I first made these for Easter last year and it was a last minute decision too. I needed one more item for my menu and just couldn't come to a decision. My mother had shut down my idea for white chocolate pumpkin blondies (little did she know) and as a replacement I was leaning towards a caramel cashew bar. My only reservation was the (likely) uneven distribution of the cashews and chocolate, which I hate. As a result, I had direction but not destination. Then, as the eleventh hour loomed, I had a revelation: crust layer, caramel layer, cashew layer, chocolate layer. And so the Fancy Snickers were born.
I really wanted to make them again for Easter this year, but there were a few differences when compared to last. Originally I used a chocolate ganache as the top layer, not realizing (or thinking) that it would virtually melt at room temperature. It made for a slightly messy eating experience, but tasted fantastic. As well, I used packaged Kraft caramels (per the original recipe), which if you don't have a candy thermometer is a great tasting and easy option. But this time I wanted to make my caramel from scratch. I had yet to give my candy thermometer a try, and a fresh creamy caramel was the perfect opportunity. And finally last year it was all cashew all the time, whereas this year I wanted to try it out with peanuts. I felt they would give more of an authentic Snickers flavour. But not being able to jump straight into the deep end, I made half cashew and half peanut. Nothing beats a side by side comparison after all.
Despite all these layers this recipe is actually pretty simple, it just has a bunch of steps. If you've made a cookie, you can make the crust and chances are if you can melt butter then you can melt butter and chocolate together :). Should you choose to forgo the fresh caramel, it becomes even easier. However, if you have the option to make the caramel you really should. All you require is a candy thermometer, which I have; or skill, which I don't have :); but you won't need both :). Regarding the caramel, I would love to say that it was my intention from the outset to make it a bit fancier by using honey, but like most of my ideas it was a matter of necessity (i.e. poor planning). The original caramel recipe calls for light corn syrup, and I had none, though I thought I did. So honey it was and honey it shall always be, because let me tell you, it was awesome. This will not be my last caramel. From now on they will all be from scratch. It's just that easy and just that good.
These really do remind you of a slightly upscaled version of Snickers. The milk chocolate is a bit softer and creamier thanks to the butter, the caramel is smooth and creamy with notes of honey, and the crust is soft and just lightly sweet. In fact I would say that one of the most wonderful things about this bar is that it's softer and more delicate then your average Snickers bar, especially if you decide to use cashews over peanuts. And what about the peanut vs. cashew debate? Well I think it depends entirely on what you want. The peanuts definitely make it taste more like an actual Snickers bar, but the softer, richer, creamier cashew works so well with the overall texture that I think for this one, it's the winner. After all, these are Fancy Snickers, and as much as I love peanuts, we all know that the cashew is its snooty rich cousin :).
I do have a few changes for next time though, mostly surrounding how to combine the caramel and cashew. Because I layered the cashews/peanuts onto the caramel you don't get the full impact of the nuts given the amount of caramel. Originally I thought that I would lessen the amount of caramel but that was before tasting :). As an alternative, my solution will be to mix the nuts into the caramel before pouring it over the crust. This way they will be incorporated throughout the caramel instead of just on top. To help a little more, I might also increase the overall amount of nuts. However, if you prefer to do the layered thing, I would use about half the caramel.
Snickers just happen to be one of my favourite chocolate bars (there are a few vying for top position, but that's a separate post :) ) and if you love Snickers you will love these bars. True, it's not exactly the same thing but if you want something that's rich and creamy and hits all of the notes of a Snickers while adding a few twists, then give these a try (I'm just saying). Besides, if you want a Snickers my suggestion would be to just go buy one (or two). Its less work, faster, and most importantly, you don't have to share :).
Adapted from Cookie MadnessCrust:
3/4 cups all purpose flour (98g)
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature (85g)
6 tbsp packed brown sugar (83g)
2 tbsp lightly beaten egg
Adapted from Chow1 cup sugar (200g)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup unsalted butter (57g)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup salted cashew or peanut halves
7 oz milk chocolate (200g)
1 tbsp unsalted butter (14g)
Preheat oven to 350F and line an 8 inch square pan with foil and grease foil.
In the small or medium bowl of an electric mixer cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add salt and egg and beat until completely combined, scraping down bowl as necessary. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add flour and oats mixing until combined.
Press the batter into prepared pan and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until crust begins to turn golden brown at its edges (it took me 18 minutes).
Allow to cool until ready to be used.
Attach a candy thermometer onto a medium saucepan and add sugar, cream, honey, butter and salt.
Set saucepan over medium-hight heat and continusly stir the mixture until the sugar has dissolved completely (this will take approximately 2 minutes). Bring mixture to a boil swirling the pan (but do not stir) periodically. Allow to boil until mixture reaches a temperature of 248F.
If you are mixing cashews into the caramel (I will be doing this next time)
Remove pan from heat, add vanilla and cashews and stir until combined and evenly distributed.
Pour caramel-cashew mix over cooled crust.
If you are layering the cashews
Remove pan from heat, add vanilla and stir until combined.
Pour caramel over cooled crust, and layer the cashews overtop pressing them down lightly so they stick.
Allow to cool before adding final layer – you can speed up the process by using the refrigerator
In a medium heat proof bowl over a pot of simmering water, add chocolate and butter. Stir periodically until completely melted.
Pour chocolate over cooled caramel and spread evenly. Give a few shakes and light taps to bring any air bubbles to the surface.
Allow to cool completely and then chill in fridge before cutting.
As a warning I would store the cut bars in the fridge. If you're house is too warm the caramel will begin to sag a bit (but stays just as delicious :)).