I’m so excited to tell you about caramel!
I went to a pastry making class a few weeks ago with my mom where we learned how to make Gateau St. Honoré, a cake named for the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs. Only the French would have a patron saint dedicated to making sure their croissants and baguettes were created by blessed people.
The St. Honoré cake is made of puff pastry, choux pastry and cream puffs, pastry cream and caramelized sugar. All of the best aspects of a pastries combined for this special patron saint. Ever since that class I have had the urge to make caramel and pastry cream. This hits one of those desires. While we don’t have any pastry cream, a ribbon of homemade caramel runs though these gooey pretzel crusted caramel cookie bars, deliciously joining the pretzel layer to the chocolate chip cookie layer.
We start with a basic crushed pretzel-brown sugar-butter crust. Get the salted pretzels, you won’t regret it. The caramel layer comes next. Get ready. Gather all of your focusing skills and move all distractions out of the kitchen. Caramel is serious stuff and if you miss a beat, it can seize and get hard as a rock in the time it takes you to check that oh-so-urgent text. Now that we are focused, let’s do it!
The warm, amber colored burnt sugar mixture is delectable with those extra pretzels lying around, or on your finger – you know, not that I tried that. Who are we kidding, this gooey goodness is delicious on pretty much anything. Pour it on your pretzel layer, swirling evenly to create a pond of caramel, flowing all the way to the edges of the pan.
Then we cover it with my favorite layer, the chocolate chip cookie. The caramel seeps into the crevices of the pretzel mixture, creating a base for the thick cookie topping. Cookies are probably my favorite baked good to make – there are just so many kinds and ways to experiment with ingredients to create small, quick, hand-held treats. Sometimes I can get caught up in the latest cookie trends (I know, I am a baking NERD) like brown butter or sea salt. Don’t get me wrong, I love those trends and the cookies that stem from them, but sometimes a basic chocolate chip cookie is the best option when paired with a more dramatic base.
The cookie layer is a very basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, no trends, no oats, no extra mix-ins (although I think some toasted pecans would be an amazing addition). It pairs well with the caramel and pretzels and allows all of the ingredients to shine. The bars are rich and chewy, caramely and chocolatey. Delicious. Try not to eat half the pan in one sitting.
Pretzel Crusted Caramel Cookie Bars
3 cups pretzels
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp, cut into tablespoons
½ cup heavy cream, warm
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
To make the pretzel layer
Combine the pretzels, brown sugar and melted butter in a food processor. Pulse until the pretzels are finely chopped and all of the ingredients are combined. Set aside.
To make the caramel
Get ready to focus. Make sure all of your ingredients are measured and at the correct temperatures. This will make a difference in your caramel-making experience and success.
In a small saucepan heat the sugar on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring intermittently with a spatula to make sure all of the sugar melts evenly. The sugar will form lumps – keep stirring, it will all melt and start to turn brown.
Once the sugar is fully melted and a dark amber color, remove from the heat immediately and stir in the butter. The mixture will bubble intensely – that means you are doing it right!
Stir together the butter and sugar until they completely melt together. This could take 2-3 minutes. Slowly pour in the warm cream while stirring the mixture. Make sure your cream is room temperature to warm, otherwise your sugar-butter mixture could “seize” and turn into a rock-hard block surrounded by brown cream. I’ve done that; it’s not what you want. Stir the mixture until everything is combined, then place on the heat for 30 seconds, stirring continuously. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. The caramel can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days, just microwave it or reheat it on the stove when you want to use it.
To make the cookie layer
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugars. Add the eggs, one a time, mixing just until combined. Stir in the vanilla. Using a spatula, stir in the dry ingredients until barely blended (the mixture should still look a little dusty from the flour). Mix in the chocolate chips.
Refrigerate the dough for 5 minutes before using. While the dough is refrigerating, begin to assemble the bars.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Press the pretzel mixture evenly into a 9×13 dish. Pour the caramel uniformly on top of the pretzel layer, going all the way to the edges of the pan. Remove the dough from the fridge and crumble on top of the caramel layer, covering all of the caramel. You might not need all of the dough, depending on how thick you want your bars to be. Whatever dough you don’t use can be cooked on its own or frozen for future cookie treats
Cook the bars for about 1 hour, rotating the pan and covering with aluminum foil halfway through baking time. Depending on the thickness of your bars, they may take a bit shorter or longer to bake. Once the bars have cooked, allow them to cool completely before cutting into squares.
Caramel loosely adapted from here
Cookie based on the Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies from Tara O’Brady’s Seven Spoons cookbook