Sometimes when you find yourself on the road to ruin, you can look back and pinpoint that pivotal moment in which everything changed.
In hindsight, you can see that there was the before you and the after you with a clearly demarcated moment of temptation that separated the two selves.
In 2015, that moment came for me when I stumbled upon something truly momentous on Pinterest.
And when I did, sin ensued– Gluttony in the First Degree.
But before you judge me, take a minute.
Ladies and gentleman of the jury, on the behalf of the defense I present to you.
Salted Caramel Bars.
Three of my favorite words strung together.
Salted. Caramel. Bars.
I was searching for a new caramel recipe on Pinterest and I saw a recipe for these bars pop up.
And then two.
Some were re-posts of one blogger or another and some were original spins on a new favorite.
It seems like these Salted Caramels Bars were suddenly everywhere.
Where had I been when this was all going on?
I couldn’t discern who came first and all the recipes varied so little that I just thought I’d give one a spin.
How much trouble could one recipe pose?
Turns out, a great deal of trouble.
It made me think back to an interview I once heard.
In it, a comic described the moment he got his first big laugh on-stage. It was huge for him. That sudden spike of both validation and endorphins had irrevocably changed him, and he’s spent the last thirty years chasing down that same remembered rush.
Ditto these bars for me; once I tasted them, I quickly became hooked.
As in Walter White-kind-of-hooked.
No sooner had one batch disappeared and then I was inventing justifications for another round.
After the holidays and birthdays were used as excuses, I had to reach deeper in the arsenal to come up with new reasons to make more of these bars.
Hmm, what’s next? Caramel Bars for President’s Day weekend? When’s Arbor Day?
Or if I mail a couple, will another batch work for National Grandparent Day?
And when was the last time I made something for some of the other people on the edges of my life — like my recycling guy and my mail gal?
And the little sweet lady down the street who hurt her hip?
Shame on me — I’d best start another batch pronto.
Don’t let the brevity of the ingredient list or the simplicity of the recipe fool you.
A pan of these Salted Caramel Bars warm resting on the countertop are as dangerous for Caramel Fanatics like myself as a freshly poured Bourbon on the Rocks for an alcoholic or an unattended Chanel bag on the Barney’s sales counter for those with sticky fingers.
Turns out these Caramel Bars are my Kryptonite.
I made them multiple times last year, and I don’t see my addiction to these bars stopping any time soon.
After all, not only are they heart-stoppingly delicious, they’re ridiculously easy to make.
You make a shortbread-like dough with powdered sugar, butter and flour, and press roughly half of it in a pan.
You then parbake it briefly in a preheated oven and then pull it out to rest for a few.
Meanwhile you make a quick caramel sauce (either with packaged caramels or the old fashioned way) or pull out your favorite jarred brand and pour that atop.
You then crumble the remaining dough on top of that and then back into the oven it goes until it’s bubbly and golden.
And fragrant as the day is long.
After it has cooled, I like to dust liberally with powdered sugar.
And until I get my fill, there’s not a lick of sharing to be had.
Try them for yourself and feel free to give me the what-for if they aren’t one of the best bars you’ve ever had.
But as for moderation — don’t say you weren’t warned.
- For the Crust:
- 1 lb. salted butter, room temperature
- 1 C. sugar
- 1½ C. powdered sugar
- 2 Tbs. vanilla
- 4 C. all-purpose flour
- For the Filling:
- 1 bag (14 oz. caramel candies or about 50 caramels), unwrapped (or roughly 2 C. homemade or jarred caramel sauce)
- ½ C. milk or cream
- ½ tsp. vanilla (I used 1 tsp.)
- 1 T. coarse or flaked sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugars. Using mixer on medium speed, beat together until creamy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined.
- Sift the flour into the butter mixture and beat on low speed until a smooth and soft dough forms.
- Spray a 9 X 13 inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Press one-third (I used actually two-thirds) of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. Wrap remaining dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator.
- Bake crust until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown, approximately 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool about 15 minutes.
- While the bottom crust is baking and the remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling. Place the unwrapped caramels in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the milk or cream. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove from the microwave and stir until smooth. If caramels are not completely melted, microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until smooth (I just did the whole thing in a double boiler).
- Once the caramel is melted, add the vanilla and stir until combined.
- Pour the caramel filling over the crust. If you are going to salt the caramel (and you must!), do it now.
- Remove the remaining chilling dough from the refrigerator and crumble it eveny over the caramel.
- Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread is firm and lightly golden, about 25-30 minutes.
- Let cool before cutting squares (or do as I do, wait only as long as you can stand it and then risk burning your mouth on caramel lava).