I was going through my baking cabinet and I found a bag of caramels that I bought last Halloween to make candy apples, but I never got around to it. I was about to toss them, but then I saw the expiration date was March 22nd, so they were still good. So, I wanted to use them right away. I found this recipe for Oatmeal Carmelitas and I decided it would be the perfect way to salvage the caramels. These bars have a butterscotch flavored oatmeal crust, with a chocolate chip and gooey caramel center, topped with oatmeal crumbs. They sound difficult to make because of the three layers. But, really they aren’t because the crumb mixture serves double duty as crust and crumb topping. Actually, the hardest thing about making these bars was unwrapping all the caramels. But, I enlisted the help of my daughter Sammie and together we made a quick job of it. When the bars are hot from the oven, while they don’t slice well, they are delicious with all the melted chocolate and gooey caramel. What a great topping this would be for a big scoop of vanilla ice cream! But, if you can be patient and wait for them to cool, the center will set and they cut into nice bars. I suggest eating these cookies over a plate or napkin because with all that topping, crumbs go everywhere. But, I think that is part of their charm. With two sticks of butter, these may not be the healthiest bar. But, they do have a good deal of oatmeal. Doesn’t that make them at least a tiny bit healthy? I think so.
Yield : 13 x9 pan ~ 24 one inch bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
11/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 (14-ounce) bag Kraft soft caramel candies, unwrapped (about 50)
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips I added about 1/4 cup extra
1 cup chopped pecans (optional) I omitted
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish (or use nonstick baking spray). I lined with foil with an overhang and then sprayed it. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until creamy. Slowly add the flour mixture and blend until incorporated. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to fold in the oats. The mixture will be crumbly. Transfer half (about 3 cups) of the mixture to the baking dish. Use your fingers to gently press and spread the mixture evenly on the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes to set.
While the first layer is baking, place the caramels and milk in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramels are melted. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Remove the crust from the oven. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and pecans (if desired) evenly over the top. Carefully pour the caramel mixture on top of the chocolate chips and nuts, and spread evenly. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until the bars are set. Cut into 2-inch squares.