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Baking & Desserts
dec 5, 2020

Chocolate Caramel Cookie Bars

We will dearly miss hosting guests, staff, friends and family for our Salt + Spine Holiday Cookie Swap this December. Though The Civic Kitchen is just approaching its 3rd birthday - a mere toddler of a small business - this annual tradition is already joyfully entrenched in our hearts.
We’re not going to let our boarded up storefront keep us from spreading the joy! We’ll be sharing lots of cookie advice, recipes, stories and cookbooks with you throughout the month. This week, we’re starting things off with one of Jen’s favorites, Chocolate Caramel Cookie Bars, a splurge-worthy cookie that will hold up well for shipping if you’d like to send them to someone you love. Here’s her walk down cookie memory lane:
"The original version of this recipe called for unwrapping store bought candies and melting them to make the caramel layer. I was an adult and professional baker by the time I stumbled across the tattered recipe card written by my younger self, painstakingly copied out in loopy teenaged letters complete with cartoon hearts drawn over all of the "i"s. I updated the method with a homemade caramel (actually faster to make than unwrapping 50 candies!) and a slightly more sophisticated flavor profile. Homemade caramel adds a more grown up depth of flavor, along with a tad more salt and the bitter/sweet of walnuts to go with the bittersweet chocolate. Our kids don’t like nuts much, so I only use them on half of our cookies. A loopy cartoon heart is still the best way I can express my love for them."
We hope you’ll share your favorite cookie recipes and stories with us, too. You can email us any time, or tag us on social media with #TCKatHome and #TalkCookbooks. We’ll repost and spread the cookie love! Happy holiday season to all, from our ovens to yours.
Recipe

Chocolate Caramel Cookie Bars

Author Jen Nurse

The original version of this recipe called for unwrapping store bought candies and melting them to make the caramel layer. I updated the method with a homemade, darker caramel (actually faster to make than unwrapping 50 sticky candies!) and a slightly more sophisticated flavor profile from the addition of walnuts and bittersweet chocolate. Our family is divided on the subject of walnuts, so I usually make half with and half without.

Adapted from: "Sinfully Delicious Caramel Squares" in the Rave Revues cookbook, 1986
Yield   40 to 48 small cookie bars (a little goes a long way!)

Ingredients

Caramel Layer

198g (7 oz. | 1 cup) granulated sugar

170g (6 oz. | ¾ cup) heavy cream, at room temperature

57g (2 oz. | ¼ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

24g (1 oz. | 3 tablespoons) all-purpose flour

Cookie Layer

170g (6 oz. | ¾ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

170g (6 oz. | ¾ cup) brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

156g (5½ oz. | 1½ cups) rolled oats, regular or quick cooking

156g (5½ oz. | 1¼ cups) all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

Topping

1 cup chocolate chips, preferably Ghirardelli 60% Bittersweet

½ cup roughly chopped walnuts, optional

Directions

Grease a 9-X-13-X-2-inch baking dish lightly with butter or baking spray. Heat the oven to 350℉.
Make the Caramel:
In a medium saucepan with sides at least 4 inches tall, melt the sugar over medium heat, nudging the dry patches of sugar into the melted areas with a wooden spoon, gently stirring as needed to prevent any areas from burning as the sugar caramelizes. Continue until the caramel reaches a medium amber color, like a hazelnut's shell. Remove the pan from the heat, and immediately add the butter and cream – be careful, the mixture will bubble up vigorously. If the caramel hardens, return to low heat, stirring, until smooth. Stir in the salt, and set aside. After cooling for at least 5 minutes, stir in the 3 tablespoons of flour.
Make the Cookie Layer:
Cream the butter, brown sugar, vanilla and salt together using an electric mixer, or mix by hand with a wooden spoon, until no butter streaks remain. Add the oats, flour and baking soda, and stir on low speed until no visible flour streaks remain and a buttery, thick, crumbly dough has formed.
Set aside 1 cup of the dough. Press the remaining crumbs into an even layer in the prepared pan. Wetting your fingers with a little water will make the sticky dough easier to handle. Bake for 14 to 18 minutes, until slightly puffed and the surface has lost its wet look around the edges. Remove from the oven, leaving the oven on. Let the parbaked dough rest for 10 minutes before proceeding. I use this time to do the dishes.
Scrape the caramel out of its pan and spread it gently over the cookie base. Scatter the nuts, if using, and chocolate chips over the caramel mixture. Top with chunks of the reserved dough. Bake for an additional 15 to 18 minutes, until the edges are bubbling and the dough chunks are a light golden brown. Cool to room temperature before refrigerating for at least an hour. When firm, cut into squares.