Salted Caramel Shortbread Bars
Folks, this is a good one. Now granted, I don’t usually blog about something I’ve made unless it’s good. But in this case, we’re talking GOOD. Reeeeally good.
I give you…
Salted Caramel Shortbread Bars
Salted caramel ranks WAAAAAY up there on the list of dessert flavors I love. That list is extensive too… it contains such amazingness as:
– Chocolate & Peanut Butter
– Peanut Butter & Marshmallow
– Peanut Butter & Raspberry Jam
– Key Lime & Coconut
– Dark Chocolate & Dried Cherries
– Pumpkin & Cream Cheese
– Browned Butter
I could go on, but I won’t. You just need to know that salted caramel ranks high on that list. You too? Well, wonderful… then you’ll want to make these as soon as possible. Not only are they gourmet-quality tasty, they’re surprisingly easy! (And very seasonally-appropriate I might add… my friends and I have all been bitten by the “fall bug,” and fall-themed desserts are pretty much taking over our brains these days. The rich caramel in these bars really does evoke those warm fuzzy feelings we all love so much.)
So here’s what I’m proposing you do:
1. Put on a really cozy and unflattering outfit (much like the one I’m wearing right now.)
2. Brew up a cup of hot chocolate or coffee (or green tea if you’re trying to lose baby weight like I am. Except wait… aren’t we making a recipe that uses four sticks of butter? So nevermind.)
3. Whip up a quick batch of Salted Caramel Shortbread Bars.
4. Cozy up with a good book, magazine, or the newest episode of America’s Next Top Model (Shhhh… it’s been my guilty pleasure since college. It’s especially fun to watch it while eating sweets because you can laugh at the models for not being able to eat yummy desserts like you can AND in the same moment be reminded of how slothful you are when compared to teensy-weensy Victoria. But who’s comparing?! Not me! “Anyway, she’s soooooo unhealthy,” you’ll say as you head back to the kitchen for
5. Repeat step four, varying the book, magazine, or show of choice… until next summer.
Good. Then let’s make those bars. Gather up…
For the crust:
1 lb. salted butter (softened), 1 cup sugar, 1½ cups powdered sugar, 2 Tbs vanilla, 4 cups all purpose flour
And for the filling:
1 bag (14 oz.) caramel candies (unwrapped), 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream, ½ teaspoon vanilla, 2 teaspoons flaked sea salt for sprinkling (I couldn’t find flaked, so I bought a sea salt grinder)
Preheat your oven to 325 and in a big mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugars, and vanilla.
Then add in the four cups of flour and blend those in as well.
Grease up a 9×13″ pan and press about half the shortbread mixture into it. (Clean hands will help keep the dough from sticking to you.) Place the remaining shortbread dough into the fridge to chill.
Bake this bottom layer for 20 minutes at 325 until it is firm and the edges are a pale golden brown. It won’t look crisp.
While that’s baking, unwrap your caramels and throw them into a saucepan with the other filling ingredients (minus the sea salt.) Melt them slowly over medium low heat until smooth.
Gently pour the caramel mixture over the shortbread crust.
Then sprinkle the caramel with a nice dusting of sea salt. I was a little shy on this step and used barely a teaspoon… but next time I’ll used the called-for amount. (Since it was a new recipe, I was being cautious not to overdo it since I was serving this to a large group.)
(*Note* I almost forgot the sea salt step – which is pretty much the crucial flavor component of this dessert – so that’s why you see a few crumbles of shortbread on the caramel already. Luckily I remembered before it was too late and added the salt.)
Then, working quickly because the warm caramel will melt the buttery dough, crumble the remaining shortbread dough over the caramel.
Bake in the oven for 25-30 more minutes. I think 26 or 27 minutes is just about perfect. You don’t want the topping to brown, trust me. The dessert may look runny in the oven, but once you take it out and it cools, the caramel and shortbread harden significantly and could become very hard to chew if you’ve overcooked them. I’d say take the bars out of the oven once you see any hint of browning around the edges. (I ended up cutting off the edges altogether once the dessert cooled because they hardened too much. It was my fault, I let them bake until I saw the topping brown a bit, and that was too long. The middle was still delicious though!)
Once the dessert has cooled completely, it can be cut into whatever portions you want. Since the dessert is so rich, you can easily get 32 bars from this one pan (or more!) I went a little large for these bars because I wanted to be like Ina.
Oh, and they’re fun to serve in little cupcake wrappers! Not only are they more pretty that way, but they’re less messy, people don’t have to cut their own, and they travel better. These can be packed and stacked in a tupperwear and then presented on a cake pedestal or platter when it’s time to serve them!
I’m sorta sad I can’t eat one of these right now! (They were gobbled up rather quickly. And I guarantee your household will do the same.)
Here’s a printable version of the recipe:
Salted Caramel Shortbread Bars
For the Crust:
–1 lb. salted butter, softened
-1 cup sugar
-1½ cups powdered sugar
-2 Tbs vanilla
-4 cups all purpose flour
Butter a 9×13 inch baking pan, and preheat oven to 325. Mix butter and sugars, then add vanilla and flour and mix til combined. Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. Place the remainder of the dough in the fridge to chill. Bake the crust for 20 minutes until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown.
For the Filling:
-1 bag (14 oz.) caramel candies, unwrapped
-1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
-½ teaspoon vanilla
-2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
Place the unwrapped caramels, heavy whipping cream and vanilla in a small saucepan. Heat over med/low heat til smooth. Pour caramel over crust, sprinkle with sea salt… crumble remaining crust over caramel. Return to oven for 25-30 more minutes. Remove from the oven at first evidence of browning (do not wait for dessert to appear “set.”)
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