It’s funny how thirty plus years ago, when I declared my grandmother’s ‘Double Decker’ bars my very favourite holiday cookie (and probably favourite cookie of all time period) I had no idea I would eventually live in a part of the world where ‘double deckers’ meant something entirely different. Foreshadowing or just a lucky coincidence?
Last year around this time I wrote a similar tribute to these gorgeous baked goods, waxing on and on about how much my father “loves them just as much as I do” – it was present tense at that time. The slight bitterness from the rich, smooth dark chocolate, the mix of sweet and savoury flavours from the almond extract and the buttery crust… my grandmother really knew how to bake her way into both our hearts- Dad’s and mine.
As we continue to trudge through a year of firsts since losing my father, these family cookies have made their reappearance- both with joy and with bittersweet remembrance, emotions somehow mirrored by the flavours of the bar cookies themselves. My ninth grade English teacher would be ripe with glee at the amount of foreshadowing and personification I’ve dedicated to these cookies.
My father had the biggest sweet tooth, and, lucky for him the most incredible metabolism. He loved this time of year- not for the freezing cold temperatures or piles of snow Cleveland generously provided, but for the excuse for my mother to turn on the oven, pull down her baking ingredients from the top of the refrigerator (“You don’t have to keep them within reach if you only use them a few times a year!”, she would justify) and roll up her sleeves as she worked her way through my grandmother’s holiday cookie recipes to make her annual cookie trays. On them went Zebra cookies, Great Grandma Bess’s ugly cookies, Apricot windows, Snowballs and of course these Double Deckers. Dad was always partial to this combination of dark chocolate and nuts.
The original version has both walnuts and sesame seeds which add an extra layer of savoury, earthy flavour. I have since had to modify and remove both from our own version due to allergies. Even without, they are still my very favourite- highlighted even more so now because they remind me of Dad. Moreover, they give me a wonderful reason to talk about him and his life, rather than just his passing. An opportunity I welcome with open arms.
You should just trust me when I say, make these. They are the very, very best. Dad certainly thought so. And though he was wrong about many things (just ask my mom!) this was not one of them.
Double Decker Bar Cookies
175g or 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
150g or 5.3oz full fat cream cheese
80ml or 1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup almonds or walnuts, chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)
1 1/4 teaspoons almond extract
188g or 11/2 cups all purpose flour
96g or 3/4 cup golden caster sugar
125ml or 1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a small saucepan over low heat combine chocolate chips, cream cheese and evaporated milk, stirring continuously until melted and combined. When smooth, remove from heat and add almond extract nuts, sesame seeds (if using). Set aside to cool
In a large mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, butter egg, baking powder, salt and almond extract and mix with spoon or hands until well combined.
Preheat your oven to 190F/375C. Prepare a 20cm/8inch. or 23cm/9inch. brownie tin with parchment paper for ease.
Using your fingertips, spread 1/2 to 2/3 crust into the bottom of the tin, making sure the entire surface is covered in an even layer.
Pour in the cooled chocolate filling and spread evenly over the crust.
With the remaining dough, divide into small balls, flatten with fingers and lay evenly spaced the top of the filling, allowing bits of the chocolate filling to poke through.
Bake in the centre rack of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the top is lightly golden.
Allow to cool before removing from tin and cutting into approx 16 pieces.