Simple cookie bars are fun to decorate

By Kathryn McLean

Years ago, I would do a lot of baking for the holidays. Once the calendar page was turned to December, I’d start rolling out sweet treats: gingersnaps, sugar cookies with royal icing, chocolate-dipped fingers, piped meringue rosettes with sprinkles, brownies with crushed candy cane topping, chocolate-coffee slices. And if I found a new recipe I really liked, it became part of the annual regulars. Like dried fruit crostini.

But when my little kids were still quite young, I found I didn’t have as much time for those traditional sweets. Until one year I realized these weren’t going to be the traditional cookies of my children’s memories if I didn’t start making them again. I worried I’d find myself saying “Let’s have those crostini that I make every year” and only my oldest would know what I meant.

Over the past few years I’ve returned to making a variety of treats. And top of the list are the sugar cookies with royal icing and sprinkles. The tradition of rolling, cutting and decorating holiday cookies has evolved for us to be more of a family activity. The kids choose from our growing collection of cutters and we get set up at the table with tinted icings, sprinkles and small candies.

Whether you already have a list of yearly favourites, are looking to add to your recipe cards or want to start out small, this recipe for cookie bars is simple. Even with the help of little kids, it won’t take an entire afternoon with hands-on decorating. It’s a good start. And there’s still some fun in choosing your toppings and sprinkling them over the chocolate layer.

I know this looks like a lot of steps, but read through the recipe and you’ll see it is easy. All the steps are just building the layers.

Any-Way-You-Like Cookie Bars

Cookie Base

¼ cup soft butter

¼ cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup flour

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

2 Tbsp water

Toffee Layer

¼ cup butter

½ cup brown sugar

Chocolate and Toppings

¾ cup chocolate chips

Toppings of your choice (the amount will vary, depending on the topping chosen: you could expect to use ½ cup of chopped nuts or candies, but not of coarse salt)

Suggested toppings: chopped nuts, crushed coffee beans, coarse salt, sprinkles, crushed candy cane, coconut, pretzel pieces, dried fruit, crispy rice cereal, toffee bits, graham cookie crumbs, chopped candy-coated chocolate.


Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8×8” baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving 1” or more overhang for lifting the bars out later.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir together the butter and sugar until creamy; add the vanilla; add the remaining cookie base ingredients and stir until dough begins to stick in clumps. Tip into a lined baking pan and press evenly to fill the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine toffee ingredients in a small pot and melt together over medium low heat. The butter will separate but stir well. Once everything is melted, it will become a thick cohesive mix.

Once the cookie base is baked, pour the hot toffee over top, and tip the pan to evenly coat the whole base. Return to the hot oven and bake for 7 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven to a cooling rack and immediately scatter ¾ cup of chocolate chips evenly over the hot toffee. Leave the chocolate untouched for 5 minutes, then gently spread the now-soft chocolate with a knife, reaching to all the edges. Distribute the toppings over the melted chocolate and leave to set into the chocolate as it cools, at least one hour. Cut into 24 or 36 pieces.

I hope you do try these cookie bars, whether they become part of your tradition or not!

Kathryn McLean is the food writer at Centennial News. She has lived in the area for three years with her family. You can follow her blog at

More Holiday Treat Recipes

Chocolate Crackles by Margot Russell

Love in Little Pieces by Rylan Mascarenhas

Soft Ginger Molasses Cookies by Talia Kish

Kulkuls by Vasukie Asirwatham