Christmas just would not be Christmas without baking sweets in the kitchen for weeks before the actual holiday arrives. Since I was in my early 20s, I have baked for Christmas. For days, and then for weeks. And one of my go to classics is something called “Congo Bars”, a sweet confection with brown sugar, walnuts and semi-sweet chocolate chips.
I made my last batch this year on Christmas Eve day to take to a gathering of friends that evening, and enough to take to another friends’ house to add to their Christmas dinner the next day. I used to make huge batches of sweets before Christmas to give to my clients when I had my graphic design studio in Georgetown. Many of my best clients got extravagant gifts from their ad agencies and other vendors. I was a small boutique studio with a limited promotion budget starting out and couldn’t compete with Lalique Crystal and even TV sets. So I made beautifully decorated tins of various sweets and delivered it to the art departments and creative directors the week before Christmas. It became such a popular tradition I never gave it up. Staff would begin asking me at Halloween if I was going to deliver the treats in time for Christmas, and I didn’t disappoint. There was almost applause when I came through the door with bags loaded down with tins, enough for every sweet tooth in the department.
So now I continue the tradition for me and My Beloved Brit and our friends at Christmas. And he’s added a few items of his own (sausage rolls is truly one of his favorite treats when we go to England). But for now, let’s focus on Congo Bars. So easy, and perfect with a cup of tea.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, and a pat to grease the pan
2 1/3 cups packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups walnuts
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan with butter, and then put a spoonful of flour in the bottom. Shake it about, coating the bottom and sides, and turn over in the sink and pat the bottom to remove any extra flour. Set aside.
Melt 2 sticks of butter in a small pan on simmer.
In a large bowl place 2 1/3 cups of gently packed light brown sugar (you can also use dark, but I prefer the light).
Stir in the melted butter. Add 4 beaten eggs to sugar and butter mixture.
Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and stir until smooth.
Sift together 2 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder, Stir in to brown sugar mixture until it is smooth.
Add 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips (if you lightly coat them with flour they will not sink in the batter, a trick I learned from The Barefoot Contessa), and 1 1/2 cups of chopped walnuts.
Pour into the greased and floured pan.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Cool completely, cut in to squares, and store in a tin or zip-lock bags…or eat immediately!
I love this treat, and luckily there are a few left over for us to share on this rainy Boxing Day (the day after Christmas celebrated in England).
And now for the British side of the kitchen…
1 sheet of Puff Pastry, defrosted ( there are 2 sheets per box of Pepperidge Farm)
1 lb. mild or hot sausage, depending on your preference (we like the spicy)
1 egg, lightly beaten to brush the rolls
Flour for rolling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Take one defrosted sheet of puff pastry, and roll it out on a floured board to 9 x 12. Cut lengthwise in half.
Take 1/2 of the sausage and roll it in to a long strand 12″ long. Place in center of 1/2 of the pastry.
Wet the edge lightly with water to seal. Roll pastry over the sausage, and crimp the edges closed.
Repeat with the other half of the rolled pastry. Brush with beaten egg for a golden color.
Cut slices, 12 or 24 per roll depending on how large you want the bites to be. We did 12. If you want to do 24 smaller pieces, reduce your baking time a bit. Just watch until they turn golden.
Place the pieces on the parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees until golden. Serve warm, or at room temperature.
They are lovely, and disappeared quickly at the party.
Packed up and ready to travel. I love this time of year! Happy Boxing Day!
All photos by me in our kitchen, with great assistance from My Beloved Brit.