The Bar That Needs A Warning Label – “Dangerously Good”

June 17, 2009 at 6:28 pm 69 comments

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

Shortbread Base
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!

Entry filed under: Bars/Brownies. Tags: , , , , , .

17 and Baking Makes Some Dough – Lemon-Thyme Shortbread Hearts IT’S SUMMER!

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    Mmm, definitely a sugar fiend, no question about it. :D

    Very nice underwear cake! It made me laugh!

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  • 16. ciaochowlinda  |  June 17, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Mmm how can you do this to me just as I’m going to bed? Now I’m hungry for those scrumptious bars.

  • 17. gratinee  |  June 17, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    I’m a sugar fiend and a salt enthusiast. Hence the adoration for Reese’s peanut butter cups. The bars look fantastic, Elissa! My list of Things to Bake is getting longer. Oh, and that underwear cake is too cute!

  • 18. Baking Monster  |  June 17, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    These look like the perfect combination! You are so good at doing packaging your goods! and the cake made me chuckle, good job!

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  • 20. Monica H  |  June 17, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Ooh, these look so good. I’m not a salty sweet person, so I may sub the salted peanuts for pecans- that would be delicious. I may just make the shortbread- yum!

    Cute panties :-)

  • 21. Wendy  |  June 18, 2009 at 2:22 am

    Those bars look decadent! I should start trying out more recipes from B:FMHTY too, I’ve only tried a few recipes since ordering the book last summer. Nice cake too!
    Re your comment on my blog, I’ve actually started planning out my EE already. I’ve chosen geography, and my topic is gentrification/urban renewal in an old area in Hong Kong, and I’m going to collect primary data and (hopefully) have to hand in a 2500 word draft after summer holiday. BUT I wish I chose a topic on biology instead :( because it’s really just like a super long IA…
    sorry for the lengthy comment :P

  • 22. Jen  |  June 18, 2009 at 2:54 am

    YUM!!! Im going to make these bars! Thank you!!

    That last cake… I am sitll laughing! So awesome!!!

  • 23. Rebekka  |  June 18, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Oh my GOODNESS! Those do look out of control delicious!

  • 24. Valerie  |  June 18, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Oh, wow! I have to say, I am a fan of BOTH salty and sweet, and often have trouble choosing between them. So when I have the opportunity to make a combination of both, I’m in heaven! I’ll have to make these bars very soon!

    I think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has caused a lot of addictions over time. That book should also come with a warning…

    That underwear cake is so cute and funny! Congrats on your second paid order!

  • 25. Jen  |  June 18, 2009 at 6:55 am

    The underwear cake is a riot! Must have been a fun order to work on.

    I’m more of a salt craver. I am, however, all about the perfection reached when roasted nuts play well with chocolate. The ice cream ‘wich idea sends me over the edge!

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  • 32. stephchows  |  June 18, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Those bars look like the perfect thank you gift!!!! I love giving thank you baked goods :) And congrats on your second paid for job, a very funny cake :)

  • 33. nutmegnanny  |  June 18, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Salty and sweet….now you are talking my language!!! BTW congratulations on your second paid order!!!!

  • 34. marianne  |  June 18, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Wow… Those bars look incredible. My dad would drool Ooh! You just gave me a great Father’s Day idea!

  • 35. sfordinarygirl  |  June 18, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    I don’t have espresso powder. Is there another substitute you’d recommend or would the bars taste just fine w/o?

    I love how the presentation of the final product has such a personal touch. I’m going to make these to give as a thank you gift for some people I met while job searching. Thank you!

  • 36. Elissa  |  June 18, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Monica H – the original recipe uses chopped toffee instead of peanuts, that might be something you’d like!

    sfordinarygirl – You could try finely ground instant coffee or maybe even just really finely ground coffee. But a tsp is really not that much and if you leave it out, it will probably not effect the overall taste of the bars.

  • 37. Erin  |  June 19, 2009 at 5:23 am

    How sweet is this post!? Now of course you do realize that we all want to see what your hair looked like on Prom night.

  • 38. duodishes  |  June 19, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Your presentation is really nice. You’ve got a lot of great talent. The undies cake is hilarious!

  • 39. Megan{Feasting on Art}  |  June 19, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    When I read this post from the 17th of June on 17 and Baking there were 17 comments. Sorry I had to go and ruin it and make it 18 :)

    The bars look so delicious. I like the idea of sweet and salty, chewy and crunchy. Makes things interesting!

