Caramel Crunch Bars

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On New Year's Day, we had a get-together with some of Michael's extended family to celebrate Christmas. Since I didn't work the day before, I had a little bit of extra time to throw together something new for dessert. I took the opportunity to peruse my Google Reader, but didn't come up with anything that I just *had* to make. Instead, I turned to my Baking Bible and flipped through the pages, looking for something that inspired me.

I found inspiration in these bars. YUM.

A bonus was that they are pretty easy to put together--which is kind of rare for Dorie.

The cookie layer is deliciously crumbly, and the chocolate layer adds decadence. Add in the Heath Bar toffee bits on top and HOLY MOLY these are good.

These are made in a 13x9 pan, and you'll be surprised when you spread the batter out, because these puppies are really thin. You'll be even more surprised when Dorie suggests cutting these into 54 bars. (Um, hello--what 13x9 recipe results in *54* bars? It's more like 20, ha!) BUT, the thing is, these are pretty rich, and almost like a candy bar in a way, so in this case, smaller pieces really are more appropriate.

Caramel Crunch Bars
(Source: Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For the base:
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. instant espresso powder or finely ground instant coffee
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 3 oz. bittersweet or premium milk chocolate, finely chopped

For the topping:
- 6 oz. bittersweet or premium milk chocolate, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup Heath toffee bits

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9x13 inch baking pan, line the pan with foil and butter the foil. Put the pan on a baking sheet.

To make the base: Whisk together the flour, coffee, salt and cinnamon.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the sugars and beat for another three minutes or until the mixture is light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla and turn off the mixer. Add all the dry ingredients, cover the stand mixer with a kitchen towel (so you and your kitchen don’t get showered in flour) and pulse the mixer on and off at low speed about 5 times- at which point a peek at the bowl should reveal that it’s safe to turn the mixer to low and mix, uncovered, just until the dry ingredients are almost incorporated. Add the chopped chocolate and mix only until the dry ingredients disappear. If the chocolate isn’t evenly mixed, finish the job by hand with a spatula. You’ll have a very heavy, very sticky dough. Scrape the dough into the buttered pan and, with the spatula and your fingertips, cajole it into a thin, even layer.

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the base is bubbly – so bubbly that you can almost hear it percolating – and puckery. It will look as though it is struggling to pull away from the side of the pan. Transfer the pan to a rack and turn off the oven.

To make the topping: Scatter the chocolate evenly over the top of the hot base and pop the pan back into the oven for 2 to 3 minutes, until the chocolate is soft.. Remove from oven and immediately spread chocolate over bars, using offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the toffee bits over the chocolate and press them down lightly with your fingertips. Place the baking pan on a rack to cool to room temperature.

If, by the time the bars are cool, the chocolate has not set, refrigerate them briefly to firm the chocolate.

Carefully lift out of the pan, using foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. Trim the edges if they seem a bit thick. Cut about 54 bars, each about 2 inches by 1 inch, taking care not to cut through the foil.


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