You don't even need to dirty a bowl to make these rich, fudgey, delectable Hello Dolly Squares. Just layer everything in the pan and bake! They are fantastic! (Skip to recipe.)
I'm having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit this year. I'm not sure what it is. The wreath is hung and I have our German Christmas pyramid (Wiehnachtspyramide) on the kitchen table, but that is about it. The rest of the decorations are sitting in their trunks and boxes downstairs.
Maybe it's the unseasonably warm fall we've had up until this last snowfall. Maybe it's laziness. Maybe it's this empty nest feeling I've been having trouble dealing with for the last few months since Andreas headed off to the big wide world of university and residence life. I haven't even been able to talk about it until now. I never thought it would hit me so hard. I had so many plans for all the spare time I'd have, and instead I find myself wallowing with a big lump in my throat. Is this normal? Do all mothers go through this? Or am I just a big baby?
I should be happy, should be jumping for joy that there aren't backpacks and sport shoes and dirty socks piled right in front of the back door all the time, right?
I should be reveling in the fact that I can go to sleep at night and not have to worry about what time someone will creep up the stairs after partying too long, right?
I should be enjoying the quiet evenings with no one making disgusting body sounds (and smells) and singing loudly off key to mar the peacefulness.
I should be relieved that there's not always someone poking into the cooking pots, snitching food off my chopping board, placing the empty milk carton back in the fridge, and constantly asking what's for dinner, right?
Well, I'm not.
I'm missing it all.
I'm feeling really out of sorts.
And when I feel out of sorts, I need to be in the kitchen. It's the one place where I can lose myself, and get out of my head. It's where hours can go by, and I realize I haven't thought (too much) about what's worrying me. Chopping and stirring, mixing and mashing and slicing, and even washing up, are therapy for me. The rhythms are soothing, and making belly-filling comfort food to nourish others is fulfilling, decreasing that void just a tiny little bit.
So, I have been baking and cooking. I've made a batch of my Gumdrop Christmas Cake, and I've made One Cup Cookies (good for university care packages). I've made cakes, and Pumpkin Pies, and Harlequin Cookies, and Coco-Lassies, and Pumpkin Freezer Fudge. I've cooked stews and sauces, and developed lots of new recipes. I've had failures and successes, and the months have slowly crept by. The nest is still empty, but maybe I'm getting a little bit more used to it - some of the time.
I've cooked long complicated dishes, and I've played around with revamping old favourites. The recipe for these squares come out of the notebook in which I handwrote all those favourites from home when I first moved away to university (now I know what my mom felt like - so sorry, Mom, I never even realized).
They are labelled 'Hello Dolly Squares' in my neat block writing (teacher script, I know). I have no idea why they were called that, but they were all the rage in our little farming community when I was a teenager. Farm woman passed on the recipe to farm woman. Out of curiosity, I googled them, and lo-and-behold, they are an actual thing. There are tons of recipes out there for 'Hello Dolly Squares', all containing basically the same ingredients in slightly varying proportions. I remember them so fondly.
But I do also remember that they were very sweet. So in the interests of health and good taste, I've toned down the recipe to have less sugar and more fiber.
Yes, I know, they're not exactly health food, but they are slightly healthier than the original recipe. If you're going to have a treat, it might as well taste fantastic, have a few redeeming qualities, and - in this case - be stupidly easy to make.
Yes, stupidly easy. You don't even need a bowl.
You will dirty exactly:
- one baking pan
- one spatula
- one measuring cup
It will take you all of two minutes to throw the ingredients together. A half hour later you will pull a pan of these decadent, delicous, gooey, chewy, chocolaty, coconutty, kind-of-caramelly squares from the oven. The hardest part is waiting for them to cool so you can slice them.
And for those few moments of bliss while you inhale mouthfuls of this decadent treat, you will forget all about whatever is causing you stress. (What empty nest?)
Keep the ingredients handy in your pantry and you can whip these up as unexpected guests pull into the driveway. By the time you've said hello, taken their coats, and handed them a drink, the squares will be ready to pull out of the oven.
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: Quick oats really work best here. Old-fashioned large flake oats are too big, instant oats are too little, but quick oats are juuuuuuust right (as Goldilocks would say).
Use unsweetened long thread coconut (I buy mine at Costco), but if you can only find smaller flake, shredded, unsweetened coconut, use it rather than sweetened coconut to keep the sugar to a minimum.
gluten free, egg free
- ½ cup (115gms) butter
- 2 cups (200gms) quick-cooking rolled oats (gluten-free if necessary)
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds, whole or ground (optional)
- 1 cup (170gms) semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1½ cups (110gms) unsweetened long-thread flaked coconut
- 1 cup (100gms) chopped walnuts
- 1 can (300ml/14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
Put the butter into a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Place the pan in the oven and turn the oven on to preheat to 325°F.
While the butter is melting in the preheating oven, get the rest of the ingredients out and ready.
When the butter has melted (about 5 minutes), remove the pan from the oven and add the rolled oats directly to the pan. Sprinkle on the chia seeds (if using). Toss and stir with a silicone spatula until all the oats are moistened with the butter. Spread them out evenly and press them down firmly with the spatula to form a crust on the bottom of the pan.
Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the oatmeal, trying not to disturb the crust.
Sprinkle the coconut evenly over the chocolate chips.
Sprinkle the nuts evenly over the coconut.
Drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over everything, distributing it as evenly as possible. It won't cover everything completely, but that's okay.
Pop into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the squares as soon as they come out of the oven (they will harden and be really difficult to remove later if you don't do this step).
Let cool completely in the pan, then cut into squares.
Makes 24 squares.
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