Sometimes when you have been eating a wonderfully healthy diet, rich in fruits and colorful vegetables, lean meats, plenty of fish, and whole grains, a tiny urge may come over you to have a little something from the “eat less often” column of the food guide.  If you have been very careful, either because you want to maximize your health, or simply be a better person, the pondered deviation from the program had really better be worth it.  My sister Gina advocates consideration of the “brown food group”, which contains coffee, chocolate, gravy….

Here’s a little treat that you can actually convince yourself has some merit.  It starts with graham crackers, which we all know were invented in the mid-1800s by a fellow named Sylvester Graham (give him a Google) who was trying to save us all with his wonderful “Graham Flour”, unbleached flour with bran and wheat germ added.  Of course, today’s graham cracker is a bit sweeter than he intended, but often the sweetener is honey, which we all know is much better for you than refined sugar.

Then, there are nuts, which we all know are right up there on the “A” list for health and well-being (albeit in strictly measured quantities).

And of course, there is a little chocolate, which the truly health-conscious will ensure is dark chocolate, full of antioxidant flavonoids which we all know will help us live forever, and in better shape.

Now the butter and brown sugar, while not exactly members of the healthy hit parade, are at least somewhat natural ingredients, and can certainly be forgiven just this one time.  You could choose organic, if you feel that makes a difference.

This cookie is the number one favorite of all the things I produce for Christmas consumption, and it’s so easy I am almost embarrassed when folks ask for the recipe;  the source recipe is on the back of the graham cracker box, after all.  When I found I could make just 4 squares at a time, I was forever saved from having to eat the edges of a full batch, distributing the perfect middle squares to friends.  Make your four squares, and then get right back on that healthy-living thing you were doing when I so rudely interrupted you.  Go for a walk while they cool.

Just a Few Butterscotch Squares


  •  4 graham cracker squares
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp packed brown sugar (golden or dark,
    doesn’t matter)
  • A few drops of vanilla
  • A tiny pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips or chopped bar
  • ¼ cup chopped nuts, any kind


Place the graham crackers on a piece of lightly greased foil (or non-stick foil) and fold the edges up to make a tiny cookie sheet that just fits the crackers.
You don’t want any spills with this recipe, because fire is a possibility, and clean-up can be nasty.  Place them on a baking sheet for stability.

Preheat the oven (toaster oven is great for this) to 350°F.

In a small pot, melt the butter and brown sugar together, stirring all the time. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, whisking to incorporate the butter (otherwise it will remain separate and you’ll have a mess).  Controlling the temperature, boil for a minute or so, again whisking all the time.  Watch out for potential boil-overs.  Simply removing the pot from the heat, while continuing to stir, works well.

Remove from heat and whisk in the salt and vanilla.  Work fast!

Pour the sugar syrup over the graham crackers.  Spread it to cover the tops of the crackers.  Don’t worry if it runs down between them – that’s kind of the point.

Immediately put the whole thing in the oven.  Keep a watchful eye on this step.  Bake until the whole surface is bubbling, about 3 to 4 minutes.  This is the point at which it can burn to a blackened mess if not watched, and/or overflow if you were careless with the foil.

Remove to a cooling rack.  Sprinkle the chocolate over the surface.  Wait about a minute, then spread the now-melted chocolate to cover the crackers. Sprinkle on the nuts.

Now comes the hardest part.  Wait until the cookies are completely cool before cutting between the crackers to serve.  If you don’t wait, you’ll burn your mouth for sure, and get melted chocolate all over your hands.  Good things come to those who wait.  Take that walk we were talking about earlier.

Of course, you may want to make a big batch, so you can share it with all your friends…

You can make any number of these you want.  The important part is the ratio:  equal amounts of butter and brown sugar by volume.  When I make a full cookie sheet, I use a cup of each.  The amount of chocolate and nuts you use is really up to you – thicker or thinner – but don’t be too generous with the butterscotch mixture:  it’s just the glue that holds it all together.  Too much, and the flavor balance will be off.

By the way, any square cookie will work for the base, as long as they butt together closely.  I have even made these with soda crackers (desperate times call for desperate measures), but they weren’t nearly as tasty.  A butter cracker I found called “Topables” was much better.  I have used gluten-free graham wafers, and I’ll bet there are other gluten-free square cookies out there somewhere.  You could probably even make your own short-bread base, if you were so inclined.  The fact that these are really quick to make is an important selling point, though, and the taste of the graham wafers is central to the flavor profile.

Dark, semi-sweet, and milk chocolate have all been used with great success.  My track record with white chocolate is not good (for me, it tends to sieze), so I have never tried it, and I think the end result would be right up there on the “too sweet” scale.  I usually use pecans, but I think peanuts would be great (maybe with a combination of chocolate and peanut butter chips?), and I have always wanted to try chopped macadamia nuts and toasted coconut.  When I was in Scandinavia, I came across chocolate bark with interesting combinations like dried blueberries, pistachios and candied violets, etc, etc., so the sky’s the limit.  Rosemary tastes like a Christmas Tree to me — perhaps a festive sprinkling of fresh rosemary leaves along with dried cranberries would be particularly seasonal!

If chocolate is not your favorite (who are you?), you can stir the nuts into the sugar syrup, and then bake the butterscotch onto the crackers so the nuts are trapped in the sugar.  I did this with walnuts, and added cinnamon – yummy.  It tasted like the best part of a cinnamon bun.  If you try to sprinkle the nuts on after baking the syrup, they just fall off — I tried that too.

Enjoy your treat!