It's always a juggling act and I always wonder why an entire meal can't be cooked at 350 degrees. Or, better, why the whole meal can't be served at room temperature. Holidays make me want to redo my kitchen and install a second oven or join the raw-food movement.
While there's no room in my kitchen for another oven, and while I'm not ready to go raw for the holidays, I like to mix it up when it comes to cookies. Not all of my favorite cookies need oven heat. This one, which is among my favorite-faves, gets stirred on the stove (or in a microwave) and sets up in the freezer.
The cookie is a cross between old-fashioned haystacks - remember those corn flakes treats? - and an almost magical, super-crunchy, very chunky chocolate bar with nuts and dried fruit and a magic, store-bought straight-out-of-the-jar ingredient to make it smooth and surprising. More about that in a sec.
I don't like to call any food addictive, but my preferences were repeatedly ignored by friends, some of whom dubbed the cookies "crack cubes"; I prefer to think of them as serially munchable.
There's so much texture and flavor in each cube that one layer can't contain it all. This is a double-decker affair. The lower level's a crust made with melted butter and cookie crumbs. You can use graham cracker crumbs and you'll love the cookies, but here I'm all about speculoos-type cookies: think Biscoff/Lotus. Turn the crumbs and butter around, press them into a pan and stow the crust in the freezer to firm, while you move on to the top deck.
The top layer is the one with the chunks o' crunch and the chew, too. The essential add-ins are corn flakes, which keep their crackle through hot, cold and a couple rounds with a spatula; (oxymoronic) moist dried fruit, which, if it's as plump as it should be, will make the flavor of everything else last longer (it's the slow chewing that keeps it going); and nuts, another flavor extender, toasted or not. Not unexpectedly, you've got wiggle room with the add-ins. I think you should stick with the corn flakes (you could use a crisped-rice cereal, but corn flakes are really better here). But you can play with the fruit and yes, go nuts with the nuts.
The "glue" that holds all these ingredients together is the charm, it's a blend of butter for richness; chocolate for flavor, texture and all-around lovableness; and cookie spread, for, well, sugar and spice and everything nice, including a velvet smoothness that's perfection here.
All you've got to do is melt the butter, chocolate and spread together, stir in the crunchies, spread this lumpy, bumpy, dark and creamy blend over the base (resisting every impulse to just eat it off the spoon) and freeze.
When your oven is crammed with holiday classics and you've still got the cookie swap on your calendar, you'll be happy beyond words to have this recipe. I'll accept your thanks when the holiday rush is behind us.
NO-BAKE HOLIDAY COOKIE CUBES
SERVINGS: 49 1-inch squares
You'll need an 8-by-8-inch baking pan; a metal pan makes it easier to unmold the cookie slab.
MAKE AHEAD: The cookie slab needs to be frozen for 2 hours or refrigerated for 4 hours, until solid, before cutting. The cookie cubes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week or tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months. If you're not serving these immediately, it's best to keep the slab whole and cut it into cubes as needed.
For the crust
• 1 1/4 cups spice cookie or graham cracker crumbs
• 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the topping
• 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
• 1 cup spice cookie spread
• 12 ounces chocolate, preferably semisweet or bittersweet, coarsely chopped (may substitute milk chocolate)
• 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
• 4 cups cornflakes cereal
• 1/2 cup moist, plump raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dried cherries or chopped dried apricots (or a mix of fruits)
• 1/2 cup slivered almonds (toasted or plain), shelled pistachios, chopped walnuts or chopped pecans (or a mix of nuts)
For the crust: Put the crumbs in a medium bowl, pour over the melted butter, and, using a fork or your fingertips, mix until the crumbs are moist and evenly coated. Turn out into the 8-inch square pan, then use your fingertips to press and compact the crumbs into a crust. Freeze the crust while you make the topping.
For the topping: Put the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan (such as a 3-to-4-quart pan), then add the cookie spread; finally, add the chocolate and salt (use the lesser amount if you'll be adding salted nuts) to the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring as the ingredients melt, to form a smooth, glossy mixture. Turn off the heat and stir in the cornflakes, dried fruit and nuts, mixing until all the add-ins are coated with the chocolate mixture.
Remove the crust from the freezer; pour the topping over it and use a spatula to spread the topping across the crust, making sure to get it into the corners. Freeze for 2 hours or refrigerate for 4 hours; you want it to be solid.
To unmold, either warm the bottom and sides of the pan with hot air from a hair dryer (Dorie Greenspan's preferred method) or dip the pan into hot water, taking care not to let the water splash onto the chocolate.
Place a piece of parchment or wax paper over a rack or cutting board, and have another cutting board at hand. Run a round-edged table knife around the sides of the pan, and turn the pan over onto the paper. If the cookie slab doesn't drop out of the pan, apply more heat. Once the slab is unmolded, carefully flip it over onto the other cutting board so the crust side is down.
It's easiest to cut the slab into cubes using a long chef's knife or a serrated slicing knife and a sawing motion. Cut cookie cubes that are roughly 1 inch square by slicing the slab into 7 rows and then cutting each row crosswise into 7 cookies. Store the cubes in the refrigerator or freezer, and allow them to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.
Nutrition: Per square: 120 calories, 1 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 50 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar