Congo Bars with Coconut
No mixer required to bake these congo bars! Packed with chocolate chips, coconut and pecans, these dessert bars are flavorful and easy to make. It’s the perfect treat to bring to gatherings with friends!
I came across congo bars for the first time in 2016. I found the recipe right after the blondies in my Baking Illustrated cookbook and what caught my eye was the toasted coconut. I’m a sucker for coconut in baked goods (just try my coconut cupcakes). I gave the recipe a whirl and my goodness these little squares are divine! Chewy and moist, each bar is packed with flavor and texture.
Did you know?
While Congo is in Africa, these bars are not of African origin. The recipe originated in the States, perhaps the “Congo Room” in Vegas or “Congo Square” in New Orleans. Regardless, various versions of the recipe can be found in vintage cookbooks.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- No mixer needed! All you need are a couple mixing bowls and a whisk to make the batter. No need to haul out the electric mixer 😉
- Plenty of flavor. Pecans, coconut and two types of chocolate make for delicious cookie bars.
- Versatile recipe. The mix-ins are interchangeable! Try different nuts or various chocolates for a unique cookie bar.
- Big batch for sharing. Whip up these bars and bring them to your next gathering! Trust me, they will disappear quickly.
- Shredded coconut: Use unsweetened coconut to offset the sweetness of the brown sugar. You can typically find this in the baking aisle or natural foods aisle at your local grocery store.
- Brown sugar: For extra chewy cookies with a subtle molasses flavor use light brown sugar. You can also use dark brown if that’s all you have in the pantry!
- Butter: Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Make sure it’s unsalted. Salt is added separately to activate the baking powder.
- Baking powder: To help the dough rise, 1 teaspoon of baking powder is whisked in with the flour. Make sure it is fresh and not expired for best results.
- Vanilla extract: For the best vanilla flavor, use 100% pure vanilla extract.
- Semisweet and dark chocolate chips: Traditionally, congo bars use a mix of both dark and semisweet chocolate. If you only have one variety on hand, then just use those!
- Pecans: Another classic ingredient in congo bars, pecans add a crunch to every bar! Chop them up before measuring and mixing in.
Try different nuts, such as walnuts or almonds! Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts or cashews would also taste delicious.
Add white chocolate chips. For a triple chocolate effect, use 1/2 cup each of three different chocolates (semisweet, dark and white). You can also use butterscotch chips or peanut butter chips.
Mix in some oats. Swap out 1/2 cup flour for 1/2 cup rolled oats. Whisk them in with the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder and salt.
Make a smaller batch. Cut the recipe in half and bake it in an 8×8 pan instead of 13×9. Baking time will be about the same.
Use brown butter. This will add an extra layer of nutty, caramel taste. Brown 3/4 cup butter and while it cools, whisk in 2 Tablespoons water (this makes up for the evaporation that occurs during the browning process).
How to Make Congo Bars with Coconut
- Toast the coconut. Sprinkle shredded coconut on a baking pan and place in the oven at 350 F for 5 to 7 minutes.
- Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- Mix the wet ingredients. Vigorously whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar until light in color, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, and mix until incorporated.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix in the flour mixture just until combined.
- Add the mix-ins: toasted coconut, pecans and chocolate chips. Transfer batter to a parchment-lined 13×9 pan.
- Bake at 350 F for 22 to 25 minutes. Cool before cutting
Weigh your ingredients with a scale for accurate measuring. The ratio of ingredients is crucial to making chewy and soft squares. With so many mix-ins, it’s easy to mis-measure and make dry or crumbly bars.
Use room temperature ingredients. It makes it so much easier to combine! But also, the dough is a better consistency, which results in better textured bars.
Keep a close eye on the coconut when toasting. It doesn’t take long (only 5 to 7 minutes). If left in the oven too long, it will burn.
Don’t over-mix the batter. After the wet ingredients are thoroughly mixed together, you want to mix the remaining ingredients just until combined.
Don’t over-bake. The baking time is relatively on the shorter side and this is to guarantee gooey and chewy congo bars! You know they are done when the top is golden and crinkly.
Make Ahead and Storage Tips
Make ahead: The dough may be made ahead of time and stored covered in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. Bring to room temperature before transferring to baking pan and baking.
Store congo bars in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the refrigerator for a week.
Freeze squares in an airtight container for up to 3 months. For best results, I suggest wrapping the bars in plastic wrap as well to prevent freezer burn.
Either the bars were over-baked or the ingredients were measured incorrectly. Use an oven thermometer and kitchen scale for baking accuracy.
Congo bars have dark chocolate chips and toasted coconut while blondies have a mix of semisweet and white chocolate chips and no coconut. Both dessert bars call for brown sugar and pecans.
Absolutely! Simply omit it from the batter.
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Get the Recipe: Congo Bars with Coconut
- 1 ½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut
- 2 cups (250 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup (170 g or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 ½ cups (300 g) packed light brown sugar
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ¾ cup (115 g) semisweet chocolate chips
- ¾ cup (115 g) dark chocolate chips
- ½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350° F. Toast the shredded coconut on a rimmed baking sheet for 5 to 7 minutes, until light golden. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.
- Line a 13×9-inch pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the melted butter and brown sugar together until light and well-combined, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until incorporated, about 1 minute.
- Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture and stir until just combined. Do not overmix. Gently fold in the semisweet and dark chocolate chip, pecans and toasted coconut until evenly distributed. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.
- Bake until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Remove the bars from the pan using the parchment paper and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 4 vertical rows and 6 horizontal rows to yield 24 bars.