If there was a Baker’s Hall of Fame, Nick Malgieri would be one of the first inductees. So, when he says that if given the choice, caramel crumb bars would be the cookies he would chose above all others…well, you take notice, and then make those bars. They did not disappoint! The buttery shortbread crust serves double duty as the crumb topping as well. Then you add a layer of creamy homemade caramel…oh my goodness! My son took a bite, said MmmMmmm and then proceeded to eat three more bars. Mind you he is a little bitty thing, just 45 pounds, so that is a lot of cookie bars! I was going to send them all with my husband to work tomorrow because keeping them in the house would be dangerous for me. But, I think I have enough willpower to save a few to surprise Jack in his school lunch tomorrow before I eat them
Caramel Crumb Bars
For the crust/crumb topping
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour (spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and level off)- DIVIDED
For the caramel filling
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
Position a rack on the lowest level of the oven; preheat to 350°F
Line the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper or foil, then lightly butter the paper/foil. (save your butter wrappers- they work nicely for this purpose)
For the dough: Combine 2 sticks of butter, the sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle. Beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is soft and light. Add the vanilla and mix to incorporate.
Reduce the speed to low, then gradually add 2 1/4 cups of the flour (spooned into the cup and leveled) and beat until well incorporated to form a smooth dough. Use a spatula to scrape down the bowl and paddle.
Remove the bowl from the mixer; transfer 3/4 of the dough into the prepared pan. Use the palm of your hand to press the dough down lightly and evenly. Chill the crust dough while you make the topping: Work the remaining 1/4 cup flour into the remaining dough with your fingertips so that it forms small crumbs. Set aside at room temperature.
For the caramel: Combine the butter, corn syrup, brown sugar and condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Allow the mixture to boil gently, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken and darken slightly. Pour into a stainless steel bowl to cool for 5 minutes.
To assemble: Pour the cooled filling on top of the chilled dough, then scatter the crumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the filling bubbles gently and is a deep caramel color and the dough and crumb topping are baked through.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 to 20 minutes, until lukewarm. Use the parchment paper/foil to lift the slab of bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board before it has cooled completely. Cut the slab into roughly 2-inch squares.
- Be careful with the caramel so it doesn’t get too thick. I made mine a bit too thick and it was very hard to spread. After using an offset spatula for most of the spreading, I used my hands to press the caramel onto the places I just couldn’t get the caramel to stick (it had cooled enough by then)
- It is also helpful to dollop the caramel all over the bars and then spread the large dots of caramel together with an offset spatula. There is less pulling at the crust I found.
- Be sure to spoon the flour into your measuring cup and level it off so you get the right amount of flour.
- My dough was a bit more crumbly (dry) than it should have been because my Kitchen Aid broke (Gasp!) and I had to use my old-time hand mixer- which apparently is a bit harder to handle than I thought. I had the mishap of some butter jumping out of the bowl. So, the crumb mixture should be in bigger pieces of crumb. It is more of a cosmetic thing…they still tasted wonderful.
- I think a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt before the crumb topping would be a wonderful addition.