Sweets were rationed when I was a kid. My mom was a Type 1 diabetic, and so sugar was scarce in our house to begin with. But there was also a subtle fear that her disease might be genetic, and hence my sister and I were routinely shepherded to the Joslin Clinic to get tested. I developed a taste for Tab early in life: it was the only soda I was allowed. My sister and I had to chew sugarless gum, and my mother rationed M&Ms to 10 at a time in Dixie Bathroom Cups.
Released into other people’s homes I’d inevitably gorge on as much sugar as possible. Brownies. Fruit roll ups. Rainbow sherbet. My mother routinely busted me at the convenience store (she forbade me from going) at the end of the street where I’d spend hoarded dollars and filched quarters on Lemonheads, Starbursts and Bit-O-Honeys. Though I faced getting grounded if I got caught, I couldn’t keep myself away from those shelves of sugar.
The absolute apex of desserts in those days was the 7-layer bar. Cloyingly sweet, with several kinds of confections, they were the antithesis of everything I was supposed to have. I wonder now what adults of other kids must have thought of my insatiable sweet tooth. I was like an addict. Never one for restraint, I would eat them until I was cut off, they were gone, or I had a belly ache.
Eventually, vanity and sanity kicked in. As I got older, my tastes matured and Blow Pops and Swedish Fish no longer seemed like reasonable snacks. Even my beloved 7-layer bars lost their luster. All that sticky sweetness was suddenly too much. I kind of forgot about them until last week when I was going through my recipe box trying to figure out what to bake for an office pot luck. “Man, I used to love these,” I thought, looking at the recipe card written in my 17-year-old handwriting. In need of something quick and easy to bake, I decided to resurrect an old favorite.
In deference to my adult self, I made a few key changes to the recipe. Rather than going with the typical milk chocolate morsels, I used Guittard extra-dark chocolate. With so much other sweet stuff in the bars, these deep, dark chips add a bit of contrast. I also sought to counter the sweetness by using smoked almonds rather than plain ones. I’m a sucker for smoked anything, and I think the almonds work wonders here. The result is a bar that’s true to my childhood favorite but suited to my adult tastes. I’ve fallen in love all over again.
Sweet and salty 7-layer bars
1 stick melted butter
1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup Guittard extra dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped smoked almonds
1/2 cup butterscotch morsels
1/2 cup flaked coconut
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine melted butter and graham cracker crumbs and press into the bottom of a 13×9-inch pan. Drizzle sweetened condensed milk over the top, then add chocolate chips, almonds, butterscotch and coconut and press into pan. Bake for 25 minutes and let cool completely before cutting. Makes 16 bars.