Friendship and Coffee Crunch Bars, Both Gluten-Free

A dear friend of mine and her family are going through a tough time right now. One of her young adult daughters has been diagnosed with leukemia. The diagnosis was a total and complete shock to the entire family. She originally dragged her daughter into the doctor’s office for a blood test to see if she is celiac. You see, my friend is celiac and celiac has a genetic component and it runs in families. And her daughter has been complaining about feeling badly for the past few months while she’s been away at school. So, her mom–my friend–figured it must be celiac and got her an appointment for a blood test.

When the doctor called with the results, it wasn’t what the thought it would be. He said, “I’m referring you to an oncologist.” What? What about celiac? The doctor said, “we have bigger things to address right now.” This was on December 23rd. My friend’s daughter started chemotherapy on December 24th. Her second round was on December 25th. Merry Christmas.

As my friend and her family struggled to fully understand and absorb the news and the shock of the news, their community mobilized. Again, Twitter has been a godsend for this. The news went out. This family is a food-loving family, and a people-loving family, and are much beloved in our city. The food people here immediately mobilized. Calls and visits were made. Flowers, dinners, treats, and nice notes were sent. Offers to help poured in. Prayers have been said and good thoughts have been offered. The family was wrapped in a bubble of love.

Now, my friend is usually the one who takes care of everyone (and when I say everyone, I mean everyone). Usually she’s the one helping, baking, offering advice, attending every event, etc. But now she needs to slow down and be taken care of. I told her it was OK for her to get out of the car for awhile and her community would drive. She could just concentrate on her daughter and their family (and her business), and we would help manage the rest of the life-things. Since my friend is herself celiac and can’t eat gluten, I’ve decided that one of my offerings to her is to bake yummy gluten-free treats for her and the family (but mainly for her). One day I stopped by to drop off some research I did for them and she was baking some Coffee Crunch cookie bars for her family. But they contained wheat, so she couldn’t eat them. So, I told her I would bake those same cookies gluten-free for her.

This recipe adapted from a recipe developed by a new friend of mine, Molly Wizenberg (of the fabulous Orangette blog and the wonderful book, A Homemade Life), for her column in Bon Appetit. When I first saw the recipe, I immediately adapted it to gluten-free and made it. Yummy! I now make these cookie bars on a regular basis. They are so good and are extremely addicting. I always try to make them when I have somewhere to bring them or people to give them to, otherwise I would eat all of them by myself. They mix so many good flavors together: coffee, chocolate, brown sugar, almonds. And even though this recipe contains almond extract, often not one of my favorite flavorings, it provides a perfect compliment to the other flavors in the bars.

Coffee Crunch Bars
-adapted from Molly Wizenberg

2 cupsĀ Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 TBL unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder (or for decaf, decaf instant coffee powder)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sliced or chopped almonds (I like to lightly toast them)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
-in a small bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt, set aside
-in bowl of a mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy
-add sugar, continue to beat until fluffy
-add espresso or coffee powder, beat
-add almond extract, beat
-turn mixer down to low, add flour mixture 1 C at a time, mixing after each addition so the dry ingredients are absorbed before the next flour addition
-add chocolate chips and almonds
-at this point, I like to complete the mixing process with my hands until everything is combined
-turn out dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet
-shape dough with your hands into a 12 inch square and pierce all over with a fork at 1 inch intervals

-bake until the edges are lightly browned and look crisp–about 50 minutes
-remove from oven and cool on sheet for 1 minute
-cut into 42 to 48 bars

-move bars to a rack and cool completely
-store in airtight container at room temp for several days

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  1. Linda says

    Thank you so much for the information and recipes. I’m new to gluten free and have baked your banana bread and the angel sugar cookies and love them but I am also having problems with the coffee crunch bars. I have made them three times and all three the dough was too moist to work by hand and the dough spread off the cookie sheet as they baked so I used a baking tray on the third try and chilled the dough before shaping it. They still spread to the edge of the pan and were very oily – had to set them on paper toweling to absorb the oil. The taste of these bars is so darn good so I don’t want to give up but what am I doing wrong?

    • says

      Linda: Yes, these tend to be a bit oily due to the amount of butter. Also, they will spread too much if the butter in the recipe is too soft. The softer the butter=the more they spread. And I agree–they taste so good!!

  2. Michelle says

    Delicious, crisp, buttery shortbread! The espresso powder and brown sugar give it more flavor than ordinary shortbread. Followed the recipe exactly, making sure to add the flour slowly. I used my trusty kitchen ruler and made sure it was 12″ square. Baked it for 50 mins. which was perfect (should have used my full- size cookie sheet because it spread a little over the edge- oops!) Going to take my gluten- eating Gma some to have with coffee at her assisted living because they are that yummy. Another great recipe!
    BTW- I want to thank you for your tip about using an oven thermometer. My oven is only 5 years old, so I thought it should be correct, but the thermometer shows it cooking hot. Had to turn the oven temp down to 305 to make it 325 in the oven. It certainly explains why I have noticed things cooking faster than they should.

    • says

      Michelle! Yay! And yes about the oven thermometer–I think a good portion of baking problems people encounter are actually due to their ovens heating to the wrong temp.

  3. says

    I had a bit of trouble with this recipe. It was soft and sticky – not unusual for gluten free. I spread it out but wasn’t sure how thick the bars should be? They baked in 15 minutes and the dough was quite brown and bubbly. WHen they cooled off we could eat them and they tasted good but were quite crumbly. How firm is the dough before baking? Is it sticky? Maybe I spread it out too thin – 1/4″?

    • admin says

      Caroline: I don’t remember how thick the bars are when you press them into a 1 inch square. Did you press it into a 12 inch square according to the directions? Also, yes–these are crumbly because there is no egg holding them together. They are kind of like shortbread cookies in that regard.

      • says

        Hi. I forgot to mention that they were quite oily when baked and that the cookie sheet was very oily when I removed them – is that the way they are suppose to be? By the way – they all loved them! When you mention shortbread should they be that texture when cooled? I want to try it again and just want to make sure I’m doing it right. So the 50 minute baking time is correct? Because if so, then I’m doing something wrong as mine were baked at 325 and were dark and bubbly in 15-20 minutes.

        • admin says

          Caroline: It sounds like they were pressed out too thin. How big was your square? It should have been 12 inches square.

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