Recipe: British toffee bars

The ingredients (minus the butter); the special one for me is Lyle's Golden Syrup.
The ingredients (minus the butter); the special one for me is Lyle’s Golden Syrup.

One of my favorite childhood sweet recipes was (and still is) Scotch toffee bars, passed down from my maternal grandmother (and possibly from even before her) through my mom and her brother. A sweet, sticky, chewy mess of oats, butter, and caramelized brown sugar and dark corn syrup forms the base, and they’re topped with a generous layer of chocolate. They’re incredibly simple to make, too; the hardest part is waiting for the whole pan to cool so you can eat them!

The oat mixture is ready to bake, just as soon as I finish chopping chocolate for the topping.
The oat mixture is ready to bake, just as soon as I finish chopping chocolate for the topping.

Since I’m in a new country, I’d like to try making some native cuisine. Unfortunately, many of the fun traditional foods (sticky toffee pudding, toad in the hole, spotted dick, etc.) contain wheat, and I haven’t quite figured out my baking situation yet, as my not-terribly good muffins will attest. Fortunately, the UK has a host of unusual ingredients on its grocery store shelves just begging to be tried. Lyle’s Golden Syrup is tamer than Marmite, perhaps, but no less British; it’s the key ingredient in such desserts as ANZAC biscuits and the treacle tarts that Harry Potter enjoys at Hogwarts. I thought I should give my family’s traditional recipe a real UK twist by making them with golden syrup instead of corn syrup and calling them “English toffee bars,” but then I did some research and found out that the company’s founders, Abram Lyle & Sons, were Scottish (though their company was originally based in England)! So, in a sense, these are more authentically “Scotch” than my family’s version. I’m calling them British as a compromise.

Lightly browned, baked oat mixture. (I can tell I didn't use enough syrup/sugar because there isn't obvious toffee forming :()
Lightly browned, baked oat mixture. (I can tell I didn’t use enough syrup/sugar because there isn’t obvious toffee forming :()

I should also note that these bear a strong resemblance to the UK “flapjack,” which is a sort of cereal bar/bar cookie hybrid with a tougher texture than my bars, and generally not with a chocolate topping. In fact, I suspect (though this may be a a bit romanticized) that my family’s recipe was originally just a flapjack recipe, but the golden syrup was swapped for corn syrup at some point due to the family moving from England and Scotland to the fields of Nebraska, and the chocolate was probably added at some point after chocolate chips were invented in 1937 (I’m guessing this because chocolate was becoming cheaper and more widespread at about this time).

Waiting for the chocolate bits to melt (you can see them starting to melt around the edges).
Waiting for the chocolate bits to melt (you can see them starting to melt around the edges).

Regardless of nomenclature and history, these taste just as awesome as the version I’m used to making at home, if not actually better. Golden syrup has a thicker consistency and richer flavor than corn syrup, which gave these their own unique, butterscotch-like taste. They didn’t stick together quite as well as my usual version, but I’m not sure if that’s due to the use of oatmeal instead of my usual rolled oats (more surface area to cover), the substitution of golden syrup for corn syrup or demerara sugar for brown sugar, or because I made a slightly-more-than-single recipe in order to get nice thick bars in an oddly-sized pan and may have screwed up the proportions a bit. There are a few tweaks to make in order to nail the consistency, but I think I’ll be making these with golden syrup from now on if I can. If you’re American or otherwise unexposed to the wonders of golden syrup, give this version of the recipe a try! With ingredients like these, I can pretty much guarantee they’ll taste amazing. 🙂

You can spend a bit more time getting the chocolate topping to look pretty; I just spread it around with a butter knife.
You can spend a bit more time getting the chocolate topping to look pretty; I just spread it around with a butter knife.
Almost gone :)
Almost gone 🙂

British/Scotch Toffee Bars

Adapted from: family recipe, kept here.

Yield: about 40 small, rich bars.

1/3 c melted butter
1/2 c brown sugar (I used demerara, but recommend dark brown)
1/4 c golden syrup (or dark corn syrup for the original version)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 c oatmeal or rolled oats
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (or semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped)

Line a 13x9x2-inch pan* with non-stick aluminum foil, or grease it really, really well. Mix all ingredients except the chocolate chips. Spread out in the pan and flatten firmly into a uniform layer.

Bake at 400 degrees F/205 degrees C for about 10 minutes, so that the base is bubbling lightly but but hasn’t browned very much at all. Over-baking will result in very tough bars!

Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips, sprinkled evenly over the top. Let stand about 5 minutes, until chips are melted, then spread uniformly over the surface.

Let stand a couple of hours, or until chocolate topping is completely set (leaving them in the fridge or outside in cold weather is a great help). Either remove from pan using non-stick foil or leave in pan and slice into bars of whatever size is desired.

*My mom and I normally double this for a 9×13 pan. I made a (single x1.25) recipe for a 7×10 pan, which is what was handy at my house in the UK.

Serving suggestion: after a meal, with milk, tea, or coffee, or as tiny pieces of bar stolen out of the pan and munched surreptitiously. 🙂

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