  • 40. Marta  |  June 20, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    I wish my mom had a salty vice… we’re both sugar people so we must always compete for finite baked goods, sometimes we arm wrestle… I’m much stronger! HA!
    I think a warning is pertinent with these bars! I’ve never made them, but I have tasted them from a friend and they are addictive!!!
    Yours look delightful :)

  • 41. Cookin' Canuck  |  June 20, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Great writing, photography, and recipe! I took Dorie Greenspan’s out from the library and will have to make this recipe before I return it.

  • 42. Amanda  |  June 20, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    These bars look great and I love the idea of making an icecream sandwich of them!

    The underwear cake is too cute. :)

  • 43. Eliana  |  June 21, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Sweet and salt together is a wonderful marriage. You made this dessert look wonderful. And the undies look super cute too.

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  • 45. Alicia  |  June 23, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    super cute undies! hehe. I just finished another cake for a bridal shower, and have two birthday orders for this weekend as well! I hope they turn out! Good job on your second paid order! =) Ps those bars look very dangerous…hehe.

  • 46. Madison  |  June 24, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Those bars look wonderful!

    Congrats on your secnd paid order! I bet that was very fun to make.

  • 47. Y  |  June 27, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Love the edible underwear..hehe..

    Those bars look seriously good too! The way you packaged them makes them look even more special.

  • 48. Bridget  |  July 1, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    This recipe looks amazing! Thank you for sharing.

    I’ve included it in my Top 25 recipe posts on Twitter because its such a winner!!

    Thank you again for the beautiful post.

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  • 49. Amycat  |  July 19, 2009 at 5:49 am

    The most addictive things ever to me are snacks that are both sweet and salty. I think that’s why people love Oreos so much. Well this is definitely on my to bake list. Thanks!

  • 50. chayacomfycook  |  July 19, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Sounds like the perfect shortbread. It has everything. I love the mingling of opposite tastes.

  • 51. Ria  |  August 6, 2009 at 2:30 am

    Very very pretty bars!

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  • 53. Eleventh St » Peanut-Chocolate-Caramel Crunch Bars  |  September 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    […] Crunch Bars Taken from 17 and Baking Makes a 9″x13″ […]

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  • 56. bakenshiz  |  February 20, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    if the new and old charlieandthechocofac movies combined, it would be THE best movie.
    haha my asian mother is also not a big fan of sweets. she asked me, “rather than feeding me cakes, can you cook instead?”
    … she was serious.

  • 57. fulltimefoodie  |  February 24, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I’m definitely going to have to make these. Do you think you could tell me how to make the card? I love making homemade cards for people.

    • 58. Elissa  |  February 24, 2010 at 8:12 pm

      Fulltimefoodie – I love making homemade cards too! I really like this card, since it opens like a flower. You cut out paper in the shape of a perfectly symmetrical butterfly or 4 leaf clover. The shape is like 4 overlapping circles, like this: You make that shape again, small enough to fit in the first, then a third that fits into the second. Then you fold down the “petals” into the center… hope this is clear, it’s kind of hard to explain!

  • 59. fulltimefoodie  |  February 28, 2010 at 5:28 am

    haha, thanks. I can’t wait to make one!! And those bars too ;)

  • 60. Carly  |  May 14, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was my favorite childhood book. I must’ve read it atleast 10 times!

    I made these bars for my friend’s birthday last weekend, and my goodness were they a hit, the espresso in the shortbread is absolutely to die for. The combo of salty and sweet and crumbly and creamy and crunchy all at once = HEAVEN.

    Thanks for another great recipe :)

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  • 62. Recipes to Try (Sweets/Desserts) | Schmelly Eats  |  August 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    […] Peanut-Chocolate-Caramel Crunch Bars From 17 and Baking (06/17/09) […]

  • 63. retro sweets  |  November 2, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Great .Those bars look incredible. My brother would drool Ooh! You just gave me a great brother’’s Day idea!

  • 64. Isabel Kitchen  |  May 15, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Like you I also have a tremendous sweet tooth. I love to bake, if I could I would do it everyday but I do try to limit myself on account of that butter=calories. Whenever I come across someone who proclaims to have a dislike for sugar I take it as a challenge to change their mind.

  • 65. K  |  September 5, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I stumbled across your ‘site, looking for a food blog written by a teen (being 14-and-baking myself). And oh my, am I glad I did. So far, every recipe I’ve clicked on looks not just good, but incredible. These bars are no exception. Unfortunately, my home has a picky eater in it; do you think that the peanuts on top could be replaced with peanut-butter chips? Thank you!

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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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