Monday, December 21, 2009

Fantasy Bars aka Dulce de Leche bars

Fantasy Bars - December 20, 2009 from Fearless Baking by Elinor Klivans

If your fantasy involves chocolate, white chocolate and caramel in a brown sugar bar cookie, these are aptly named. I'm renaming them Dulce de Leche bars because that's what I used in the recipe instead of caramel and it helps me remember what they are. Besides, my fantasies change in any given day, haha.

The recipe calls for making caramel from scratch but when I'm baking for the umpteenth time for dozens of people, I take shortcuts where I can. Substituting dulce de leche for caramel is an easy choice to make. For those of you who don't know what it is, dulce de leche is a milk-based sauce and is made by heating sweetened milk until it resembles and tastes like caramel. In short, it's fabulous. I get the jar from Williams Sonoma which costs an arm and a leg, not to mention having a horrible number of calories. Obviously I care about neither of these things when it comes to baking with it.

This recipe calls for baking the bars for 35 minutes and not being able to rely on the toothpick method since the caramel filling the middle interferes with the toothpick test. I dutifully baked it for the required 35 minutes and even timed it but I think I should've baked it longer to give the bottom crust time to bake a bit more. It was a bit mushy which is fine and didn't interfere with the taste but since the filling is already mushy, I'd prefer the bar cookie part to be a bit firmer. I omitted the nuts on this one and used white chocolate chips instead of chopped white chocolate since I didn't have white chocolate on hand. Overall, it's pretty good but I think what I preferred most about it was the dulce de leche. If I had used real caramel, it might be a trifle too sweet for me.

Cookie Dough
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ pound (2 sticks) soft unsalted butter
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

¾ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup (about 6 ounces) white chocolate, chopped in about ½-inch pieces, Callebaut or Lindt preferred
1 recipe caramel sauce (¾ cup), cooled until warm to touch, about 30 minutes

1. Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a 9 x 9 x 2-inch or 11 x 7 x 2-inch pan with heavy aluminum foil that extends over 2 ends of the pan. Butter the inside of the foil in the pan.
2. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together into a medium bowl or onto a piece of wax paper and set aside.
3. Put the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture looks blended together thoroughly, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the mixture from the sides of the bowl and any that becomes caught in the beaters as needed throughout the mixing process. Mix in the egg and vanilla until they are blended in and the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing just until it is incorporated and there is no loose flour. Use a large spoon to stir in the chocolate chips. Spoon half of the cookie dough in large clumps evenly over the bottom of the lined pan. Use your fingers or a thin metal spatula to smooth the dough into an even layer that covers the pan bottom. Set the remaining dough aside.
4. Make the filling: Spoon the walnuts and white chocolate pieces evenly over the cookie dough. Leaving about 1 ½-inch edge bare, drizzle the caramel sauce evenly over the walnuts and white chocolate. Some of the caramel will spread to the edge. Refrigerate the pan until the caramel sauce is firm, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and drop pieces of the reserved cookie dough evenly over the firm filling. Spread the dough evenly over the filling to cover it completely.
5. Bake the bars for about 35 minutes, until the top feels firm and is lightly browned. Testing with a toothpick does not work, as the thick filling makes the toothpick come out wet with filling. Cool the bars for about 3 hours at room temperature. The chocolate will still be soft, but this is fine for serving or cutting. The chocolate becomes firm after about 8 hours or overnight. To firm the bars more quickly, cool them for 1 hour at room temperature, then refrigerate them for 2 hours.
6. Carefully lift the aluminum foil liner with the bars from the baking pan. Use a small knife to loosen the liner from the sides of the bars. Cut the bars into 35 pieces, cutting 5 rows lengthwise and 7 rows across. The bars will be slightly smaller than 1 ½ inches square. Use a wide spatula to slide the bars off the foil liner. Serve at room temperature. Vanilla, chocolate or caramel ice cream makes a good accompaniment, if desired. Leftover bars can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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