Surprisingly, my obsession with and unwavering loyalty for 80’s music has nothing to do with this recipe directly. Yet, every time I make these delicious little squares Gloria Estefan’s classic runs on a constant loop in my mind. For those of you that don’t see the beauty in melodic Latin-inspired pop music emitted from a synthesizer and the most outstanding display of facial hair groupthink I’ve ever seen, I apologize for the brain poisoning this post may bring.
But I promise that these chocolate chip cookies meet blondies can win over even the most reluctant 80’s-phobe. Congo Squares fall into the second category of oddly named recipes in my family. A habit I mentioned in my inaugural write up on Snickerdoodles, these qualify as a family favorite that could have easily been designated a variation on a blondie but for some reason, Congo Square seemed to be a better fit. Maybe their creator, Susie Lowry, a former neighbor and practically a sister to my mother was a fan of the Miami Sound Machine as well…or not.
As one of Susie’s signature sweets, I have wonderful memories of snagging these by the twos and threes off the upper dock of the Lowry’s vacation home on Claytor Lake. Please do not fear the inclusion of an entire pound of brown sugar in the batter. Rather than making the dough too sweet, the moisture the sugar brings with it keeps these bars chewy and soft for days, unlike their crumbly blondie sibling. The walnuts, though optional, lend that perfect crunch counterpoint to the gooey chocolate chips. Congo Squares are delicious when eaten either tidily at room temperature or slightly warm from the oven if you don’t mind melted chocolate on your fingers and palms. My personal favorite is outside in the shade of an umbrella followed by a cannonball off the dock.
1 stick plus 2.5 Tbs butter, melted
1 lb. light brown sugar
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
6-8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, stir together the melted butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until well incorporated.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer running, slowly add the flour mixture to the brown sugar mixture. Mix on medium speed pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl for any loose flour. Add the vanilla, walnuts and chocolate chips and mix briefly on low speed, just until combined.
3. Spread mixture into an ungreased 9×13 inch pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before cutting and serving.