When I was six I had a red-headed teenage babysitter named Colleen. She was very strict….mean, even. But Colleen liked to bake and for that, I think fondly of her.
Whether Colleen would bake me a treat was dependent upon my behavior. I don’t quite remember what was expected behavior-wise since I was an obedient, approval-seeking child, but I got the treats so I guess it all worked out.
Colleen was the middle child of 3 sisters – the youngest was too young to baby-sit and the oldest was the nicest, but never available. I like to think of them as grown up ladies cooking together on holidays. I imagine everyone in that family cooked because Colleen, as young as she was, did what equated to alchemy with my mom’s paltry stash of basics. One time Colleen made a round pan cookie which I now believe was shortbread. She called it a flop, but I didn’t think so. Another time she made something with oatmeal. Every once in a while, I recall its taste, but I never bothered to go looking for the recipe. Then last night, there it was in my Maida Heatter cookbook. Maida called the bars Aspen Oatmeal Bars. They made me think of Colleen. I’m sure the recipe was derived from the same place….probably some sort of flapjack.
Using Maida’s recipe, I made the bars as written below. I don’t know why Maida called them “Aspen” unless it has something to do with being rich. They are very buttery.
Crispy Oatmeal Bars (adapted from Aspen Oatmeal Bars)
1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder (makes sure it’s not lumpy)
2 cups old fashioned or quick cooking oatmeal – not instant
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8 inch square metal pan.
In a heavy saucepan, heat the butter over medium until it melts just enough to coat the pan-bottom. Add the brown sugar and melt together, stirring once or twice, until butter is fully melted and sugar is shiny. Remove from heat and stir in salt and baking powder – make sure the baking powder doesn’t lump (Maida sifts it in, I just stirred it well). Add the oats and stir to make a thick mixture, then dump the mixture into the buttered pan and spread it to the edges
Bake for exactly 25 minutes. You will probably smell burning, but this is the butter and sugar touching the sides of the pan. Remove from oven. It will look like a big, soft, gunky mess. Loosen the soft, gunky mess with a knife and let it cool on rack for about 30 minutes. It will firm up. When firm but still warm, pry out of the pan and place on a cutting board. Score into bars (trim edges if you want), but don’t peel apart because they are still delicate at this point. Let the bars cool. They will crisp as they cool. Makes about 12