Old Fashioned Toffee Bars and The Advice of Grandmas

The advice of grandmothers:

  • You’ll catch cold if you go out in the rain uncovered.
  • Don’t buy one unless you have the money to buy two.
  • A tiny chunk of raw hamburger in the kitchen sink drain will eat away nasty odors.
  • Scotch, on the rocks, is an appropriate drink in any situation.
  • A steady rotation of regular meals assigned to each weekday keeps meal planning simple.
  • Keep your kids out of scheduled activities as long as you can.
  • And, cut these bars immediately when they come out of the oven – probably with a wet knife.

Grandmothers know their business.

I used to mock bullet point number one – until our family was out in the pool one day and the sky clouded over. It started to drizzle and a chilly breeze gave us all goosebumps. The grandmother present told us all that we should take the kids out – they’d catch cold. Us parents pshawed and waved our hands in dismissal.

“They’ll be fine!” we all said.

Three days later all of us – every one of us – came down with a cold. A nasty one that snatched away our voices and gave us a nagging, hacking cough.

I will never mock this bit of advice again.

I may never change my Northern-girl ways, and I’ll still play in the rain with my kids, but I’ll never mock the idea of catching a cold from it later.

And these bars?

My grandmother’s suggestion.

My dad’s mom knows her stuff.

A lot of stuff.

She raised five children.

My grandfather traveled – sometimes two weeks out of a month.

She knew how to keep a house ticking and get those mouths fed.

She knew a little treat goes a long way.

She knows how to make a simple sweet that pleases everyone.

She’s the one who gave me the recipe for the best caramel corn ever.

She’s the one that passed on her recipe for the world’s best snickerdoodles.

She’s the one who makes the Rice Krispie Treats I try to mimic.

She’s the one who suggested I try these toffee bars because she knew the family would love them.

She advised in her email that included the recipe, “. . . try these before passing the recipe on . . . ”

Grandma’s advice has proven to be good. So I did. I tried them out.

And I made a mistake.

They turned out . . . weird.

Well, they turned out weird looking, but DELICIOUS tasting.

I called Grandma to ask her what I did wrong.

Are you sure there’s no baking soda? No baking powder? No eggs?

Yes. Yes, I’m sure.

What did I do? They look so weird. Kind of bubbly and the chocolate is stuck to the pan, and the butter is dripping out the bottom. . . .

I don’t know, honey. It’s been a while since I’ve made them, but I’m sure the recipe is right.


We hung up and I went back and stared at my pan of weird bars.

And I saw the half cup measure sitting on the counter.

And it dawned on me that I forgot and entire cup of flour.

An entire cup!

The thing is, my family LOVED these, mistake and all.

They pretty much devoured them.

They told me to never ever change them or do them right.

They want them this way.


So this is my accidental adaptation.

I researched the original recipe Grandma gave me to see if it was widely known. I don’t want to be spilling any family secret beans.

This one is out there on the big recipe search engines. And the ones I found were all passed down from grandmothers.

These bars have history.

I love food with history.

It makes it so much more delightful to eat and enjoy when I can picture my grandmother in earlier days, throwing these together in a flash while her sons scurried around the forested yard building forts and digging massive holes in the dirt, and her daughters rode their bikes or practiced piano.

I can picture the bustle of the house and smell these bars baking.

I feel like I’m bringing bits of my father’s childhood into my home, and I like it.

So here is the mistake rendition.

It’ll be a little weird.

The chocolate will seep out the bottom a bit. There will be a pool of melted butter that lingers on the parchment. It will look a little bubbly and not like your typical cookie bar.

But I promise you – they are irresistible.

They disappeared in a matter of hours.

They are rich, buttery, chocolatey goodness, and like Grandma said (and so did the others), you MUST cut these while they are still hot from the oven.


Old Fashioned Toffee Bars

(AKA Mistake Bars)


1 Cup salted butter at room temperature
1 Cup firmly packed, light brown sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla extract
1 Cup sifted, all-purpose flour
1 Cup chocolate chips

1 Cup powdered sugar
2 – 4 Teaspoons water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 15 1/2 inch by 10 1/2 inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper, allowing enough that two opposite sides of the paper hang over the edge (for removing the bars later).

In a large bowl, thoroughly cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add flour, and mix well. Stir in chocolate pieces.

Press mixture into pan as evenly as possible.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until browned.

To make a glaze while bars are baking, mix together powdered sugar and water with a fork or whisk. Start with just 2 teaspoons of water and use just enough to bring the glaze to a brushing consistency.

Immediately upon removing the bars from the oven, brush evenly with the glaze (you will probably have some left over).

While they are still warm, remove the bars from the pan by holding the parchment paper on either side. Transfer them to a cutting board, and cut to desired size.

*Grandma’s advice is that if the bars are sticking to your knife, try wetting it with water before you slice.

Source: Adapted from Grandma M.


14 thoughts on “Old Fashioned Toffee Bars and The Advice of Grandmas

    • Lol! I love Bob Ross. His hair was sort of a happy accident, wasn’t it?? And yes, this was a happy one indeed!

    • Yes, my grandma made this one a lot at Christmas too. She suggests pushing a little green or red candied cherry into the top while they are still warm – for Christmas color! Aww! So happy they were in your family too!

    • Ha! I still make fun of it too, but that time was so true. We actually all made a pact to never admit it to her!! 😉

  1. Twice in one week and twice in one post! You have made my day Ms. Sara!!! My grandmother was an amazing woman, and I love being reminded that even though she is not here with me anymore, she is still very much a part of my world…

    • I love the things your grandmother had to say. She sounds like she was wise and funny and straight-forward. Thanks for letting me share some of her wisdom!

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