Caramel Candy Bars

I’ve reached the point in my baking repertoire where a shortbread cookie layer topped with caramel and finished off with a rich layer of chocolate has become a bit mundane.  It’s delicious, but where’s the fun in so much predictability?  These Caramel Candy Bars provide a refreshing deviation from the norm with the addition of all things almond, including almond extract,  almond flour, and chopped almonds.  In a further unexpected twist, half of the shortbread dough is sprinkled on top of the caramel to create a streusel layer that is then topped off by a generous layer of chocolate and toasted almonds.  While these Caramel Candy Bars require a bit of time and work, the results are anything but ordinary.
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Caramel Candy Bars

Makes one 9×13 inch pan
(from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook)

Ingredients

Crust

1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup (5 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar (also known as powdered sugar)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 large egg
2 3/4 cups (11 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
1 cup (3 1/4 ounces) toasted almond flour or finely ground toasted almonds

Filling

2 cups (16 ounces) firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup (11 ounces) light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick; 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup (8 ounces) cream (light, heavy, or whipping) or evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Frosting

1 cup (6 ounces) chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
3 tablespoons (2 ounces) light corn syrup
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) chopped toasted almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch pan and line the pan with lightly greased aluminum foil.

Crust

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and confectioners’ sugar until well combined.
  2. Beat in the egg, and scrape the bowl as needed.
  3. Add the vanilla and almond extract, and mix until well blended.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together the four, salt, baking powder, and almond flour until well combined.
  5. Stir the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture, and mix until well combined.
  6. Divide the dough in half.  Press half the mixture into the prepared pan.  Save the remaining half to use as the streusel topping (Press the dough into a log, and freeze it while making the caramel.)
  7. Bake the crust for 15 minutes, until it’s lightly browned around the edges.  Remove it from the oven, and cool slightly while making the filling.

Filling

  1. In a large (3 1/2 to 4-quart) heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the brown sugar and corn syrup.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.  Cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes without stirring, to wash any sugar crystals off the  insides of the pan.
  2. Uncover the pan, stir in the butter, and continue to boil, stirring often, until the caramel reaches the soft ball stage, 234°F on a candy thermometer.
  3. While the syrup is boiling, gently heat the cream in the microwave or over low heat on the stovetop until it’s hot but not boiling.
  4. Remove the syrup from the heat, and slowly stir in the hot cream.  Be careful as the mixture will bubble up.
  5. Return to the heat and cook until the mixture reaches firm-ball stage, 245°F to 248°F.
  6.  Stir in the vanilla.
  7. Pour the caramel over the baked crust.  Let the filling cool for a few minutes.
  8. Remove the dough log from the freezer and use a coarse grater to grate the crumbs over the top of the hot caramel, or use your hands to crumble the reserved crust mixture over the hot caramel.
  9. Bake the bars for 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown.  Remove the bars from the oven and cool them on a rack.

Frosting

  1. In a saucepan set over medium heat, or in the microwave, stir together the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter, until melted.
  2. Spread the frosting over the cooled bars.
  3. Sprinkle the almonds over the warm chocolate, and let the bars rest until the chocolate firms up, several hours or overnight.  You can refrigerate the bars to speed up the firming process.
  4. If you’ve refrigerated the bars, let the bars come to room temperature before cutting into 1 x 2-inch bars (if you cut the bars right out of the oven, they may be difficult to cut and break off unevenly).

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