These bar cookies are everything! They are loaded with texture, flavor and just enough salt to make them addictive. They are packed full of pecans, toffee bits, chopped white chocolate and dried coconut but the sprinkling of bourbon is what really takes them over the edge.
The flavors come together and deepen with the bourbon accenting and accentuating the buttery vanilla and caramel notes. This is a brownie for people who don't like chocolate and that is how I came to make it.
My friend, David, was coming to dinner and I wanted to make a homemade sweet to go with his favorite store-bought dulce de leche ice cream. Ordinarily, brownies of some sort might come to mind, but David is not a fan of chocolate so I thought about a blonde brownie filled with coconut -- his favorite sweet ingredient, and pecans.
I added the Heath toffee bits because I have had great success with them. They melt into the batter as it bakes, leaving behind a more complex sweet caramel flavor that elevates a simple butter, flour and sugar cookie. Finally, I chopped up a bar of good white chocolate to add more texture and another flavor to the bar.
The beauty of these bars is that you can add a different nut -- toasted hazelnuts or walnuts would be great, and different chocolate -- a combination of chocolates or even butterscotch morsels would work well.
I like to chop a high-quality chocolate bar into pieces instead of using morsels because the flavor melds into the bar seamlessly where the morsels are sometimes too much -- too sweet and too large which upsets the ratio of batter to add-ins.
The only add-ins that I wouldn't change would be the toffee bits and the sweetened shredded coconut. The coconut makes the texture of the bar cookie so much moister and chewier while adding to the complex flavor. And, don't omit the bourbon. That addition makes all the difference in the world. In the same way that a splash of bourbon or wine enhances savory foods, these bar cookies are so much better for the bourbon.
• Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."