A question of utmost importance came up recently, nagging and nagging for an answer. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Somebody must know the solution! If not in real life, then out there on the internet, somewhere, this must have been addressed before:
What is the difference between a Congo Bar and a Blondie?
Growing up, my mom wrote her recipes on index cards, only slightly-organized in little plastic and metal treasure boxes. They were loosely sorted by course (Main Dish, Dessert, Breakfast…), but after that, you never knew what you would find. In fact, sometimes, it could take several hours to find exactly what you were looking for if–goodness, no!–it ended up being returned to the wrong category after its last use. This wasn’t the best method, but it’s what she had, and it worked for her for many years.
One treasured recipe in those boxes was for Congo Bars. In fact, it was so treasured, she had it down twice, with only a minor variation in measurement for brown sugar between them. Before I moved out, I copied down my favorites, including both of these, as I could not see a life without Mom’s Congo Bars.
Fast forward many years later, past the widespread acceptance of the internet and newfangled ways to organize recipes, past the several years I didn’t bake while I was losing weight and trying to keep it off, past the days I worked in an office and didn’t bake much, to today. Where I now spend my days pondering which recipe to make next. Where I see infinite varieties, producing infinite varieties, of just about anything imaginable. And where I was introduced to the Blondie.
Blondies were never part of the repertoire as a child. I never even heard that term until a couple years ago when I came across them for the first time on Smitten Kitchen. And ever since then, they’ve been a bit of a nemesis for me. I never seem to be able to get them baked the way I want–you know, not completely underdone in the middle or so overdone that they could be used as hockey pucks. Why are they so elusive to me?
Recently I had a revelation though: aren’t my Mom’s Congo Bars basically just Blondies by another name? Could it be, just maybe, that like the sub, hoagie, grinder, this is just a difference of regional dialect?
I asked on Twitter and received in response that Congo Bars have coconut.
My Mom’s Congo Bars don’t.
Neither of the recipes.
Was my Mom passing off a Blondie all these years as a Congo Bar instead? Did she make her own variation to the recipe decades ago and rather than re-naming it to the acceptable colloquialism for the masses, she stuck by the original name?
I don’t know. But I do know that her Congo Bars taste darn fantastic AND I never mess them up like I do with Blondies.
So who cares what they’re called anyway? As long as they taste good, that’s all that matters.
Congo Bars...that may be Blondies
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter
- 2 1/4 cups light brown sugar lightly packed
- 3 large eggs
- 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup walnut pieces
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and line a 9x13 baking dish with parchment paper, then set aside.
- In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the butter. Let it cool slightly, then stir in the brown sugar.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating fully.
- Add the dry ingredients, vanilla extract, chocolate chips, and nuts, stirring until there are no dry spots left.
- Spread in the prepared 9x13 baking dish.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Cool completely before removing from the pan and cutting.
This post is participating in Alli ‘N Son’s Sweet Tooth Friday! Check it out and see what other sweets are on the table today.
Dorothy @ Crazy for Crust
Delicious! Whatever they end up being…they look fabulous and I’m sure they taste even better. 🙂
Sasha @ The Procrastobaker
This was a lovely post! Your mum was ahead of the times it seems 🙂 these do indeed look and sound absolutely perfect, and family recipes are allwaaysss the best, so this is definitely tempting me indeed! 🙂
Carrie @ Crafty Moms Share
Ok, these websites seem to have an idea about the debate…don’t know how much truth there is in it.
Hope that helps. From my quick research it could go both ways.
The Poet Herself
Thanks, Carrie! We came to the conclusion on Facebook that all Congo Bars are Blondies, but not all Blondies are Congo Bars… sorta like all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. 😉 Whatever they’re called, they’re still pretty tasty!
I have had this recipe for 40 years and I have always called the Congo Bars. And aren’t they good! No coconut…
The Poet Herself
There you have it! She’s not the only one who had this recipe!
