Ohmygoodness these bars are really tasty!  They are great for a party;  just so pretty to look at.  Everyone loved these – but especially Alisa – who loved the almond version.  The little specs of sea salt bring out the best in caramel and make these very addictive.  I wrapped most of the bars up and popped in the freezer for Gilda’s Club next week.  Perfect to make ahead as these bars freeze really well.  I found this recipe in Nick Malgieri’s Modern Baker and it was his introductory quote that got me…”If I had to choose one cookie above all others, it would be this one.  The buttery dough and creamy caramel filling complement each other perfectly.”  And he is right!  Enjoy-

caramel shorties w/sea salt (adapted only very slightly from  The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri):

2 sticks (8oz) unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 and place rack in lower third of the oven.  Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment or foil (making sure that the foil or parchment extends above the sides.  Look in baking tips to see a photo of this.)

Butter bottom and sides of foil or parchment.

With paddle attachment of mixer, beat butter with the sugar and salt on medium high speed until lighter – about 3 minutes.  Add the vanilla.  Scrape bowl and mix again for a minute.

On the lowest speed, beat in 2 1/4 cups (reserving 1/4 cup) flour – until flour is just incorporated and the mixture is smooth.

Place 3/4 of the dough into the prepared pan (set aside last quarter of dough) and gently with the palms of your hands spread the dough around and press gently to fill the pan.  Don’t push down hard here – just gently and firmly and evenly.

Place dough lined pan in the refrigerator to rest.

Add the remaining 1/4 cup flour to the remaining 1/4 cup dough and gently incorporate flour and break the dough into small crumbs.  Add 1/2 cup of slivered almonds (optional).  Set aside at room temp.

For the filling, in medium sized saucepan mix together the butter, corn syrup brown sugar, and condensed milk.  Bring to a boil – gently on medium low heat – (this will take about 7-8 minutes.  Then cook gently (on a low simmer)  – stirring often as it bubbles.  It it will darken and get thicker – this should take about 10 minutes or so.  Remove from heat and pour into a stainless bowl and let cool for 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator, and pour the filling into the pan, on top of the dough. Spread with a palate knife or back of a spoon.  Scatter the reserved crumb mixture all over the dough – making sure to hit the sides and corners too!

Sprinkle fine sea salt over the crumb.  Not too much – just little specs here and there.  This will bring out the caramel flavor.

Bake for about 30 – 35 minutes – until the mixture is bubbling gently and and the topping and dough looked cooked through.  If the top needs more color – move the baking rack to the top third of the oven for the last 5-7 minutes or so.

Let cool in pan.  Then gently lift using the foil or parchment as an aid and place on a cutting board and cut as desired.  (If hard to cut – and still soft, let cool a bit more.)  Enjoy-

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