It has snowed here, a lot. Perhaps you’ve heard. It’s something like the 3rd snowiest winter on record and we’ve just entered February. It’s the first winter I can remember in which we’ve had so many snowdays. It’s just been, well, brutal.
So what to do when you’re so tired of the snow that you just want to scream?
Answer? Make Magic Bars. They’re sticky, sweet and pretty forgiving. Easy to throw together and almost no measuring required. Don’t take long to bake and can be made with things kept in the pantry. Or at least, things kept in my pantry.
The story behind these? As you know (if you’ve been reading along), I spent some time in Israel after college. I ended up cooking on a kibbutz, for 200 people each day. It was fun and I really enjoyed it. Upon returning to the States, I decided that perhaps I wanted to go to culinary school. So before jumping in, I found a job as a baker for a bakery about a half hour away from where I lived. It was hard work and I encountered a number of characters there.
There was the manager who was, frankly, quite gross- an older, Jewish guy who was married with kids but often bragged about his young, beautiful, Portuguese mistress. I must have heard at least a million times how she would say “thank you” after they had sex. Eeew. There was the baker that trained me who was short and sort of weasel-like who was constantly high (or baked, as it were) and who would still speed around the bakery at break-neck speed, muttering, “fucking Konditor Meister” under his breath (he had worked for Konditor Meister but had left under, um, not so great circumstances). His brother worked at the bakery as well and where the baker was small, the brother was enormous. The counter staff was a varied group- part-timers, college kids, high school drop outs. The back of house staff were all recent immigrants from Brazil or other parts of South America and they were extremely hard workers. (Sounds like the stereotype, I know, but it was true). One, E., had three jobs, a wife and several children at home. And yet? He was the friendliest one there.
But my favorite was B. He was the pastry chef and he was…. well, he was hot. Tall, sturdy, reliable and bald- just my type. He was smart, had gone to college and was an amazing pastry chef. He was careful and precise and spent a great deal of time teaching me. Sadly, he was engaged and lived with his fiance who was also his high school sweetheart. This made him even more appealing. As did the giant tattoo on his back- it was of an angel and it covered his entire back. So sexy.
I eventually left the job mainly because I grew tired of the monotony and because I hated the hours (I worked from 2am-10am). I was also losing my love of cooking and didn’t want that. I wanted to be able to bake and cook at home and enjoy it, not feel like it was a task after a long day. My other story from that time is a bit creepy- before I left, I trained my replacement (as the small baker had done for me), an older man who I am pretty sure had spent time in prison. We were alone in the bakery in the morning and he was constantly crowding me, with the excuse that he was just trying to learn. Right. I would go into the walk-in, grab a tray, turn to back out and bang into him. Creepy. I took to carrying one of the big knives around with me, just in case. Icky.
At any rate, as a bakery we often had lots of leftover scraps of cake. This is due to the enormous amounts of cakes that are made- you have to level them off so you end up with all these strangely shaped scraps. Rather than throw them out (or eat them all), B. made magic bars. Now, to be fair, at home I don’t often have “extra” cake around but… After making the cousin 3.0 trifle, I did have some leftover cake which I threw into the freezer. A few days later, I wanted something easy and sweet (remember all. that. snow.?) so I pulled it out to let it thaw.Magic Bars
Leftover unfrosted cake scraps (or, go ahead, make a whole cake, eat half and save the rest for this) or ground up cookies (oreos or graham crackers work well)
Butter (if using the oreos or graham crackers)
Nuts (your choice)
Shredded Coconut (I hate coconut, so I always leave this out)
Any other candy you might have on hand- white chocolate chips, m&m’s, etc.
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Preheat oven to 375. Line a cake pan (I always use a square one but I hear that some people don’t truck with square cake pans) with parchment paper. Set aside.
Put the cake crumbs in a food processor and grind them up. If you’re using cookies or crackers, do the same but also melt a few tablespoons of butter and mix that in as well. You want enough so that they stick together but not so much that they soak it up and become greasy. Dump the crumbs into the cake pan and press down. You want to make a pretty even layer that has some depth to it. Sprinkle all you toppings evenly over the cake/crumbs. For this one, I used some milk chocolate chips, some bittersweet mini-chocolate chips, mini-marshmallows, pecans and some white chocolate chips. It was all stuff I had leftover in our pantry. Once you’ve spread everything, open the condensed milk and pour it over evenly. It will sort of coat everything and then start to sink into the cracks between the toppings. The cake will soak it up and get really gooey. Bake until it’s all a nice golden brown and sort of bubbly around the sides. I have to say, the marshmallows got too brown too quickly for my taste so I ended up putting foil over the top so that the rest could bake and the marshmallows didn’t burn. Once you take it out of the oven, let it cool before you try to cut it.When you do cut it, be careful- it will be very oozy and gooey and sticky. Oh, and of course, yummy!