Saturday, December 24, 2016

Salted Caramel Apple Butter Bars

Salted Caramel Apple Butter Bars - made December 10, 2016 from The Cookies & Cups Cookbook by Shelly Jaronsky
Merry Christmas Eve! Or happy first night of Hanukkah! Or happy whichever holiday you celebrate. Frankly, I can't believe the year is almost over and I only have one more week to be in denial about it. But time and baked goods experiments march on.

If you checked where I got this and the Marbled Hazelnut Chocolate Cookie recipes from, you'll probably have figured out I got a new cookbook for Christmas. You'll also notice, based on the dates when I made each recipe, that I opened my present before Christmas Day. Yeah, I'm weak. Actually, I got it in the mail from a friend and, based on the size and shape, I figure it would be a cookbook and I would probably want to try something from it right away. Turns out I was right on both counts, ha.

I have made recipes from Shelly Jaronsky's Cookies & Cups blog before. I think I found previous recipes via pinterest. It's always nice to see a food blogger come out with his or her own cookbook after they've been blogging for awhile. That's a level of dedication and professionalism I don't have since I only do my blog for fun, during my free time outside of work. I know how much work doing this as a hobby is so I can only imagine how doing it full-time as a job is. So it's always great to see a mark of that success in the form of their own cookbook.
Like a kid with a new toy, me with a new baking book means I go through the whole book, marking which recipes I want to make sooner than later and I get started right away. So don't be surprised if I do another one or two recipes from the book then it disappears again for awhile. Because after 3-4 recipes, I will likely have gotten distracted by another book or my pinterest board called me back to try something else. For now, let's go with these bars. I had actually thought I'd made these already from the Cookies & Cups blog but a search of my record says nope. So I rectified that.
I made a couple of minor mistakes with this one. First, baking at 325 degrees only seemed to melt the bottom layer rather than bake it so I cranked up my oven to 350 degrees to get some browning action going on. Which would've been okay if I hadn't taken my eye off the oven for a minute or 6 because next thing you know, the base layer was golden brown all over instead of just at the edges. Oops, my bad.

Just out of the oven
But I figured that would be okay because the caramel and apples would add some moisture and it's better that the bottom wasn't soggy. So I forged on. My second "mistake" was I couldn't find my little jar of fleur de sel to sprinkle over the caramel layer. You know, the "salted" part of "salted caramel". So I sprinkled it with a tiny bit of table salt instead. I know, that was a little pathetic. It was even more pathetic that (of course) I found the fleur de sel later.
Whatevs, despite my mistakes, these turned out pretty well. Even the golden brown crust that only baked further after the top layer was put on. That helped make the bottom of the bars crisp so they didn't get soggy even with the baked apples and caramels on top of it and provided a nice texture contrast. The top layer of bits of dough layered over the apples and caramel didn't spread as uniformly as I thought they should have. I think it was because I did chill the dough while I worked on the lower layers. If I had kept it at room temperature, I think they would've spread more and looked more like a nice even layer. Look at the pic on the Cookies & Cups blog and you'll see what I mean,
I also got a little fancy and sprinkled the top with cinnamon sugar. I'd like to tell you it was because I was getting creative but that'd be a bald-faced lie. I'd made my favorite snickerdoodle recipe before this to put in holiday gifts and had some cinnamon sugar left over. I didn't want to waste my precious Penzey's Vietnamese Cinnamon so I used it for the top of this caramel apple bar. Which, incidentally, was freaking delicious. A bit rich with all that butter, a bit sweet with the caramel but I loved the combination of butter shortbread crust and top with tart apples and sweet caramel. A winner as a fall dessert.
2 cups (1 pound) salted butter, at room temperature (I used unsalted)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
14 ounces soft caramels, unwrapped (about 55 pieces of Kraft caramel)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon flaked sea salt
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced (I used 3 Granny Smiths)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.
  4. Turn the speed to low and gradually add the flour, mixing until the dough comes together.
  5. Divide the dough in half. Press half into the bottom of the prepared pan. Wrap the other half in plastic and refrigerate until needed.
  6. Bake the base for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool slightly but leave the oven on.
  7. In a medium saucepan, combine the caramels and cream; melt over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Once the caramel is melted and smooth, pour evenly over the top of the baked base.
  8. Sprinkle sea salt evenly onto the caramel and layer the apples over the caramel evenly, overlapping where necessary.
  9. Remove the reserved dough from the refrigerator and crumble it evenly on top of the apples, covering it as much as possible.
  10. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is light golden brown and caramel is bubbling. Cool completely before cutting.

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