In most circles, Congo squares or Congo bar-cookies are made by spreading a batch of Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookie batter into a square or rectangular pan, then cutting the big cookie into smaller, cookie-sized squares or bars after baking. They shouldn't be confused with layered or 'magic' cookie bars -- the kind with a graham cracker crust and held together with condensed milk. The Congo square is a WWII era pan-cookie marketed like this back in 1942:
< As per the Milwaukee Sentinel Newspaper on February 22, 1942. After an exhaustive search, this is the only reference I can find for the Congo Square, so I am officially crediting Nestlé with the invention.
What does the Congo, a tropical African rainforest jungle, have to do with a chocolate chip pan-cookie?
That's exactly what I wanted to know. As a savvy cook, baker and movie watcher, when I think of ingredients I might use to make a Congo-themed dessert, chocolate does not immediately come to mind. My thoughts turn toward dried fruits or candied fruits associated with hot, humid, tropical regions -- bananas, coconuts, dates, mangos, papayas and pineapple. I think of crunchy tropical grown nuts too -- macadamias, peanuts and pecans. After all, in the 1932 movie Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan and Jane were swinging through the rainforest stopping to peel and eat bananas and crack a few coconuts along the way. And, in the 1933 movie King Kong, on the fictitious but tropical Skull Island, the restless natives were feasting on more of the same.
I never saw Tarzan or King Kong take one bite of chocolate!
Deep into the pages of Google and just as I was about to give up my Congo-bar-chocolate-chip-bar-cookie-research, I came across a link regarding the relationship chocolate has to our United States military. It had picked up on my search word "tropical" and I found the read fascinating.
Military chocolate has been a part of the standard United States ration since the original D Ration bar of 1937. Chocolate rations served two purposes: a morale booster and a high-energy, pocket-sized emergency ration. When provided as a morale boost or care package, military chocolate was no different than normal store-bought chocolate bars in taste and composition -- it was a treat. When provided as an emergency field ration, it was formulated to be very bitter so the troops were not tempted to eat it unless they absolutely needed it.
The end result was an extremely hard block of dark brown bitter chocolate that would crumble with some effort and was heat-resistant to 120ºF. Three bars sealed in a parchment packet made up a daily ration of 1,800 calories -- every soldier's minimum daily sustenance requirement. In June of 1937, Logan Bars were field tested at bases in the Philippines and Panama, and some even found their way into the supply packages of Admiral Byrd's third Antarctic expedition. While they did not get rave reviews from anyone, they served their purpose perfectly.
By the end of World War II, Hershey was producing 24 million bars a week and between 1940 and 1945 Hershey's estimates over 3 billion Tropical Bars were sold, and, they went on to see action in Korea and Vietnam and went aboard Apollo 15 in 1971 too. In the late 1980's a new high-temperature, better-tasting bar that could withstand temperatures to 140ºF was created. It was dubbed the Congo Desert Bar and was shipped to troops in the southwest Asia theater, but, the bars were never put into full production and no more were made when supplies ran out.
Putting two & two together in the hopes of tying this all together.
I'm guessing that the creatively-named "Congo Square" pan-cookie recipe was a marketing idea on the part of Nestlé, aimed at getting the American housewife to choose their chocolate chips over Hershey's, which was the American military's choice for their "Tropical Bar". Mass-marketing and advertising was in its infancy at the time, but I'm sure that more than one soldier remarked that his mom's Congo squares tasted a whole lot better than Hershey's Tropical bars!
As for my recipe, I load my Congo bars with Congo flavors that Tarzan and King Kong would love: candied papaya, mango and ginger, chewy coconut, crunchy macadamias and Nestlé's own milk-, semi-sweet- and white- chocolate chips. Feel free to create your own Congo combo!
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups lightly-packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup each, small-diced, candied: ginger, mango and papaya + 1/2 cup flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups chopped, salted, dry-roasted macadamias
1/2 each: milk-, semi-sweet- and white- chocolate chips
~Step 1. To insure that all the ingredients get uniformly mixed together, do the following: In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and sea salt Set aside. Prep the candied fruits as directed and stir them together in a medium bowl with the coconut. Set aside. Chop the macadamias and set aside. Stir the milk-, semi-sweet- and white chocolate- chips together.
~ Step 2. Prepare the cake pan. Cut a piece of parchment paper to the fit the bottom of a 10" x 10" square baking pan w/a removable bottom. Insert bottom of pan into pan and spray the bottom of the pan with no-stick cooking spray.
Insert the parchment and spray top of the parchment and inside of pan with cooking spray too.
~Step 3. In a large bowl, melt butter in microwave and cool 2-3 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla extract followed by the brown sugar and continue to whisk until the brown sugar is completely dissolved. One-at-a-time, vigorously whisk in each egg. Add the flour mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture to thoroughly combine.
~ Step 5. Transfer batter into prepared pan and use spatula to spread and press it evenly across bottom and into sides. Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven 16-18 minutes until puffed up, light golden on top and a cake tester inserted in several spots comes out clean. Place pan on wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove sides of the pan by pushing up on the bottom. Return pan-cookie to rack to cool completely 1-1 1/2 hours.
Congo bar batter going into 350º oven to bake 16-18 minutes:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; large rubber spatula; 10" x 10" x 3" square baking pan w/removable bottom; parchment paper; wire cooling rack
Cook's Note: For an over-the-top all chocolate bar cookie experience, right down to the chocolate graham cracker crust, check out my recipe for ~ Chocolate-Glazed Chocolate-Raspberry Tart Bars ~ in Categories 6, 7, or 21.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)