Every month, I look forward to the evening when I return home to find next month's fresh copy of Martha Stewart Living on my doorstep. I immediately break it's fresh, crisp binding to rip open the very back page of the magazine.
I cannot even contain my excitement long enough to fish my keys out of my pocket and open the front door. I need to know what the cookie of the month is - now!
I stand in the hallway, allowing a cookie recipe to serve as my horoscope of the month ahead. Date and Walnut Sandwich Cookies? Heavy sigh. Head drops. Long month ahead.
Chocolate Caramel Cookie Bars? All is right in the world.
This recipe actually appeared in MSL last November and I carefully placed it in my recipe binder for some future date. And then I forgot about it.
It sat there, neglected, until this past weekend when I was attempting to restore some order to my life through my recipe binder, which was laying open on the coffee table with this recipe accidentally (or subconsciously on purpose) exposed.
I heard a loud gasp behind me. Mike had emerged from his studying for a coffee refill. I turned around to see him staring, wide-eyed, mouth open at the recipe photo.
"Those...those look like really fancy Twix bars!"
And that was all I needed. You don't deprive fancy candy bars from your guy.
Reading through the recipe, I noticed the yield of 16 bars from a 9x9 cake pan. I held up my 9x9 cake pan and raised an eyebrow. This seemed like a lot of bars for two people.
Since they had to be served straight from the refrigerator, I wouldn't even be able to pawn the extras off to my friends.
I knew I could easily half the recipe, but what vessel could I use that would be half the size of the recommended cake pan? My trusty, much loved bread loaf pan!
Revelling in my genius, coffee in tow, I sinched my apron just a bit tighter and set about creating these chocoalte caramel bars on an unexpectedly sunny Sunday morning.
We begin by making the cookie base for the bars. I placed room temperature butter and light brown sugar in the bowl of my KitchenAid, fitted with my beloved Beater Blade paddle.
I placed the mixer on medium speed. While the butter and sugar were doing their thing, I whisked the flour and salt together in a small bowl.
After three minutes, the butter and sugar were light and fluffy and beautiful.
I dumped in the flour mixture...
...and paddled on a low speed until everything was just combined.
You do not want this to keep mixing after it is combined. Overmixing develops the gluten in the flour. Developed gluten makes the mixture tough, which is desired in something like bread. But tough cookies are a sad, sad thing and to be avoided at all costs.
I sprayed my loaf pan with non-stick spray and lined it with parchment, leaving an overhang on the ends. This would allow me to easily remove the bars as one cohesive unit after the chocolate-caramel has chilled on top.
I transferred the cookie base to the prepared pan and began smooshing (very technical pastry term) it all together until it looked pretty even.
But my OCD kicked in - we don't want "pretty even"! We want level, baby!
So I placed another loaf pan on top and pressed down as hard as my little arms would allow.
Now, into a 350 degree oven. Thirty minutes later, it emerged as a lovely, golden cookie base.
Cooling time. If you're anything like me, you are reading ahead to the chocolate-caramel portion of the recipe and realizing you don't have heavy cream.
So you let the cookie base cool for a few hours - as you clean the apartment, squeeze in a long run and battle Upper East Side housewives at the corner store in attempts to buy a $3 half-pint of heavy cream.
Safely back home, it's finally time to make the caramel. Don't be scared, there's nothing to fear in making caramel. Just don't drip any on your tender hands because that, my friends, hurts like none other. Trust me.
Okay, sugar and water into a sauce pan. See? Nothing to fear here.
Stir this together to fully saturate the sugar; this is called making a "slurry". Turn the heat to medium.
You will need to have a pastry brush in water handy. You will use the pastry brush to wipe down any sugar that forms on the side of the pan.
The wet pastry brush will release the sugar from the sides of the pan so it will not crystalize, which can ruin your caramel.
Get your butter, cream, table salt and chocolate ready in the first few minutes after getting the caramel started. You want these close-by so you can put them into the caramel immediately.
The recipe suggests using milk chocolate. But I don't care too much for milk chocolate and I didn't have any on hand. So I used semisweet chocolate (Guittard 61%) instead. You should use whatever chocoalte you like best.
Only stir your caramel occasionally, taking care to brush down the sides when you are done. Caramel doesn't like to be stirred that often.
But when it starts taking on a little color, I stir a bit more so as to disperse the carmelized sugar evenly.
I don't time the process, although the recipe indicates it takes 10 to 12 minutes. When it looks like caramel, I remove it from the heat.
I dump in the butter and, carefully, combine it with the caramel.
Then I pour in the salt and cream. Pour the cream in a slow stream down the side of the pan and into the carmel. This will keep the caramel from steaming, too much, and sputtering and, therefore, keep you from burning yourself. Always a good thing.
I start stirring in the cream and salt. But the mixture started to harden up just a bit. Why? Basically, you have shocked the extremely hot caramel with the much lower temperature of the butter and cream. So it needs a little heat to get it going again.
Back on the stove, on low heat. Stir this constantly until everything is combined, smooth and has started boiling.
Carefully pour the caramel over the chocolate. And just let it sit there for two long minutes. The two elements will start melting together.
After two minutes, start stirring the chocolate and caramel together. Lush.
Pour this over your, now, very cool cookie base. You won't need to smooth the top.
And now refrigerate this for at least four hours. Go watch the USA vs. Canada gold medal hockey game. Be very sad. Be thankful you have chocolate caramel bars waiting for you at home to ease the bitterness of the silver medal.
Out of the refrigerator! Use a small knife to release the sides and pop out the bars onto a cutting board. Swoon.
Remove the parchment from the bottom and, using a chef's knife, cut into eight equal pieces. Wipe your blade with a cloth in between each cut to ensure each piece has a clean cut.
Sprinkle with fleur-de-sel.
Serve to boyfriend and self. Declare on the first bite that you could only ever possibly eat half because it is so rich. Eat the entire bar and look at plate quizzically, wondering where the other half disappeared to.
Chocolate Caramel Bars
Download Recipe: PDF | Word
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, November 2009
makes 8 bars
These cookie bars are fairly simple to put together and do not require much time. They would be perfect for a get-together as both kids and adults will love the flavors. Straight out of the refrigerator, with a sprinkle of sea salt, they lend an impressive presentation. Serve with milk or coffee, to counter the richness of the chocolate caramel.
4 ½ tablespoons (2.25 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon table salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup (5.25 ounces) milk or semi-sweet chocolate
Fleur de Sel, for finishing
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray loaf pan with non-stick spray and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhand on the ends.
Paddle butter and brown sugar in a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add flour and table salt. Paddle on low speed until just combined.
Press dough evenly into prepared pan. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
While cookie base is cooling, measure sugar and water into saucepan, stir to combine. Measure butter, heavy cream, salt. Measure the chocolate in a medium mixing bowl.
Heat the sugar and water over medium heat, brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush. Stir very occasionally.
When sugar and water begins to color, stir gently to disperse evenly. Remove from heat when amber color is achieved, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Using a spatula, stir in the butter, salt and cream. Return mixture to low heat, stirring constantly until smooth.
When caramel begins to boil, remove from heat and pour over chocolate. Allow to stand two minutes. Stir until smooth.
Pour chocolate caramel over cookie crust and refrigerate at least four hours.
When bars have set, run a knife around edges to release from pan. Remove parchment and cut into eight equal pieces.
Sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve.