Put on your fat pants. These bars are seriously addictive.
What is it with me and the combination of chocolate and caramel these days? For a gal who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, I can’t seem to get enough of it.
These bars are one part candy, one part cookie. For this recipe, cinnamon-laced brown-sugar shortbread is draped in a rich fudge topping that’s half chocolate ganache, half dulce de leche.
As with most good things, the waiting is the hardest part about making these. Once you make ’em, they need a good three or four hours to set up.
What is dulce de leche? What kind should I use for this recipe?
Good question. Dulce de leche is milk that’s been slow cooked with sugar until it basically turns into a thick caramel sauce.
I know a bunch of folks who make their own, but I wouldn’t go through the trouble for this recipe. The topping for these bars is mainly chocolate flavored. The dulce de leche adds a subtle caramel flavor, and contributes to the velvety consistency.
Save the homemade stuff for when it’s the star of the show. I used a bottle La Salamandra, and it worked out great. I picked it up at Whole Foods, by the ice cream toppings.
It was all I could do to keep from jumping into the jar and swimming around with my mouth open.
I mean, seriously:
That said, when it comes time to make my own, you bet your pants I’m going to use Alton Brown’s dulce de leche recipe, which practically has cult status on the interwebs.
What kind of chocolate to use (plus the best way to chop it)
I make this recipe with regular ole semi-sweet Baker’s chocolate. By all means, use your favorite kind. Aim for 50-60 percent cacao.
Ever try to chop blocks of Baker’s chocolate with a butcher’s knife? Did you cut yourself? I know I did, and I’m pretty good with pointy things.
Blocks of chocolate like this are big, bulky, and can be downright slippery. That’s why I always use a serrated bread knife to chop chocolate.
Its pointy little teeth dig into the chocolate as you chop, which stabilizes your knife and makes the whole process a lot easier—and safer, in my book.
Press down on the end of your knife as you chop.
Chop the chocolate finely, so that it melts quickly.
Serving suggestions for caramel fudge bars
(You mean aside from sitting down with the pan, a fork, and a big glass of milk?)
I recommend serving these with a cup or two of good espresso. The bitterness of the coffee is a nice foil for the creamy fudge topping.
Cut them into large squares—or dainty petit fours. If you’re packing them to travel, cut them into small squares and nestle each one in a mini-muffin liner.
I like to garnish large pieces with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream right before serving. Trust me: Your guests won’t know what hit them.
Caramel Fudge Bars with Cinnamon Shortbread Crust
16 Tbls. butter, softened on the counter for about 20 minutes
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups flour
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups dulce de leche
8 egg yolks from jumbo eggs
10 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped finely
Yields 1 (9×13 inch) pan
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan lightly with oil. Line it with parchment paper, so that the paper hangs over two sides. This will make it easier to air lift the whole thing out later, if you like.
Make the cinnamon shortbread crust
Put the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of your mixer.
Toss in the vanilla, salt, and cinnamon.
Beat on high until you have a homogeneous paste.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Turn it over a few times with your spatula to be sure you don’t have stray sugar in the very bottom of the bowl.
Toss in the flour and mix a little with your spatula to get the dough started.
Then mix on high for maybe 30 seconds, until the dough just comes together.
You want it to look about like this (think really fresh Play-Doh).
Transfer the dough to your prepared pan.
Smoosh the dough down with your hands, spreading it out so that it fills the entire pan.
Try to get it fairly level (so it bakes evenly), but don’t make yourself nuts.
Next, prick the dough all over with a fork. The holes will let steam out as the shortbread cooks, which will keep your cookie crust from developing big bubbles.
Pop the pan into your preheated 375-degree oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
The shortbread is done when the surface is firm to the touch and the edges are golden brown.
Set the pan aside to cool to room temperature.
Make the fudge topping
Next, grab your eggs.
Put the yolks in a large mixing bowl.
Beat them well, then set them aside while you deal with the cream.
Grab your dulce de leche. Try not to gobble down the whole jar. Put the cream and dulce de leche in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot.
Set it on the stove over medium heat.
Whisk gently to break up the dulce de leche.
Keep whisking until all the dulce de leche has melted and the mixture is uniform.
Bring it up to a simmer, whisking often. As the mixture gets hot, it will thicken.
When it comes to a simmer, remove the pot from the heat. Pour about half of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks in a slow, thin stream. Whisk constantly. You want to temper the egg yolks (raise their temperature gently) so they don’t scramble.
When you’ve poured in about half the mixture, add the rest to the bowl, whisking continuously.
Next, pour the contents of your bowl back into the pot. Pour through a strainer, if you like, to catch any errant bits of egg that may have cooked solid.
Clip a candy thermometer to the inside of your pot and set it on the stove over medium-high heat.
Whisk continuously. Cook like this until the mixture reaches 175 degrees and has thickened.
When it’s ready, the mixture should coat the back of a spoon and hold a line, like this:
Warning: Keep a good eye on your candy thermometer and be careful not to overcook the mixture. (If you do, it can break and separate, making it basically unusable.)
When it’s ready, remove the pot from the heat and toss in the chopped chocolate.
Whisk to combine. The chocolate will start to melt immediately.
Keep whisking until all the chocolate has melted.
Assemble & chill the bars
Pour the chocolate mixture on top of your cooled shortbread crust.
Spread it out with a spatula so that it’s relatively even. Let it cool to room temperature on the counter. Then pop it into the fridge uncovered to chill completely, about 3 to 4 hours. (This is the hard part, where you wait.)
Serve & enjoy!
When the bars are ready to cut, the fudge topping will be pretty firm. Slice with a knife dipped in hot water, wiping it down in between each cut.