Someone stop me before I bake again.
On second thought, please forget I ever said that (what was I thinking?). At Christmas time that kind of talk is heresy, don't you agree? I think you do. In fact, your unwavering agreement on this point means the world to me. Without it, I don't think I'd feel quite right about sharing today's tasty contribution to the Yuletide cookie platter--mocha streusel bars--and that would just be a shame.
This is a minor variation on a cookie-bar recipe that my mom used to make once a year, without fail, at Christmas. We'd spend an entire mid-December day in her kitchen making perhaps eight varieties of cookies. My mom, my Aunt Lydia, sometimes my sister, and occasionally one of my cousins would be there, too. Just a bunch of girls. We'd have a regular production line going. It's still one of my favorite memories. We'd talk and laugh and drink tea and sample the cookies one by one. Can't buy memories like that in a store.
The faded old index card that my mother typed out, decades ago, indicates she found this recipe in a print ad for Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk. The original is called simply "chocolate streusel bars." I changed it by omitting chopped nuts from the streusel, and by adding in a little bit of coffee to bring out the richer dimensions of the cocoa powder. Oh, and instead of using all regular unsweetened cocoa powder, I used half dutch-processed and half regular. You get way more flavor oomph from the dutch cocoa, and in a recipe like this, where acidity or lack thereof in the cocoa is not a factor that would have a negative impact on anything else in the recipe, why not use it?
These bars need to be refrigerated for longer storage, but the flavor is best if they're allowed to come to cool room temperature before you serve them. Very, very good!
Mocha Streusel Bars
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray or grease the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper so the edges come up above the sides of the pan (you'll use them as handles to remove the bars after they've been baked and chilled).
1 and 3/4 cups All Purpose flour (bleached or unbleached)
1 and 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup dutch processed cocoa
1 tsp. crushed freeze-dried coffee crystals or espresso powder
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 oz. cream cheese, softened, and at room temperature
1 - 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg, large, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
In a large bowl, by hand, combine the flour, sugar, cocoas, and coffee. Cut in the butter pieces with a pastry blender until the mixture appears dry and crumbly, with no large chunks of butter remaining. Set aside 2 cups of this mixture.
Press the remainder of the mixture on the bottom of the prepared pan. Press down firmly to compact the crumbs. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy and smooth.
Gradually beat in the condensed milk. Add in the egg and vanilla extract and mix well.
Pour this mixture over the baked crust and spread it out evenly. It will be quite fluid. Sprinkle all of the remaining crumb mixture over the top.
Very gently pat the crumbs down just a bit.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until slightly bubbly. Cool the bars in the pan, then chill them in the fridge for at least an hour. To remove the uncut bars from the pan, lift up firmly on the parchment. Slice the bars with a very sharp knife. Store them, well covered, in the refrigerator. These bars freeze really well.
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