In the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion (also known as my bible), there is a recipe called Build-a-Bars. It begins with a basic crust, then the rest is up to you…whether you add coconut, nuts, caramel, various types of chips, dried fruit, mini marshmallows, crushed cereal pieces, or whatever your heart desires, the bars become whatever you want them to be.
I love recipes like this, those make-it-your-own versions that can be tweaked time and again to create various new treats based on what you have handy in your pantry. I fully intend to make a version of this with pecans, butterscotch chips, and toffee bits, but I didn’t have enough pecans in my pantry this weekend. I did have plenty of coconut, plus bittersweet chocolate chips and almonds. According to Mike and my coworkers, they’re absolutely delicious.
For the crust
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons milk
For the filling
- 3 cups shredded coconut
- 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup whole blanched almonds, chopped*
For the topping
- 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 5 ounces evaporated milk
*Next time, I’ll toast and cool the almonds before adding them to the filling.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper, extending the paper to cover the edges of the pan.
Make the crust: place 1/2 cup flour and walnuts in a food processor and pulse until nuts are finely ground. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk in remaining flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Cut butter into pea-sized pieces and add to flour mixture. Beat on low speed until the mixture looks crumbly.
Whisk the honey and milk together, then pour over the dry mixture and continue to mix until evenly moistened.
Pour crust mixture into the baking pan and press down to cover the surface in an even layer.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until set. The edges will be just golden brown.
Allow the crust to cool completely before adding filling and topping; I put my crust in the fridge for just a few minutes to speed the cooling process.
Make the filling: in a large mixing bowl, combine coconut, bittersweet chocolate chips, and almonds. Pour in an even layer over crust.
Make the topping: in a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, salt, and egg until no lumps remain; this will take a few minutes, and you’ll need to scrape the sides and bottom of your bowl several times to make sure all of the ingredients blend evenly. Add evaporated milk and beat until the mixture is smooth. Pour evenly over filling.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are just bubbly and the center is set.
Remove from oven and cool bars in pan completely before cutting.
Cut into 24 bars and store in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper.