Happy 4th of July week! Let’s celebrate with some s’mores bars!
How do you celebrate the 4th of July holiday? Are you a slow-cooked ribs and barbeque kind of person? A hamburger and hotdog cookout master? A family brunch participant? There are so many ways people celebrate this patriotic holiday, and no matter how or where you celebrate, these s’mores bars should be part of your celebratory meal.
I love dessert bars. They are easier to transport than cakes and cupcakes, easier to serve and portion than pies, and the perfect addition to a lunch potluck or dinner cookout. These s’mores bars are cleaner than the messy bonfire s’mores, but have the same great flavors, just slightly elevated. A graham cracker shortbread crust and fluffy marshmallow meringue topping sandwich a layer of rich, fudgy brownies. One bite delivers the flavors of all of the layers at once.
I love making s’mores themed desserts, but sometimes am wary about whether they will be able to replace the original campfire favorite. For these, I wondered if the ratio was off, if I should have made the graham cracker shortbread crust thicker, or if there was too much meringue. I assembled the final product with my family around (for the double whammy of sharing, and getting opinions). We cut a sliver off of the edge, making sure to include all three parts. I waited for the first bite reactions and opinions. Immediately, everyone went back for another bite and a bigger slice, raving about the bars as we did. Success.
Make these tonight for your 4th of July celebration tomorrow, and maybe leave a sliver for yourself at home ;)
Graham Cracker Shortbread Crust
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
7 graham crackers
6 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
1 egg, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
¾ cup cocoa powder
¾ cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons hot water
1 2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/3 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large egg whites
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cream of tarter
To make the graham cracker shortbread crust:
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and cook, stirring frequently, until it is golden brown and smells nutty. This may take anywhere from 5-10+ minutes, depending on how cold your butter was to start with.
Pour the butter into a heatproof bowl and refrigerate until the butter is solid (about 30 minutes). The butter does not have to solidify until it is hard, just until it feels solid but soft to the touch. You can prep the rest of the ingredients or the brownies while the butter is solidifying.
In a food processor, grind the graham crackers into fine crumbs. Measure out ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons. You will have some graham cracker crumbs left over.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a square baking pan (8×8 or 9×9) with two sheets of parchment paper, one on top of the other in different directions so the entire pan is covered.
Scoop the solidified brown butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream the butter on medium speed for about 15 seconds to make it smooth and break up any pieces of solid butter. Add the sugar and mix on low speed to incorporate. Increase the speed to medium and cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy (about 4 minutes). Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to fully bring the ingredients together.
Add the egg and vanilla and mix on medium speed for about 30 seconds, or until the batter is almost homogenous.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, salt and graham cracker crumbs.
Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix on low speed just until the dough comes together but is still shaggy (about 1 minute). Try not to mix much past the shaggy dough stage. With your hands, bring together the dry ingredients that did not get fully incorporated.
Press the dough into the prepared pan and bake for 10-12 minutes. The edges should be slightly golden.
To make the brownies:
In a large bowl, stir together the cocoa, melted butter, and hot water. Add the sugar, eggs, and vanilla, and mix well. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt until everything is just combined.
Spread the brownie batter evenly on top of the graham cracker shortbread crust. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until just set. A toothpick will not come out clean, but the bars shouldn’t jiggle. Let cool completely before topping with the meringue mixture
To make the marshmallow meringue:
Place the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl. Set it over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Cook, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of a stand mixer and pour in the vanilla and cream of tarter. Beat on medium speed with the whisk attachment until firm. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff and glossy, 8 to 10 minutes.
Spoon the meringue over the top of the cooled brownies and then spread out with a spatula. Create peaks by swirling the spatula and lifting it off the meringue. If you have a kitchen blowtorch, brown the meringue evenly. Otherwise, place the meringue-covered bars under a preheated broiler for about a minute to create a golden brown top (this is what I did). Remove the bars from the pan by lifting the parchment paper. Cut and serve!