Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ms. Frank Bars

(aka Buttery Caramel Crisps)

A number of my family's favorite recipes bear the name of the friend who first introduced us to the dish. We have Suzanne Salad, Clara-style Braised Carrots, and Kathy's Cookies. And now we have Ms. Frank Bars.

These caramel-coconut-almond bars were an instant hit with everyone in our family. There's a hint of cinnamon in the recipe that gives these bars exceptional flavor. They're a little crunchy and a little chewy at the same time. And they're SUPER easy to make.

Like almost every recipe, this recipe has a story. My friend Jen, who is also known as Ms. Frank because she was Dan and Monika's Kindergarten teacher, gave us this Land O'Lakes recipe booklet right before school started. The booklet, which was printed in 1979, had belonged to Jen's grandmother. Jen knows that we sell our milk to Land O'Lakes and are active in the cooperative, so she thought we should have it.

I flipped through the booklet and marveled at how recipe writing and food photography have changed in 30-some years. Recipe sharing has changed, too. Land O'Lakes doesn't publish booklets like this anymore; almost all recipes are shared on their website and blog.

Even the back cover of the booklet made me pause and reflect. Look at how the butter packages have changed since then! And I love that Land O'Lakes used a picture of a farm for a backdrop to the butter. From its very beginning here in Minnesota, Land O'Lakes has a been a farmer-owned cooperative, created to turn milk from family farms like ours into butter and cheese. Land O'Lakes was also the first creamery to make butter from sweet cream (instead of sour cream). Today, Land O'Lakes is still a cooperative owned by family farms and we're still committed to making the best butter.

I scanned the ingredients in the recipes and the recipe for Buttery Caramel Crisps caught my attention. The preparation method reminded me of the Crackle Bars that are so popular at Christmas, but I had never seen a recipe with this combination of flavors. I had all of the ingredients on hand, so I gave them a try.

Some recipes are like one-hit wonders on the radio. You make them once, enjoy them, but they never show up in your kitchen again. NOT this recipe. These thin, simple bars are one of those recipes you stick in your back pocket and pull out whenever you need a quick dessert to share with family or friends. I've already made them so many times that I have the recipe memorized.

My kids have them memorized, too. When I made the last pan of bars, I was sprinkling the marshmallows over the graham crackers as Dan walked into the kitchen. "Are you making Ms. Frank's bars, Mom?" he asked. He knew that the recipe came from the book Ms. Frank gave us, so he gave the bars her name. Honestly, Ms. Frank Bars is a better name for these bars, anyway, because nobody can remember Buttery Caramel Crisps. Glen calls them graham cracker bars.

Whatever you call them, they're delicious. They're so delicious that I haven't tweaked anything in the recipe. (That's saying something!) The only part of the recipe I changed was the number of graham crackers in the first layer. I don't know if graham crackers were smaller in 1979 or if 10x15" pans were bigger, but I couldn't fit 12 whole crackers in a pan, so I just used 9. I also used unsweetened coconut, because that's what I usually use. I'm guessing the original recipe used sweetened coconut.

The only hard parts of this recipe are waiting for the bars to cool after they're done and then keeping them around long enough to share with friends.

Here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Ms. Frank Bars
(aka Buttery Caramel Crisps)

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Bake Time: 12 minutes
Yield: One 10x15" pan of bars


9 - 12 whole graham crackers (one sleeve)*
2 cups miniature marshmallows
¾ cup LAND O LAKES butter (1½ sticks)
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flaked or shredded, unsweetened coconut (sweetened would work, too)
1 cup sliced almonds


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Arrange graham crackers in single layer in ungreased 10x15" jelly-roll pan, breaking crackers as needed to fit. Sprinkle marshmallows evenly over crackers.

Cut butter into chunks. Combine butter and brown sugar in a small (2 or 3 quart) saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Once butter starts to melt, add cinnamon and vanilla to saucepan. Continue stirring until butter is completely melted, sugar is dissolved, and mixture resembles caramel sauce. Don't boil.

Very slowly, drizzle caramel sauce evenly over crackers and marshmallows. Sprinkle coconut, then almonds, over sauce.

Bake on center rack of oven at 350°F for 12 minutes, rotating pan after 8 minutes. Bars are done when marshmallows and coconut are lightly browned.

Cool completely before cutting into bars.

*UPDATE: I made a double batch of these bars in my big baking sheet (15x21") and it took closer to 24 graham crackers to cover the bottom of the pan. Which leads me to believe that my 10x15 pan might just be smaller than it should be. So, I updated the number of crackers to include a range. (Also, the double batch worked perfectly. The only change I made was increasing the baking time since it took longer for the entire pan to be nicely browned.)

Recipe from Land O Lakes Cookie Lover's Cookbook © 1979 Land O'Lakes, Inc.

I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner. I did not receive compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. All opinions are my own.

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