Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Chip-Cherry (or Cranberry) Bars

Advocate-tested recipe

Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Chip-Cherry (or Cranberry) Bars

Makes 2 dozen 21⁄8-inch squares. Recipe is from “Simply Sensational Cookies: Bright Fresh Flavors, Natural Colors & Easy Streamlined Techniques” (Wiley, $29.99, hardcover) by Nancy Baggett. The author describes the bars as “a variation on Hello Dollies, aka Six-Layer Bars” with dried cherries or cranberries replacing the coconut often used in the original, that are perfect for bake sales, potlucks or holiday gifts.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

13/4 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 (6-oz.) pkg. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate morsels

1 cup (41/2 ozs.) chopped pecans or walnuts

1 cup (41/2 ozs.) dried cherries (or substitute sweetened dried cranberries)

1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

1 large egg, at room temperature

21/2 tsps. vanilla extract and/or 1/2 tsp. almond extract

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or coat with nonstick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the butter and graham cracker crumbs until blended. Spread the mixture evenly in the baking pan; press down firmly to form a crust.

3. Sprinkle the chocolate morsels, nuts and dried cherries over the crust. Wipe out the bowl used for the graham cracker mixture, then with a fork, beat together the condensed milk, egg and vanilla in it. Spoon the condensed milk mixture evenly over the top.

4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until tinged brown and just slightly darker at the edges. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool.

5. For easiest cutting, firm up in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes. Then cut crosswise into sixths and lengthwise into fourths (or as desired) using a large sharp knife. Store these, airtight, for up to 1 week. They can be frozen, airtight, for up to 2 months.