It took me a while to come to realize/admit this, but apparently I'm not a dyed in the wool chocolate lover. I prefer to enjoy my chocolate in small doses, instead of being hit in the head by an anvil-sized amount all at once. This epiphany came as I was baking a birthday cake for my sister. She requested a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. And, whereas I'd normally be busting out my Rusted Root CD and dancing up a storm at having an excuse to bake a cake, I felt kind of blasé about the whole thing. "What's wrong with me?", I wondered. Have I been in denial all these years?
Yes, yes I have. Looking back, I noticed that I rarely made a chocolate on chocolate cake. And wouldn't a true chocoholic be making chocolate cake at the drop of a hat, or the birthday of a cat? Whenever I've made cakes in the past, they have almost always had a yellow or white cake base. The whole chocolate on chocolate action is, dare I say, almost too much of a good thing. And I although I'm no longer in the official chocolate-lovers club, I tip my bakers hat to all it's members, and I promise to leave a payment of the occasional double chocolate cookie, just so I can come in through the back entrance now and then.
Why on earth am I going on about all this for? Well, to counteract the explosion of chocolate that I just created, I needed something without chocolate. Unfortunately my go-to flavour sanctuary, aka lemons, had been wiped out after last week's puckery pie. And I don't think I can look at another lemon yet without shivering and twitching. Naturally I was also out of peanut butter (the horror!). So what's third in line? Caramel!
Yay, caramel. When I first saw these bars on Beth's blog, Of Muses and Meringues, I knew I had to have them. It was one of those recipes that you just know you're going to love, even before you've read about them. Basically, the name says it all. They're caramely, and they're bars. So, yeah, they're a pretty spectacular fusion of salty-sweet-buttery deliciousness. Pssst, the 'caramel' is actually more of a dulce de leche!
If you have not been on Beth's blog yet, you're missing out on some fabulous recipes and travel adventures. Beth is an amazing writer, and I think you'll find that once you read her musings, you'll be as hooked as I am!
Caramel Crumb Bars
(adapted from Of Muses and Meringues)
16 Tbsp ( that's 2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
4 Tablespoons (that's half a stick) of unsalted butter, cut into about 4 pieces
1 Tablespoon of light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of tightly packed, dark brown sugar
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened, condensed milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Move oven rack to the bottom third of the oven. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with foil (leaving an overhand for easy removal.) Spray the foil with cooking spray. Set the pan aside.
Prepare the crust: In an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter with the sugar and salt until soft and light, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla.
With the mixer on low, add 2 1/4 cups of the flour, beating just until the dough is smooth and the flour has been absorbed, and stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl and the paddle as necessary.
Place 3/4 of the dough into the prepared pan, using the palm of your hand to press it down evenly. Refrigerate as you do the next step.
Using your fingertips, work the remaining 1/4 cup flour into the remaining dough to form loose crumbs. Set aside at room temperature.
Prepare the filling: In a medium saucepan, bring the butter, corn syrup, salt, brown sugar and condensed milk to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Allow the mixture to boil gently, stirring often, until it starts to thicken and darken slightly, about 8 – 10 minutes. Pour into a stainless steel bowl to cool for five minutes
Remove the dough-lined pan from the fridge and scrape the cooled filling onto the dough, spreading evenly. Scatter the crumb mixture on top.
Bake until the filling is bubbling gently and the dough is baked through, about 20-25minutes.
Cool in the pan until lukewarm. Using the foil overhand, carefully lift the dough out of the pan and onto a cutting board before it has cooled completely. Cut into 2-inch squares.