Within minutes of cracking my eyes open and my feet hitting the chilly carpet, the morning sunshine was overshadowed by gloomy sadness—it’s the same tinge of grief that creeps in every September 18, the anniversary of my best friend’s unspeakable death.
Since 22 years of heartbreak can’t be mended with a bottle of Patrón and Duct tape, the next best thing for me is baking. So after I got off the phone with Darya’s dad, Darryl, I wiped my tears with a lotion-y Kleenex and cranked the oven to 350°.
I recalled a story her mom, Carmen, told me recently. One time, Carmen put a pan of 7-layer bars in the oven and had to leave the house so she asked Darya to turn the oven off when the timer was done. Well, Darya did just that. She turned the oven off but she didn’t take the bars out of the oven. The bars continued to bake and caramelize and as Carmen puts it, “…best bars we ever had and we can’t seem to duplicate that.”
In sweet memory of my friend, I tried to recreate what she had done so many years ago. I changed up the recipe a little because I thought adding caramel, milk chocolate toffee bits, and salty pretzel crumbs could only make the bars better. I was right.
Just remember to turn the oven off and let them sit in there for a while.
What makes these eight-and-a-half layer bars? I swapped (pretzels for nuts) and added a few ingredients (caramel and toffee bits) from traditional 7-layer bars and, because I’m not a raging fan of coconut, I only use half the coconut most recipes call for. A sprinkling really.
With sweet memories of my BFF,
Eight-and-a-half layer bars
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 3/4 cup pretzel crumbs
- 11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) butter, melted
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
- 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup milk chocolate toffee bits
- 1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping (such as Mrs. Richardson's butterscotch caramel)
- 1/2 cup (or your desired amount) shredded coconut
- 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.
Stir together cracker and pretzel crumbs with melted butter. (I use a blender to make the crumbs and then add the butter.) Dump and firmly press the crumb mix into pan. Evenly scatter butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, and toffee bits onto crust.
Drizzle on about 1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping. Sprinkle with coconut, reserving a tablespoon or two. Pour condensed milk over coconut. Sprinkle with last bit of coconut.
Bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn off oven. Leave bars in oven for about 15 minutes before transferring pan to a cooling rack. Cool completely before cutting into bars. Store in airtight container.