The days after returning from a week long vacation are difficult to say the least. Especially when that week vacation took place in a gorgeous semi-wilderness region of Canada. After 7+ days of seeing nothing but nature (except for the occasional boat passing through), it’s hard to come back to a concrete jungle like New York City. I know I should be considering myself lucky to have gone on a perfectly relaxing getaway to the middle of nowhere, and I promise I do, but it’s only natural to feel those back-to-reality-blues.
Our little slice of heaven is situated in the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron, a mere hop, skip, flight, drive, boat ride and a jump away from the hustle and bustle of The Big Apple. Growing up, it was a long 18 hour drive from St. Louis, plus the boat ride. I actually think I prefer that method over dealing with airports and that whole mess, but no matter how you get there though, it’s 100% worth it.
The Georgian Bay is truly nothing short of epic. After a quarter decade of making the trek to our 1-acre island (known as Rickey Island) every summer, the beauty of it still takes my breath away. Our days are spent on the water paddle boarding, boating and fishing (if you’re into that, which I’m not), and on land reading, sunning, cooking and napping. Vacations to Rickey Island are pretty much glamping, with open-air cabins for sleeping and a small generator to give the outdated kitchen some modern conveniences like running water and a fridge. Typically, when my family and cousins galore share their summer on Rickey Island, dinner is a big production. But this year, Matt and I ended up on the island with just my parents, making the vibe extra relaxed and meal-time much easier.
There are a few beloved foods that come to mind when I think about Canada. For instance, I don’t think a single year has passed without homemade pizzas one night, and Alfredo pasta is always on the menu at least once. But the #1 for me is the inevitable tray of decadent, chewy Hello Dolly Bars. Whether or not you call them Hello Dollies, it’s likely you know what I’m talking about; graham cracker crust topped with a super sweet and ultra addictive combination of tender coconut flakes, melty chocolate, rich butterscotch and crunchy pecans. Simply layer the ingredients into the pan, bake, cut into bars and proceed to indulge.
Now, trust me when I say that I don’t eat these bars on the daily. This is definitely a treat for me, one I enjoy in moderation. But being a whole foodie means that even the treats and indulgences should be as wholesome and natural as possible. And that’s why I’ve had to make a few adjustments here. There are two mandatory ingredients in these bars that I can’t bring myself to eat, due to the inclusion of hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats) in their ingredients lists. For the graham cracker crumbs, this was an easy enough fix. Whole Foods makes their own brand of delicious graham crackers without hydrogenated oils, as I’m sure other natural brands do too. All I had to do was take 8 crackers and crush them up into crumbs. On the other hand, a natural version of butterscotch chips is very difficult to find. Not to worry, I decided to just make my own super simple butterscotch sauce to drizzle on to the bars, instead of melted chips. The result was phenomenal. These bars are above and beyond the usual deliciousness.
I’d never made butterscotch before, but I found the process to be surprisingly quick and relatively fool proof. My only tip is to have all ingredients measured and ready to go before starting the cooking process. And so, with the sauce ready to go and the graham crackers crushed, it’s time assemble the Dollies for baking. Once done baking, I allow the pan to cool down before cutting into 16 bars. Now it’s time to dig in. I’m warning you, these bars will disappear fast. My mom even ate one for breakfast!
Hello Dollies are packable and portable, perfect for a bake sale, road trip or camping adventure. Make them just once and they’re sure to be a favorite, requested time and again, just like in my family. Enjoy!
Decadent Hello Dolly Dessert Bars
Serves: 16 Start to Finish: 45 minutes (plus cooling time)
1/2 cup (1 stick) Butter
1 – 1.25 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs (1 packet, 8 full crackers, ground into crumbs)
6-8 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (1+ cup)
1/2 cup Butterscotch Sauce (get my recipe below), or use 1 cup butterscotch chips
1 heaping cup shredded Coconut, gently packed
1 cup chopped raw Pecans
1 can (14-16 ounces) Sweetened Condensed Milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in a 7 x 11″ pan over burner on medium heat. Remove from heat, evenly distribute butter over bottom of pan. Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs over butter and mix. Distribute evenly over bottom of pan (get those corners). Pack lightly with fingers.
Evenly distribute chocolate chips, butterscotch, coconut, pecans and condensed milk (in that order). Bake for 25 minutes, or until edges are turning golden brown. Allow to cool before cutting and serving.
For Butterscotch Sauce
(I used a recipe from Simply Recipes as a guide, get it here)
Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter over medium low heat. When almost completely melted, add 1/2 cup brown sugar. Stir infrequently using a wooden spoon until the thick sand texture turns to more of a liquid (3-5 minutes).
Reduce heat to low, using a whisk, stir in 1/3 cup cream or half-n-half. When fully combined, turn heat to medium or medium-low. Allow to boil for about 10 minutes, whisking from time to time. Remove from heat and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes.
Transfer to glass or stainless steel bowl. Allow to cool for another 10 minutes or so. Stir in 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract and 3/4 teaspoon finely ground sea salt. When completely cooled, store in fridge for up to a month.
Makes about 1/2 cup of sauce.