Hello from my first week back to blogging life after seven weeks of filming and three months of maternity leave! Season 4 is officially in the bag (and scheduled to premiere on September 8th!), and after a one-day trip to New York earlier this week to make turkey on the Today Show, I am home and ready to figure out this whole test-noodle-kugel-recipes-while-Bernie-is-singing-Baby-Beluga-with-Grandma-in-the-living-room thing. It’s gonna be great! I’m gonna squish her cheeks anytime I want!
The Season 4 shoot was so much fun. It really was like summer camp: we had movie night under the stars, a wiener-fueled bonfire, bourekas in a wheat field, and a dance party with backstreet boys and a disco ball and everything. On the weekends we sat on the beach and invented new uses for the word gourmet. (“Are you wearing a Juicy velour robe? That is so gourmet!” “Did you just get very extravagant nail art? How gourmet!” Basically: fancy but not trendy, and nothing at all to do with food.) On the last day, I got Iced and that was that. I miss the crew so much already.
One of my faaaaavorite recipes from this season were the Halva magic bars that I made for an episode that’s an ode to Midwestern potlucks. Every potluck around here has to have a bar- a brownie, blondie, lemon square, cookie bar, etc. I grew up calling these desserts by their specific names but here they’re all just lumped into one big geometrically pleasing category that is the centerpiece for my go-to sample of a Midwest accent (“Are you going to bring the bars, Marge?” where the “ar” sounds a little pirate-y… aim for the back of your mouth and you’ll see what I mean.)
Magic bars, or 7-layer bars (tomato/tomahto), are one of the top three bars of all time. They are dangerously delicious and they’re magic because you make them by just piling everything into a pan. You don’t have to mix anything in a bowl or soften butter or commit any real effort, they’re so easy and the return is so great that it honestly feels like you’re cheating the world.
The classic magic bar has butter, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, pecans, sweetened condensed milk and shredded coconut, but in a painfully predictable move, I’ve subbed out the butterscotch for crumbled halva and the pecans for pistachios. And of course the condensed milk was just begging for some rosewater (it gets topped with coconut, can you blame me?!). Listen, one day I’ll make something that doesn’t feature the holy combination of coconut + rosewater + pistachio + halvah but, like, today’s not that day. And neither is tomorrow.
The result is a bar that’s just as chewy and gooey and amazing as the original, but with a little more color: nuttiness and flakiness from the halvah, greenery and saltiness from the pistachios, floral notes from the rosewater, and pretty pops of pink from the optional rose petals on top. It’s a Midwestern/Middle Eastern mashup that was bound to happen at some point because all of these flavors work so darn well together. Proceed with caution because you will want to eat the whole batch immediately. Luckily storing them in the fridge makes them even better because it makes them chewier, so hide them in the back behind the carrots and just eat a carrot every time you go in for a bar. They’ll cancel each other out.
Halva Magic Bars
1/2 c (113g) unsalted butter
9 graham cracker rectangles (1 package)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 c (175g) chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips
1 1/2 c (226g) crumbled halva
1 c (120g) roasted pistachios
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk or sweetened condensed coconut milk
1 tsp rosewater
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 c (160g) sweetened shredded coconut
2 tb dried rose petals, optional
Preheat oven to 350ºf. Grease a 9 x 13 pan and line the bottom with parchment. Add the butter and stick it in the oven for a few minutes so the butter melts. Meanwhile, crush the graham crackers by putting them in a large ziploc bag and smashing with a rolling pin or blending in a food processor. When the butter’s melted, swirl it around the bottom of the pan and scatter the graham cracker crumbs evenly all over (you’re not actually making a full on graham cracker crust, don’t worry about packing it down or anything). Sprinkle with salt, then sprinkle the chocolate chips, halva, and pistachios all over. Pour a little of the condensed milk on top and then add the rosewater and vanilla to the remaining condensed milk and mix it in. Pour it evenly all over the pan. Sprinkle the coconut on top and rose petals, if using. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool fully (ideally overnight or for a few hours in the fridge) before cutting into bars. Enjoy!
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a good few days.
photos by chantell and brett quernemoen