The Bar That Needs A Warning Label – “Dangerously Good”
I used to love the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a kid. Chocolate waterfalls, ice cream that never melts, everlasting gobstoppers? It seemed almost obscene! I am a chocoholic who might need rehab, a cinnamon-sugar addict who suffers from withdrawals, a sweetened coconut junkie. I have quite the sweet tooth, if you didn’t notice.
My mom, on the other hand, does not think much of sugar. No, her vice is salt. Chinese onion pancakes, crisp ridged potato chips, pretzels, these are what tempt her. She might nibble on a cookie, but there is no real desire there. Salty, sweet… compatibility might seem impossible. But whichever you are – a sugar fiend or a salt enthusiast – you might need to sit down before you take a look at these bars.
Sweet. Salty. Nutty. Crunchy. Crumbly. Chocolaty. Caramelly. I can’t even think of something witty to say about these addictive bars. Just look at another picture.
A chocolate studded brown sugar and coffee shortbread, cooked crisp so that the edges are caramelly. Then chocolate is spread over the warm bar and the whole thing is topped with salted roasted peanuts. Peanut-Chocolate-Caramel Crunch Bars. Goodness.
They were the perfect gift for my lovely neighbor who did my prom hair out of sheer kindness. Nine thirty at night, only two days before the dance, I knocked on her door with my hair in knots and frustration pouring out of me. I’m sure my desperation was overpowering, but for whatever reason, she was sweet enough to fit me into her packed schedule. When I asked her what kind of sweets she liked, she simply said, “I like nuts.”
And oh, she got nuts.
You might remember another thing from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – the amazing television commercials that Willy Wonka was perfecting. These commercials would allow the viewer to reach into the screen and sample his incredible chocolate. I used to wish it was real so that I could taste one of those chocolate bars, letting it melt in my mouth. Well, while those commercials don’t exist yet, you don’t need them to experience these bars for yourself.
You’ve got the recipe.
This is an easy recipe that came together pretty quickly and made the house smell wonderful. The only thing I had a bit of trouble with was the melted chocolate on top – there didn’t seem to be enough to spread and I thought I needed more. But once all was done and the bars were cut, the chocolate was just right. The cookie and chocolate layers brought a lot of sweetness, but the nuts added texture and a salty kick.
It cut into really beautiful bars that I felt proud to deliver next door. After sampling a few, I packed the bars into a cute little tin.
To add a bit of a personal touch, I made my favorite flower-card. Unfolded, it looks like a white square. Opening it reveals another square, which conceals a third square. Completely opened, the card looks like a flower.
I wrote my thank you, folded it up, and made a cute paper bow to keep it shut.
I hope she enjoyed the bars as much as I did!
I would also like to quickly note that Dorie Greenspan, creator of this recipe, suggests cutting the bars into 2″x4″ rectangles, spreading one with vanilla ice cream, topping with another bar, and freezing for a decadent ice cream sandwich.
Peanut-Chocolate-Caramel Crunch Bars
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes a 9″x13″ pan
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 oz bittersweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped
6 oz bittersweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup chopped salted, roasted peanuts
Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9″x13″ pan and line with foil so that some comes up over the edges. Butter the foil and put the pan on a baking sheet.
Whisk together the flour, espresso powder, salt, and cinnamon and set aside. In a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed for 3 minutes until smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then add the dry ingredients. Use a low speed and cover the mixer with a clean towel to avoid flour flying up. Mix until the dry ingredients are almost incorporated.
Add the chopped chocolate and mix until just combined, mixing by hand if necessary. Scrape the dough into the pan and smooth the top. The dough will be very thick and sticky and make a very thin layer. Use a spatula or your fingertips to make an even layer.
Bake 20-22 minutes, or until the base is very bubbly and beginning to pull from the sides. Transfer the pan to a rack and turn off the oven.
Sprinkle the chopped chocolate onto the bars and put back in the oven for 2-3 minutes, or until the chocolate is soft. Spread with a spatula or the back of a spoon into an even layer over the bars. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts and lightly press down with your fingertips, and let the bars cool to room temperature.
Carefully lift the bars out of the pan using the foil and cut into bars.
Printer Friendly Version – Peanut-Chocolate-Caramel Crunch Bars
PS: The following photo was taken at 8 PM with kitchen lights and even (gulp) flash. The quality is not so good. But I couldn’t resist showing you all my 2nd paid order… a cake shaped like underwear for a very funny birthday present. Chocolate cake, raspberry jam, the most spectacular lemon cream cheese frosting, pink icing ruffles, and a white chocolate bow.
The frosting around the bottom was damaged when the cake was transferred to the gold platter despite my crumb coat and best efforts, but I fixed it as well as I could after taking the photo!