Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Salted Caramel Candy Bars for my BFFA

My friend Jenny is studying for her medical boards and was in absolute need of some salted caramel candy bars. Because doctors (and soon-to-be doctors) need treats too, guys.

And let me tell you something about Jenny. She is practically my sister. We’ve been friends since 3rd grade. We were each other’s maids-of-honor. We’ve seen each other through some pretty rough times. We’ve seen each other through some pretty awesome times too. And she sent me cookies to my dorm during my first (lonely) year of college, so I’m merely returning the favor.

And let me tell you something else about Jenny. She has a salt-tooth. Just like me. If you ever met Jenny and me for happy hour, you’d probably walk in to find the two of us sipping extra-dirty vodka martinis with four or five olives. In fact, forget the vodka. We'd probably just be sipping brine.

So salted caramel candy bars seemed just perfect. Yes, these are Betty’s cookies (I have her on speed-dial), but with a salty twist. My inspiration came from one of my all time favorite places in the world for ice cream—Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco. They sell a super popular salted caramel flavor and it is beyond delicious. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I suggest you give it a try!

These bars are layered with an oatmeal crumb bottom, a couple cups of chocolate chips and walnuts, a layer of salted caramel, another layer of the oatmeal crumb mix, and finished off with a healthy sprinkling of some good quality salt. Don’t worry, they won’t taste overly salty: you’ll take a bite, a little salt will stay on your lips, and it’ll only intensify the buttery caramel and super-sweet cookie and chocolate layers. Think salty like, chocolate-dipped-pretzels salty, only better.

See that yummy salt?

I say it all the time--salt makes everything taste more like itself, which is to say, it makes everything taste better. No, that isn’t an excuse for my salt addiction. Okay, maybe it is, but it doesn’t make that statement any less true.

Oh yeah. I know I said I was going to recreate my mom’s dishes from my trip, and I still will. Don’t worry, guys, I won’t forget!

Salted Caramel Candy Bars
Adapted from Bettycrocker.com
Make sure you use a good quality salt for this recipe. Kosher and fleur de sel will work well; I used pink Himalayan salt. Just don’t use iodized. The flavor is too harsh for these cookies.

Caramel filling:
1 bag (14 ounces) caramels
1/3 cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt

Crumb Bottom and topping:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus ¼-1/2 teaspoon for sprinkling over bars
1 egg
1 cup butter or margarine, softened

Chocolate nut layer:
1 package (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (1 cup)
1 cup chopped walnuts or dry-roasted peanuts

Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches.

For the salted caramel:
Heat caramels and milk in 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently, until smooth.Add salt and vanilla.

For the crumb bottom and topping:
Stir together flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and egg in large bowl. Stir in butter with fork until mixture is crumbly. Press half of the crumbly mixture in pan. Bake 10 minutes.

Sprinkle chocolate chips and walnuts over baked layer.

Drizzle with caramel mixture. Sprinkle with remaining crumbly mixture and ¼-1/2 teaspoon of salt, depending on how bold you care to go! (I used around a third of a teaspoon.) Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes. Loosen edges from sides of pan; cool completely. For 54 bars, cut into 9 rows by 6 rows.

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