Le Grand Fromage October 10, 2009 at 2:20 AM  

Haha, great post! So glad you were able to salvage the orange squares. I would have thought the same thing and made something else, too. And I've never heard of bars being refered to as "flapjacks", so that's pretty strange. Did they know we use it to refer to pancakes? Either way both your treats look great!

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite October 10, 2009 at 6:30 PM  

Oooh - "off with their bottoms"!!! I have had to do that with some peppermint chocolate bars I once made for a cookie exchange (12 dozen of them!!!) and it was also about 1am when I was sitting in the kitchen cutting (this time burned, not soggy!) bottoms off of bars. Sigh. Your muesli bars look wonderful though - that is actually one of the things on my list to make in the next couple of weeks. Sorry that the CANADIAN baking book let you down! And hey- don't we ALL have that clock???? Great post - well written!

penny aka jeroxie October 10, 2009 at 8:12 PM  

Good that you had such determination and pulled a good one out from the bag! And the muesli bars looks great

Conor @ HoldtheBeef October 10, 2009 at 9:53 PM  

tastyeatsathome - thanks! Oh dear, I hope you didn't catch baking failure disease from me.. You need 300 cc of chive biscuits, stat!

Brie - thank you! Yes, quite strange. The first time she used the word was when I was trying to think of what to bake, and she said "you should make flapjacks!" and I was so confused that she would suggest I make pancakes to take into my meeting. Ahh it's a crazy world we live in ;)

Mardi - oh god, 12 dozen? Your bin would have been full of discarded bottoms! Poor sad discarded bottoms. Yes..just when I was really starting to trust my Canadian baking book, it goes and does this to me (but hey, at least it's got metric measurements) ;) And thanks very much!

penny - thank you! I'm feeling much better about having the determination now that I've recovered from the lack of sleep :D

Trissa October 11, 2009 at 3:49 AM  

Oh Conor - good you managed to salvage them and also make another batch of the meusli bars. I would have thrown them out after the first attempt and brought some potato chips! Lorraine is right - you are very determined and it paid off!

Megan D October 11, 2009 at 11:09 AM  

I've only ever known flapjacks to be the pancake like items favoured by Americans, usually smothered with maple syrup I believe.

Iron Chef Shellie October 11, 2009 at 8:12 PM  


I hate when that happens. What a post and a story to go with it!! I'm glad they were both delicious successes in the end, after all of your efforts!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef October 11, 2009 at 10:03 PM  

Trissa - thanks! Due to our arcane trading hour legislation here I think it would probably have been more difficult to go and buy something instead at that hour ;)

Megan D - Yes, me too! Glad to have you back me up. Not so glad that now I am craving fat pancakes smothered with maple syrup.

Iron Chef Shellie - Thanks! It's funny... while the drama was happening I was also secretly glad that I was going to get an interesting blog post out of it. Perhaps I sabotaged myself on purpose.

Betty October 12, 2009 at 11:17 AM  

Hehe good work pushing through to make those muesli bars! I've never really heard of flapjacks, wiki can never be wrong! I'm glad that you persevered and everything worked out in the end :)

A cupcake or two October 13, 2009 at 7:27 PM  

Everyone has baking mishaps. You saved those babies and they looks really good. The Muesli bars look like the ones you get at the farmers markets and the orange and raising squares look rustic. Good job.

Conor @ HoldtheBeef October 13, 2009 at 10:49 PM  

Betty - thanks! Oh I know, I know, shame on me for suspecting wiki of inaccuracy, but you can't be sure there aren't nefarious types out there spreading vicious lies about Aussie vernacular...from there it's a slippery slope to umm...terrorism!

A cupcake or two - thanks a lot, that's a huge compliment.. maybe I should try and make a buck off them :D

CheapAppetite October 14, 2009 at 9:42 AM  

Congrats. You somehow made the best out of your mishap and came out on top. I never heard of flapjacks either. Weird name.

Maria@TheGourmetChallenge October 15, 2009 at 11:29 AM  

wow, seriously what a great effort. If it was me I would have fallen asleep with the bars in the oven, I admit I've done that once, but the sweet smell woke me up and I saved the cake just in a nick of time!

Despite the terrible bottoms the orange raisin square look delectable

Nicole October 16, 2009 at 3:46 PM  

HAHAHAHA great blog entry :)
Flapjacks to me are "pancakes" but there's lots of things that have weird names. Gyros (and not yiros, or worse yet its called a kebab!! GASP!).
Glad it all worked out in the end :)

Conor @ HoldtheBeef October 17, 2009 at 11:24 AM  

CheapAppetite - Thanks! Yep, I agree.

Maria - It was close, I will admit. Thank goodness for the little timer beeper thing on my watch. Thanks :D

Nicole - cheers!! Oops I am a user of "kebab"...can we still be friends? ;)

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