For a social hour event, we needed a couple of little somethings for a snack to go along with coffee and tea. It had been awhile since we’d made brownies, and a number of people were requesting them, so we whipped up a couple of batches; they’re really easy and fast, so we think of them as a go-to sweet snack. So much so, that we always have the ingredients on hand.
Along with the brownies, we wanted something new. After all, even if brownies are your favorite snack, sometimes a change is good, too. That meant a trip down to the stacks of the Scratchin’ It Central Library; not to sound as if we’re complaining, mind you. It’s always fun to search out and find something new and different, get new ideas, or just brush up and remind yourself of cooking techniques. So, there we were, standing in the aisles at the library, looking hither and yon, thinking: “sweet treat that’s easy to eat.” Up popped this recipe, which comes from Baking, From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan. We will tell you that we left out the teaspoon of instant espresso powder, as we’re not coffee drinkers, and didn’t have any on hand. If you want to include it, just whisk it into the flour.
Makes 48 bars.
We list the weights of some of the dry ingredients, and we find them to be extremely helpful for measuring out things such as the brown sugar. If you don’t use a scale, pack the brown sugar into your measuring cup. Butter: no sense in having someone at the dairy salt your food, so use unsalted, and it should go without saying that margarine is NOT butter. Vanilla extract should be real and pure. Period. For the chocolate, we think you could get by with something like Nestle’s chocolate chips and they would be good; we used a higher-quality chocolate (Callabaut) since we had it on hand. Finally, the toffee bits: we didn’t have time to make them from scratch, so we went with Heath bar toffee bits from the baking aisle. If you want to try your hand at making toffee from scratch, you can find detailed instructions in our Macadamia Nut Toffee recipe. Just omit the nuts and the chocolate; your caramel crunch bars will be all the better for homemade toffee.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9×13 inch pan. Line with foil, and butter the foil. You know this is likely to be a bit sticky, but tasty, when you have to lay down butter, foil, and more butter. Mmm, sticky and buttery.
Whisk dry ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cinnamon. If you want to try this with the instant espresso powder, whisk in a teaspoon now. We found that these bars tasted slightly like coffee, even without the espresso powder; most likely a combination of the brown sugar and cinnamon. Interesting.
Cream butter. Drop those two sticks of butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and start beating on medium. The butter should be getting creamy in 30 seconds or so; if not, your butter might not be room temperature. Wait awhile and try again. Once the butter is warm enough, beat and cream it for about 3 minutes, or until it’s smooth and shiny.
Cream in sugar. Add the sugar and continue to beat on medium until the butter- sugar mixture is light and fluffy, about another three minutes. Periodically, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
Add flour mixture. Stop the mixer, and, in one go, pour in the flour mixture. Now, if you just turn on the mixer, you’ll have a flour Vesuvius in your kitchen, resulting in a lot of cleanup. So, take a kitchen towel and carefully wrap it around the mixer and bowl. Be very careful that the towel is above any moving parts so it won’t get tangled. Then, once you’re absolutely sure that the towel is clear of the beater, quickly flip the mixer on and off to pulse it. Pulse the mixer like this 5 or 6 times to start the mixing process. Once pulsed, remove the towel, turn the mixer on low, and mix until the flour is just incorporated. If you don’t like the idea of wrapping a towel around the mixer, you can take a rubber spatula and work in much of the flour by hand before turning on the mixer.
Add chopped chocolate. Sprinkle the chopped chocolate over the mixture and turn the mixer on for about 15 seconds to mix it in. If there are pieces of chocolate that didn’t get mixed in, work them in with a rubber spatula.
Fill pan. Scrape the batter (it will be very sticky) into the double-buttered pan and spread it into a thin, even layer. It will be thinner than you expect, at most about 1/2 an inch, but that is, indeed, what you want.
Bake. Slide into the oven on the middle rack and let it bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until bubbly. And, by bubbly, it will be more like bubbling lava, seeming to be making glopping noises as the entire surface heaves up and down. Well, a little. You’ll see.
Top with chocolate chips. Remove the bars from the oven and turn it off. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips over the surface in an even layer, and place the bars back in the still-hot oven for 3 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack.
Spread chocolate. Use the back of a spoon, or a wide spatula, to spread the now-melted chocolate chips into an even layer across the top of the bars. We used the flat edge of a 6-inch-wide dough scraper, which had the added advantage of collecting a bit of extra chocolate onto the back for a chef’s snack. Sometimes you just have to make a sacrifice for your baking.
Add toffee bits. Sprinkle the toffee bits all over the surface and press them into the chocolate with your fingers. Resist the urge to lick your fingers until after all the toffee is in place.
Cool. Let cool completely on a rack. If the chocolate is still melted, pop the pan in the fridge for a few minutes so the chocolate will harden.
Cut. Using the edges of the aluminum foil, pull the soon-to-be-bars from the pan. Cut lengthwise so you have four strips, each about 2 x 13 inches. Cut each of these strips into 12 bars, making 48 bars, each about 1 x 2 inches in size.
This is a nice easy recipe, somewhat reminiscent of blondies, but not as floury. Most surprisingly, they do actually taste of coffee (remember, we didn’t use the espresso), so we can see why the original recipe called for the espresso powder. The powder would bring out the coffee flavor from the background and more to the forefront, but that’s not really necessary; we had no trouble eating a few of these just as they were. While these Caramel Crunch Bars are very good, we wouldn’t consider them to be great. There’s not quite enough caramel flavor to push them into the great category, so let’s go with four stars.