As I write this, the forecast for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend is mostly cloudy with a chance of rain — surprise, surprise.

While forecasts can change on a whim here in the Upper Midwest, one surefire way to add a little sunshine and festive flair to your holiday weekend is with my Old Glory M&M Cookie Bars. Thick, chewy and loaded with chocolate thanks to the addition of M&M's candies and mini chocolate chips, these bars are easy to make, delicious and perfect for large gatherings.

One batch will yield about two dozen medium-sized bars, and with rich, chocolaty decadence in every bite, you could even slice them into smaller squares to yield about four dozen. For this update to the classic chocolate chip cookie bars, I’m using mini chocolate chips instead of regular-sized as they melt better into the bars, thus allowing the M&M's to be the star.

Old Glory M&M Cookie Bars are festively decorated with red, white and blue M&M's candies and mini chocolate chips. David Samson / The Forum
Old Glory M&M Cookie Bars are festively decorated with red, white and blue M&M's candies and mini chocolate chips. David Samson / The Forum

For patriotic holidays, I like to use red, white and blue M&M's, which are conveniently packaged together and available at most grocery stores. Other than the specially colored candies and mini chocolate chips, these bars are made with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry, even at the lake: butter, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, baking soda, salt and all-purpose flour.

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An electric stand or hand-held mixer is ideal for this recipe as the first step is to cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, which takes about five to six minutes. The creaming method is important and worth the extra time as it will create tiny pockets of air that will puff up and lighten the dough as the bars bake, resulting in a wonderfully soft and chewy texture.

This recipe calls for a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and I prefer to use a glass dish versus metal to keep the bars from overbrowning. For easy removal and cleanup, I line the dish with a large piece of aluminum foil and leave about 2 inches overhanging on each side so that I can easily pull the bars from the pan once they’ve cooled.

Old Glory M&M Cookie Bars are baked in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish lined with aluminum foil for easy removal. David Samson / The Forum
Old Glory M&M Cookie Bars are baked in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish lined with aluminum foil for easy removal. David Samson / The Forum

Once mixed, the dough will be thick and sticky, so I prefer to use my hands to spread the dough evenly into the pan. For a final flourish, I add an extra sprinkling of M&M's and mini chocolate chips over the top of the bars and gently press them into the dough to set. This is a great recipe to make with kids if you’re looking for a rainy day project.

The bars are baked in a 350-degree oven for about 30 to 35 minutes until the edges are golden brown and the center is firmly set. To slice them into squares, I use a flat-edge pastry cutter or long, sharp knife and slice straight down into the bars.

Brighten up your Memorial Day weekend and welcome summer with these festive, fun and delicious Old Glory M&M Cookie Bars. Thank you to all the military men and women who are serving or have served our country, and best wishes for a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Use a straight-edge pastry cutter or long, sharp knife and cut straight down to make squares. David Samson / The Forum
Use a straight-edge pastry cutter or long, sharp knife and cut straight down to make squares. David Samson / The Forum

Old Glory M&M Cookie Bars

Makes 20 to 24 bars

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

3 large or extra-large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1½ cups red, white and blue M&M's candies, plus ¼ cup more for topping

1 cup mini chocolate chips, plus ¼ cup more for topping

Optional add-ins

½ cup sweetened coconut flakes

1 cup chopped nuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position baking rack in the lower third of the oven.

Line a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with aluminum foil, leaving about 2 to 3 inches overhanging on each side for easy removal. Generously grease the foil on all sides with cooking spray or butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt until combined; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the softened butter with white and brown sugars on medium speed until pale brown and fluffy, about 5 to 6 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed.

Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating hard on medium speed after each addition until blended. Add the vanilla extract and beat on medium for 1 minute. If using, add the optional coconut and/or nuts at this time and mix on low until combined.

Add the flour mixture in 1-cup batches and mix on low speed after each addition, just until combined. Add the M&M's and mini chocolate chips and stir on the lowest setting until incorporated; you may also stir these in by hand.

Transfer cookie dough to the foil-lined pan and use your hands to evenly spread the batter into the pan, making sure to reach all corners. Sprinkle the final ¼ cups of M&Ms and mini chocolate chips over the top and use your fingers to gently press them into the top of the dough. Add more as desired.

Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes until the edges are golden brown and the center is completely set. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the bars; if ready, the toothpick should come out without any crumbs attached.

Cool completely in the pan, about 1 hour. Before removing bars from the pan, use an offset spatula or thin knife to separate the edges from the foil.

To remove from pan, lift the edges of the foil and transfer the bars to a cutting board. Remove the foil and use a long, sharp knife or flat-edge pastry cutter and cut straight down into squares. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 to 5 days; bars may also be frozen for up to 3 months.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.