Nordy Bars. The Dessert That Defined My Mother.
Nordy Bars are an ooey, gooey dessert that originated in the Nordstrom’s Cafe. Chocolate, butterscotch, and marshmallows come together in a heavenly bar.
Each parent has a signature thing. Something kids will always identify with their mom or dad. Something that is “theirs”. My mom was never much of a cook. Family legend is that my grandma was a bit of a control freak with messes (it’s genetic. It’s not my fault), and never let her two daughters in the kitchen with her. When my mom married my dad, he jokes she could barely boil water.
With full-time jobs, two kids, and disabilities that made walking a challenge, much of the food my parents served was frozen and from Costco. My dad did all the grocery shopping, and both parents heated and served premade food for us. But any work potluck or big family event meant that my mom would make Nordy Bars. Nordy Bars are all hers.
Nordy Bars are a dessert bar that were (still are?) served at the cafe at the Seattle clothing chain Nordstroms. There are many origin stories for how the Nordy Bar recipe came into the general public. All I know is that the recipe lived on a 3×5 index card in my mom’s ratty avocado green Tupperware recipe box in her tidy handwriting.
If mom making these bars were part and parcel to childhood memories, my dad cutting them is locked in my mind as well. When cooled, these Nordy Bars are an ooey gooey mess that are a giant pain to cut in the pan. My mom always used my grandma’s green aluminum cake pan, and she never was keen to fully grease it before adding everything. In the recipe below, I have added the important step of including a layer of parchment to the pan. You can leave that step out, and my dad will be happy to come over and swear like a sailor while he pries them out of your pan.
I have made homemade marshmallows before and they’re delicious. But I decided to use store-bought for this recipe. Just like mom would have used. I did use homemade vanilla, homemade brown sugar, and freshly ground whole wheat flour instead of white flour. Mom always used white flour, and she taught us how to spoon into the cup and level with a knife. She’d be appalled at my trash can measuring of “scoop and dump”. I have a firm “no nuts in desserts” rule (unless it is pecan pie), but I left in the walnuts in her honor.
Three days before my mom passed away, I had to have the hard conversation with her of what she wanted her memorial to be like. It turns out that she and my dad had never discussed arrangements before and we were just blowing in the wind with the details. By this time, she was very weak and had a hard time talking. What should have been a 10-minute conversation took almost an hour. After lots of tears and guessing at what she was saying, we determined that she wanted a celebration of life and that the only food to be served would be chocolate. My mom was a renowned chocolate-lover, and anyone who knew her will smile when they see the spread at the service.
Late last week, I decided to make these bars as a trial run for her memorial. I anxiously looked through her recipe box trying to find this well-worn recipe card. I started to panic when it wasn’t in “desserts”, “bars”, or “sweets”. Thankfully I found it tucked in under “cookies”. Organizing was never her strong suit. 🙂
One of the benefits of being part of a close-knit church community is that when shit hits the fan, they have your back. Yes, I am someone who talks about church and uses curse words in the same sentence. Jesus spent most of his time with sinners you know. My mom’s memorial will be in a few days at our church. My sister, dad, and I don’t have to think about anything. We just get the luxury of showing up, because behind the scenes many kind-hearted ladies are busy decorating, baking, and arranging things on our behalf. We show up, we celebrate, we honor, and then we eat. And alongside all the desserts baked by sweet church ladies will be a tray of mom’s Nordy Bars.
They were her thing after all.
Making this recipe or others?
Nordy Bars are an ooey, gooey dessert that originated in the Nordstrom's Cafe. Chocolate, butterscotch, and marshmallows come together in a heavenly bar.
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
- 1 package butterscotch chip (12 oz)
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten room temperature
- 2 tsps vanilla
- 1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 2 tbsp vital wheat gluten
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 package chocolate chips (12 oz)
- 2 cups mini marshmallows
- 1 cup chopped nuts
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add butterscotch chips, brown sugar, and stir until melted. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine flour, vital wheat gluten, baking powder, and salt. Stir. Set aside.
Add the eggs to the butter mixture and stir to combine.
Add the flour to the butter mixture, and stir until combined. Add in the vanilla. Set aside until completely cool.
Lightly grease a 9x13 baking pan, and lay parchment in, allowing some to hang over the sides.
When the butter and flour mixture has cooled, stir in chocolate chips, marshmallows, and chopped nuts. Spread in the baking pan.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 28 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool completely before cutting into squares.
If you use white flour instead of whole wheat pastry flour, there is no need to add the vital wheat gluten.
Please make sure to melt the butter, brown sugar, and butterscotch chips on low heat. My first attempt involved too high of heat and I scrambled the eggs when I added them.
Butterscotch does not melt well and may require some stirring and patience on your part.
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