Dessert bar disaster
December 13, 2013 1:54 PM   Subscribe

My hello dolly bars are a delicious but crumbly mess. How do I salvage them?

I layered a graham cracker + butter crust, condensed milk, chopped almonds, shredded coconut and chocolate chips in a 9x13 pan. Baked for 25 minutes at 350 degrees until the coconut started to brown.

Problem: nothing above the condensed milk gelled together. The chocolate chips didn't even melt (I have no idea how). The crust is holding together well enough so I can cut it into squares, but the nuts, coconut and chocolate chips are just rolling off! These are the most ridiculous squares I've ever made. BUT, they are tasty, and I don't want them to go to waste. I know I could serve them crumbled over ice cream or something, but I don't have many opportunities to serve desserts like that, and definitely not in so much quantity. These were supposed to be part of a cookie exchange; they need to be "finger food".

Is it still possible for me to transform these into coherent squares? What if I crumbled them all up in a food processor, pressed them back in a pan and re-baked them? I cannot add anything to make them sweeter (they are plenty sweet), but can I add something to make them stick together better? Any other use for this delicious mess? Please help!
posted by yawper to Food & Drink (13 answers total)
I would be tempted to dip/drape them in chocolate to try to hold them together.

Or you could add caramel or something else sticky and somewhat viscous or spreadable.

Or maybe a cream cheese frosting?
posted by kalessin at 1:56 PM on December 13, 2013

Do you have a food torch?

Assuming not, I'd take all the top parts off, put the almonds and coconut back on, then melt the chips separately and pour the chips back on.
posted by jeather at 2:03 PM on December 13, 2013

I used to have this problem, too. Now I put all the other ingredients on the crust first (coconut, nuts, chocolate chips, and my version has butterscotch chips, too!), and top everything with the sweetened condensed milk. That way, it sinks in as it cooks, and it becomes the glue that holds everything together.
posted by fireandthud at 2:22 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Serious Eats recipe has condensed milk as the top layer--perhaps that is how everything is supposed to stick together? Since the bars are already dry, crumbling the current cookies and re-baking would melt the chocolate chips, but with no added liquid or fat I don't see how the result would be bars.

Full salvage approach: pour melted butter over everything, bake until crisp. If the cookies are holding together, topping with melted chocolate could further stabilize your cookies. If the cookies are still crumbly, you could try one of the approaches below.

Partial salvage approach: scoop off the toppings above the condensed milk, make a new crust, add the salvaged toppings, then top with new condensed milk and bake.

You could take a full crumble approach and make cookie balls: many steps, but none are technical. Make/buy enough delicious frosting to cover a similarly sized cake--cream cheese frosting would work. Crumble the bars into the frosting, and mix. The goal is to have a scoopable mixture of even consistency that can be formed into balls 1"-1.5" in diameter. (Too much frosting and they will flatten, not enough frosting and they won't hold together.) Spread the balls on a baking sheet and freeze or refrigerate until they can take a little heat without losing structural integrity. Melt some chocolate or candy coating, dip the balls, and then let them sit until the chocolate/coating hardens. For inspiration, here's a basic recipe. For tidier dipping, you could also spear the balls on sucker sticks before freezing and make cookie pops.
posted by esoterrica at 2:26 PM on December 13, 2013

Side note: You might want to get your oven calibrated. It may not have been hot enough.
posted by elizeh at 2:38 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Throw it in microwave til chips melt
posted by SyraCarol at 2:52 PM on December 13, 2013

It sounds like your oven isn't hot enough. Did you preheat? If not, it might need to be calibrated as elizeh says. It sounds like your condensed milk didn't caramelize enough to melt and trap all the stuff above it in a sticky caramel suspension. Sugar fully caramelizes at 356° F. With an oven that is properly calibrated an oven temp of 350 should work since sugar retains heat and will reach 356 on its own. You could try popping it back in the oven for a few minutes at a very slightly higher temp but be careful. The difference between caramel and burnt caramel is a hair's breadth. If you don't want the coconut to brown any more, try putting foil over the pan.

Also I'll add that most recipes for this (we call them magic cookie bars) get the sweetened condensed milk poured on last before baking.
posted by katyggls at 3:01 PM on December 13, 2013

Can you try melting the chocolate with a heating pad or electric blanket atop the (foil-covered) dessert?

Sounds delicious, by the way. It'll still taste superb.

Also, if you can't keep it all together, serve them warmed under or atop a blob of ice-cream, as that is a very crumble-friendly application.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:01 PM on December 13, 2013

You could make mini trifles using small mason jars or small fancy plastic cups.You just layer the crumbly cookie bits with unsweetened whipped cream (and maybe some fruit, for added bulk).

If you use 4 oz mason jars or small Weck jars, you could distribute the resulting dessert easily the way you would with a cookie.
posted by topoisomerase at 4:41 PM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Could you add a little more condensed milk over the top and put it in the broiler for a bit?
posted by en forme de poire at 6:32 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I second the mini trifles in small fancy plastic cups, with layers of mascarpone and fresh berries. I've done this before with a disaster dessert, and the the result was oohs and aahs!
posted by Wavelet at 8:29 PM on December 13, 2013

Thank you for all your suggestions. I was able to save the bars! Jeather's suggestion worked. The mini trifles sound wonderful and I've put that idea in my pocket for next time :)
posted by yawper at 8:21 AM on December 16, 2013

I love trifles and parfaits and they always seem like wonderful ideas when they happen in response to dessert disasters.
posted by kalessin at 8:35 AM on December 16, 2013

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