(Gluten-Free!) Congo Bars

My big sister is amazing. She can do anything, and does, from trail running marathons to singing, dancing and playing the cello. She also has three jobs, four if you count having a teenaged daughter (though maybe that’s more like 10 jobs..) and is one of the kindest, most caring and comforting people I know.

If there are two things my gluten-intolerant sister likes best, it’s booze and chocolate. I like to make her happy, so I created these gluten-free congo bars full of melty chocolate and a splash of dark rum just for her. (Not for me of course; no, this endeavor was completely selfless.)

Congo bars are blondies with the addition of shredded coconut. I normally don’t care for coconut in this form, but something special happens in these bars – the butter, sugar and coconut form a pleasing ‘gunginess;’ a gooey, chewy, moist, stickiness that makes them extra addictive.

The dark rum adds a mysterious layer of flavor, cutting the sweetness a bit, enhancing the bitterness of the chocolate and the toasty nuts somehow, and elevating the humble blondie to sophisticated new heights.

The fine folks at Cook’s developed a killer recipe that creates a bar cookie neither too thick nor too thin, chewy without being heavy, packed full of vanilla and toffee flavors, laden with toasty nuts and oozing chocolate in every bite. I’ve been making these bars for several years, and have come to tweak almost every ingredient to make these just to my taste – not too sweet or coconutty, packed with chocolate and full of flavor.

Best of all (for my sister), these blondies are unobtrusively gluten-free, though you would never guess that their tender, chewy texture was due to a suave combination of sticky rice and tapioca flours.

These pack well for a picnic or on-the-go snack. Or you could gild the lily by serving them warm with a scoop of ice cream (brown sugar, rum, coffee, vanilla or dulce de leche would all be exquisite). And some rum-flambeed banana slices wouldn’t be amiss, either.

At least, I know my sister wouldn’t object.

More gluten-free goodies:

Chocolate Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake
Hippy Crispy Treats
Meyer Lemon Almond Cake

(Gluten-Free!) Congo Bars

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

If gluten isn’t an issue for you, you can substitute 3/4 cup all purpose, whole wheat, or whole or white spelt flour for the rice and tapioca flours and omit the xanthan gum.Sticky rice flour, sometimes called “sweet” or “glutinous,” is available at most well-stocked grocers. I usually use Mochiko brand, availablehere. Regular rice flour may make for crumbly congo bars that don’t hold together. If that’s all you’ve got, try doubling the xanthan gum.

3/4 cup pecans
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
3 ounces (6 tablespoons, 3/4 stick) butter, melted and warm
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg (2 ounces)
1 tablespoon dark rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) sticky (sweet/glutinous) white rice flour
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet (70% cacao mass) chocolate, coarsely chopped

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Put sling of parchment paper or heavy aluminum foil in an 8×8″ square baking pan, or grease the pan.

Spread the pecans on a small sheet pan and roast in the oven until golden and fragrant, 10 – 12 minutes. Remove and let cool, then break or chop into coarse pieces.

Meanwhile, spread the coconut on another small baking pan and bake for 5 minutes until golden, stirring once or twice. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg. Slowly pour in the melted butter, whisking to combine, and add the rum and vanilla.

In a small bowl, whisk or sift together the flours, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt. Stir the dries into the wets. Stir in the cooled pecans, coconut, and chocolate chunks.

Spread the dough evenly into the parchmented pan. (It will look like not enough, but don’t worry, it will rise in the oven.)

Bake until puffed, shiny and slightly cracked on top, and a toothpick inserted comes out with a few large, wet crumbs clinging (don’t overbake), 15 – 20 minutes. Let cool at least 20 minutes before cutting (longer for cleaner-looking bars). Trim away the outer 1/2″, then cut into 16 bars.

The bars are best the day they are made, but will keep, in an airtight container, for several days.

26 thoughts on “(Gluten-Free!) Congo Bars”

  1. Okay, first of all, YUMMMMMMM!!! I had these for the first time on Sunday and I am definitely addicted. My new favorite! And second, thanks for all the sweet things you say about me, and that you bake for me. I'm so lucky 'cause without you I wouldn't be able to eat any baked goodies aside from the dry, tasteless, ridiculously expensive gluten-free things you can buy in the health food stores. And one more thing, even though I don't like to cook, I DO love to read your blog because you write so well.

    Love, Jessie

  2. wow these look incredible! My daughters are 'anti' coconut, so my question is, what would happen if I omit the coconut?

    Ps. sounds like you're an awesome sister!


    1. My brother does not like coconut either but I once made Magic Cookie Bars & put dessicated coconut in them – my brother loved them – he didn't know there was any coconut in it at all until I told him "you just ate some". He couldn't believe it. So try dessicated coconut (it is shredded really fine so you don't get the same taste). Happy baking!

  3. these look amazing! I'm vegan, and can easily sub the butter with a non-dairy butter, and since there's only 1 egg I can probably use an egg replacer without much change. I am so excited to try this recipe!! thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Ester,
      I'm afraid that the bars would be crumbly, since it's the glutinous rice flour and xanthan gum that mimic the gluten in wheat flour and help the bars stick together. I once made then with regular white rice flour and guar gum, and they were very crumbly, though still tasty. Please let us know how they come out if you decide to experiment!

  4. I made these today and they are delicious. I'm trying out recipes for a bake sale and I have been asked for gf treats since they know I eat gf. These are definitely going up for sale. For any coconut haters out there, I can't taste it but it does amazing things for the texture. I did sub walnuts for the pecans and I probably won't add the rum when I make them for the bake sale.

    1. Hi Karen B.! Thank you so much for the great feedback – I'm so glad you like the congo bars! I completely agree about the coconut. Best of luck with the bake sale. :)

  5. Made these today, and I agree with everyone: The texture is chewy and wonderful, just like pre-gluten free days for me. One thing I will say is that I cut the chocolate in half, and it was still wayyyy too much for me. And I'm a major chocolate lover.

    I will be cutting it down additionally next time. Other than this little change, the recipe was great! Thank you!

    1. Hi, Satpreet! I'm so glad you like the bars – thank you for your comment! I'm surprised to hear about them being too chocolatey for your chocolate-loving self, but of course do make the recipe to your taste. I'm curious whether you went by the weight or cup measure, and what kind of chocolate you used? In any case, happy baking. :)

  6. OKAY…I have never commented on a food blog before. These bars are ah-ma-ZING! Awesome flavor and texture. I thought I owned every flour there is, but sticky rice flour rocks — so worth buying. Thank you for sharing this delicious recipe! (I added bits of toffee on top. My bad!)

  7. Love GF recipes that do not call for making up a recipe of flour mix A or B or Q as a precursor, though these are so delicious I bet I would put myself through that if it was the only way I could get my hands on more of them. Couldn’t find rum in the house so I subbed kahlua. Holy moses, these are good! Thank you!

    1. Yay! These are an old favorite around these parts, too. Kahlua sounds like a perfect rum substitute here. Thanks so much for the feedback, dear!

  8. Just a FYI…I made these using 1/2 coconut oil and 1/2 butter-VERY coconutty! I wish I would have used only butter.. Also, the coconut would have been burned beyond use after 5 minutes-3 would have been better. I used Kahlua and 3/4 cups chocolate. Will make again, I like the texture, with all butter.

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