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A few years ago, when I first became interested in baking and was trying to become more comfortable in the kitchen, I received the America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book for Christmas.  It was just what I needed at the time; the book was loaded with simple recipes accompanied by step-by-step instructions that made the desserts seem totally doable, even for a novice baker.  I’m a visual person so I also loved that there were plenty of photos, not only of the recipes themselves, but demonstrating some of the more intimidating techniques (hello, yeast bread!).  The book became such a favorite that I bought a second copy and hosted my very first giveaway on this blog.

Since receiving that book, a few things have happened that have caused me to turn to it less often when I want to bake.  First, I’ve become more confident in my baking, which has led me to choose slightly more complicated or unique recipes.  An even bigger factor, though, has to be my obsession with cookbooks; I’m always borrowing new ones from my library and taking advantage of sales at our local bookstores, which means there are a whole lot of recipes to choose from when I step into my kitchen.  My beloved cookbook no longer fits in the bookshelf on the first floor of our house, and has been relegated to the overflow basement bookshelf along with many others. 

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Over the weekend I turned to baking to relieve some stress. (You may have heard, the Bruins are playing in the Stanley Cup Finals.  We lost a tough game 5 on Friday night and tonight’s game 6 has been on my mind all weekend.  We need a win tonight to send it to an exciting game 7; I’m not willing to consider the alternative right now.)  Anyway, I wanted to make something simple, but delicious, and I knew I’d find a suitable recipe in my America’s Test Kitchen Baking Book so I retrieved it from the basement and began thumbing through the pages.  These oatmeal fudge bars caught my eye immediately – a sweet, crumbly brown sugar-oatmeal base topped with a layer of rich, fudgy chocolate?  Yum!  You probably have all of the ingredients to make them in your pantry right now too.  They come together easily, though they’re not quick with cooling times totaling about 3 hours.  They reminded me of these bars we made for Tuesdays with Dorie a while ago, though they were less rich, which was a good thing in my book.  I sent the bars to work with Shane today so I wouldn’t stress eat the entire plate, and I hear they’re a hit :) 

So, any other Bruins fans out there?  Are you feeling as nervous as me today?

Oatmeal Fudge Bars
from America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Crust/Topping
1 cup (3 oz) quick-cooking oats
1 cup packed (7 oz) light brown sugar
3/4 cup (3 3/4 oz) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Filling
1/4 cup (1 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 oz) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (chocolate chips work too)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg

To make the crust: Preheat oven to 325 F.  Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on opposite sides to lift the bars out after they’re baked.  Spray the pan/foil with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl whisk the oats, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.  Add the melted butter and use a rubber spatula to stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.  Set aside about 3/4 cup of the crust mixture for the topping.  Dump the remaining crust mixture into the prepared baking pan and press it into an even layer.

Bake for 8 minutes, or until light golden brown.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool the crust completely, about 1 hour.  Maintain oven temperature.

To make the filling: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, espresso powder and salt.  Add the chocolate and butter to a medium microwave-safe bowl.  Heat in 30 second intervals at 50% power (stirring in between each interval) until the chocolate and butter are melted and smooth.  Let cool slightly.  Add the egg to the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine.  Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture just until combined (the mixture will be thick).

Spread the filling over the cooled crust.  Smooth the top, then sprinkle the reserved oat topping over the filling.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the bars cool completely in the pan, about 2 hours.  Use the foil overhang to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into squares.