My neurotic need for cleanliness and making everything more difficult is in a constant battle with a free spirited-leave-the-dishes-in-the-sink-overnight...just this once, chaos monster. Things are much more relaxing when the latter wins, but sometimes over complicating things actually pays off.
This recipe would have been much easier if I had used a bag of caramels (as directed,) instead of making homemade caramel sauce. But there's just something so rewarding, so magic, so "chefy," about making caramel from scratch. Perfect caramel is mesmerizing. It makes you want to keep lifting it up with a whisk, just so you can watch it ooze back down in thick drops of deep amber deliciousness. *sigh*
I confess that I have not been baking as much, and for that I apologize. Normally I bake at least three times a week, but lately I just feel uninspired. (I'm pointing my oven mitt-less finger at the heat.) So it was thrilling to dive into this recipe, spoon first, and not only have a chance to play with caramel, but to also make a new incarnation of the classic chocolate chip bar.
These bars are chunky, chewy, gooey, messy, salty, sweet and perfect! Make sure to have lots of napkins on hand, or else you'll leave sticky evidence of your own indiscreet chaos monster on cupboard handles, refrigerator doors, and sink faucets.
Happy August, everyone! (Hope you're enjoying the Olympics...even though we hear the results of just about everything five hours before we can actually watch.) o_O
Salted Caramel and Chocolate Chunk Bars
makes about 14-16 bars
for the caramel sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into about 6 pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon (or just a squirt) of lemon juice
1/4 cup water
To make everything easier, before you actually start to cook the caramel, have the cream, butter, and vanilla measured out and ready to use (you can even combine the cream and vanilla together in a small measuring cup). Also have a medium heat-proof bowl on hand for holding the hot caramel.
In a heavy-duty 2-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, salt, lemon juice, and water. Pat the sugar into the water as much as possible, and try not to splatter the edges with too much sugar. [Note: You can use a pastry brush to wash down the sides of the saucepan if needed.] Without stirring, bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Occasionally, use the handle of the pan to gently swirl everything together and prevent the caramel from cooking too fast in one spot. Cook until the caramel turns medium amber (about 8-10 minutes, depending on how high the heat is set). Keep a close watch on the caramel as soon as the bubbles begin to change colour. When it turns medium amber, remove the pan from the heat and slowly (and Carefully) add the heavy cream (it will sputter and hiss, so don't stand directly over the pan). Keep stirring until the caramel smooths out. Gradually add the pieces of butter, about 2 bits at a time. Once all the butter has been added and has melted into the caramel, whisk in the vanilla extract.
Immediately pour the hot caramel into a medium heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl aside, stirring occasionally, as you prepare the bars.
for the bars
2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking Soda
12 Tablespoons (that's 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (or roughly 1 generous cup of chocolate chips)
Caramel sauce (see recipe above)
Coarse sea salt (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Lightly spray, or butter, an 11 x 7-inch glass Pyrex dish. (A 2-quart baking pan.)
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda; Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (or any large mixing bowl, if you're using a hand-held mixer), beat together the melted butter, and both sugars until well combined. (About 5 minutes on medium speed.) At this point, the mixture may look a bit greasy, and that's okay. One at a time, add the egg and the egg yolk, beating for about one minute after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat for about one minute more.
Slowly add the dry ingredients, and mix on low speed just until all the white streaks of flour have disappeared.
Using a large wooded spoon or a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate until evenly dispersed throughout the batter.
Press half of the batter into prepare pan. Try to pat down the surface so it's as flat and smooth as possible. Pour the caramel sauce over the dough. (It's okay if it's still slightly warm...you just don't want it piping hot.) Use an off-set spatula to coax the sauce into an even layer. If desired, sprinkle some coarse sea salt over the caramel.
Drop chunks of the remaining dough over the caramel sauce. [Note: It's easier to just flatten chunks of cookie dough with your hands, and place them on top of the caramel like roof shingles.] Don't worry if the caramel is seeping through the top layer of cookie dough...these bars are meant to me a hot mess of deliciousness. ;)
Bake the bars for about 30-40 minutes, or until the edges begin to pull away from the pan and the top layer of dough is a light golden brown. [Note: The edges of my bars were much puffier than the middle, but the taste was still phenomenal.)
Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Cool completely before slicing. Once the bars are room temperature, stick the pan into the fridge for a few hours, this will make the slicing process much easier!
Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod