When you go to college with just over 2,000 other women, there’s a lot to laugh about. In fact, I don’t think it’s healthy to make it through 4 years of school at the Bryn Mawr’s and Smith’s of the world if you’re incapable of identifying moments where the whole notion is a little bit hilarious. Don’t get me wrong, my time at Mount Holyoke College in picturesque Western Massachusetts was nothing short of wonderful. It changed me in ways that any college experience should, forced me to read the American canon, and introduced me to lifelong friends. But it was also stuck in a constant tussle between the traditional, bougie image of being the nation’s oldest women’s college and the rampant liberalism and queerness of its student and faculty bodies.
Imagine then our nightly tradition of Milk & Cookies, aka M&C’s, where the dining hall of each dorm opened up between the hours of 9-10pm for some kind of sweet treat and the milk, soda, or hot beverage of your choice. The dorks, the divas, the white girls with dreads, the crew and rugby teams (swoon!), all of us, clamoring downstairs to stuff our little faces. We had it so good. My beau, who was down the road serving time at UMass this very same moment in time, never misses an opportunity to make fun of M&C’s, imagining it as The Facts of Life meets The Golden Girls around a towering table of cheesecakes and bonbons. It’s not far from the truth.
Anyway, when you have M&C’s every weeknight for 4 years, two things happen: 1) You develop a fevered addiction to having dessert every single evening between 9pm & 10pm and 2) You wind up picking favorites. There were college-wide top choices like vanilla and chocolate cupcakes or magic cookie bars. No one was ever disappointed for jumbo peanut butter cookies or brownies. Less popular nights were baked goods containing some kind of dried fruit and yet, still worse, were the nights we’d be greeted with a few boxes of graham crackers and a tub of peanut butter. It’s ok to not feel sorry for us.
I seemed to be in a camp of one though when it came to my hands-down favorite dessert of M&C’s: Princess Bars! Call it the obvious choice, or part of my femme root, but Princess Bars were perfection – oatmeal, coconut shortbread bars with a layer of sweet and tangy raspberry jam between the toasty, crumbly layers. Nomtastic! And yet, they were overlooked and under-appreciated amidst the hope and possibility of homemade swiss rolls. Unjust! So now, just like when Johnny came to rescue Baby (a to-be Mount Holyoke student, btw) in Dirty Dancing, I seek to revive the Princess Bar. No more will the masses put this baby in the corner.
Serves 9 approx. 3-inch by 3-inch bars
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
6 Tablespoons of sweetened coconut flakes, separated
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup oats
1 cup seedless raspberry jam
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a square, 8-inch pan and set aside. Combine all ingredients together except for the jam and reserve 2 Tablespoons of the coconut. Press 2 cups of the oatmeal shortbread mixture into the bottom of the greased pain. Spread the jam over the shortbread base stopping approximately 1/4-inch from the edge. Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of coconut to the remaining oatmeal shortbread mixture and combine. Sprinkle these remaining crumbs over the top off jam layer. Some spots of jam should be visible between the crumbs. Bake for 35 minutes or until the jam is slowly bubbling and the crust is golden brown and fragrant with the smell of toasted butter and coconut. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes before cutting into bars and transferring to wire rack to cool and finish setting up.
Note: This is not the official Princess Bar recipe of Mount Holyoke College, as I was unable to find it anywhere. This is my attempt at its re-creation.