Madison Chloe Marie
I’ve had blondies at Ruby Tuesday’s, but I’ve never had a congo bar before, they sound so intriguing especially when I’m feeling like indulging into something sweet and fabulous.
Congo bars – what a name,sounds very delicious.Thanks for sharing. Nice photos too.
Kate @ Food Babbles
Yum! Yum! Yum!! I need these right now!
Mike @ How To Make A Smoothie At Home
Great recipe!! Can’t wait to make it for my family!!
Allison @ Alli n Son
I agree, as long as they taste good, who cares what they are called.
Thanks for stopping by Sweet Tooth Friday!
I have my Grandma’s recipe for Congo Bars which is about 80 years old. It’s almost the same as your mom’s. 3 cups of flour and three tsp of baking powder and a whole bag of chips are about the only differences. Can’t beat em!
My Grandma used to make them and called them Congo Chewies. I’m trying to find out how they got the name Congo.
Carrie @ poet in the pantry
I wish I had the answer! It still mystifies me!
Thank you for Congo bar recipe. My granddaughter is getting two batches..her favorite. She is in Hilo Hawaii.
Carrie @ poet in the pantry
I’m so glad you like it! 🙂 Enjoy!
1. Blondies are butterscotch bar cookies (butterscotch ‘brownies,’ as some call them. Chocolate chips are sometimes added.
2. The 5 (or 7) Layer Bar/Magic Cookie Bar/Hello Dolly Bar is a cookie bar containing at least: butter, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, coconut and sweetened condensed milk. The 7-layer version (assuming the butter and crumbs are separate layers, and not a single crust) also usually contains butterscotch-flavored chips and chopped nuts.
3. The Congo Bar was a chocolate bar that could withstand temperatures of up to 140° Celsius. It was developed in the late 1980s for the U.S. military specifically as part of the survival gear for soldiers serving in the first war in Iraq. It’s production didn’t last beyond that, even though it apparently tasted quite a bit better than earlier military chocolate.
4. That said, there is a bar cookie that some people call a Congo Bar that appears to be a chocolate chip cookie with coconut mixed in, baked in bar form. I’ve also seen Magic-5-7-Layer-Hello-Dolly-Cookie Bars referred to as Congo Bars.
Except for the military chocolate, it seems that it’s four slightly different combinations of roughly the same ingredients, prepared in slightly different ways and probably with different regional names.
Anyway, the bars/cookies in your pics look great!
Sorry. I meant to put, “Its production,” in the third section…
This is the EXACT recipe I copied from my mom’s… you guessed it… index card for Congo Bars!
She was married in the 1950s. We ate these growing up. Never knew the origin of the recipe. Never had coconut in them. Never called them Blondies. Sometimes they had chopped pecans; other times chopped walnuts.
Oh, and of course, we never melted the butter in the microwave because… this was before there was one in every kitchen! 🙂
Thanks for sharing.
Carrie @ poet in the pantry
It must have come from a common recipe source. Betty Crocker? I love that so many grew up with moms who made them!
I found it! Nestle.
I was just asking myself, what the heck happened to congo bars and what the heck is the differnence between a congo bar and a blondie. And there you were asking the same question! Yes, I grew up on congo bars, too, and they never had coconut. Lost track of the recipe, though. so very happy you have provided. Cam’t wait to try them!
Bonnie Shelby Martin
In the 1950s my mother made Congo Squares a lot from a recipe she obtained from one of those collection of recipe books sold to make money for specific organizations—this was from The Navy Wives Club of Oceana, Virginia. Very similar to your Congo Bars, but with pecans.
In the book, Damon Lee Fowler’s New Southern Baking, he has the recipe for Congo Squares. He states there are many folk explanations for the name, with the most plausible that it was named after the Congo Square in New Orleans that is located in Louie Armstrong Park.
i have the exact recipe from my grandma. only difference is an extra egg in yours. will give it a try. a post i read stated the name comes from the congo room in a california club. could be!! amazing recipe.