Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cake of the Week: Caramel Oatmeal Bars

I had to wear a retainer for a year when I was in first grade. It wasn't the keep-your-teeth-straight-after-braces kind, but the permanent kind that no one can really see unless you open your mouth yawning-monkey style and lean back. 

So anyway, the major downside was that I was forbidden from eating super-sticky things like gum and caramel for a year (which felt like forever to my six-year-old candy-loving self).

On Halloween I could eat the chocolate, but the Sugar Daddys, caramels, Sugar Babies, etc. were strictly off-limits. Sister1 (the savvy businesswoman) set up trades for these coveted confections to ensure that my teeth remained retained and she secured the sugar. 

But I was a conniving child too, and one day when she was at swim practice I snuck in to raid her stash. 

Caramel! Mine! I popped the chewy goodness into my mouth, and a few chews later  - “POP!” - my retainer popped out. 

Uhoh. I looked left, looked right, and quickly slid the offending mouth metal under the bathroom soap dish. Problem solved, I grinned with glee. I was free to consume all the caramel I could! 

Fast-forward one month:
Mama: Mollie! Is this your retainer? What’s it doing here???
Mini-Mollie: Ummmmmmm, it came out?

Caught. And that was the end of my caramel fun for the rest of the year…it was sweet while it lasted.

My retainer is long-gone, and I still love caramel. I made these bars for a Super Bowl party this weekend (you need something sweet to temper the saltiness of all other Super Bowl snacks). And these are SWEET. 

They’re Caramel Oatmeal Bars with Chocolate, Walnuts, and Coconut. Pretty intense and pretty awesome. 

Caramel Oatmeal Bars (recipe adapted from these Turtle Bars on The Curvy Carrot)
Servings: 24-40 bars (depending on how big you want them)
For the bar topping and base:
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 and 3/4 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped into large pieces
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup toasted coconut

For the caramel filling:
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 10 tablespoons ( 1 and 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

  • For the bar topping and base: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13-inch glass or light colored metal baking pan.
  • Line the pan with parchment paper or tin foil so that the paper overhangs the pan on two sides.
  • Butter the parchment/foil.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
  • Use your hands to rub in the brown sugar.
  • Add the oats and stir until the ingredients are evenly combined.
  • Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, then pour in the melted butter and stir until the entire mixture is wet and combined.

  • Spread two-thirds of the mixture across the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 12 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the oven to cool (but leave the oven on).
  • Sprinkle the walnuts, chocolate chips, and coconut across the cooled crust.

For the caramel filling: 
  • In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the sugar and butter together.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly (the caramel will begin to darken at this point).
  • Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the cream, and pour the caramel directly over the chocolate pecan layer.
  • Use an offset spatula to evenly distribute the caramel.
  • Sprinkle the remaining oatmeal mixture onto the caramel and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

  • Let the bars cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then place the pan in the refrigerator and chill for 1 hour to firm up.
  • Cut and serve. The longer you wait, the better they cut.