Salted caramel sounds quite strange at first. Even to those who swear that they enjoy salty-sweet combinations have a hard time understanding the appeal. Perhaps it's the somewhat unapologetic mash-up of the two that makes it seem so unusual. But all doubts are removed after your first taste. You finally understand. Words can't describe it other than to say that it's salty-sweet and oh so good.
These Cookie Bars were actually a standby recipe for Easter in case my mother couldn't decide on something that she wanted to bake. Her choice was decidedly less sweet (it being bread and all) so we made both recipes and I’m really glad that we did. The combination of chocolate chip cookies and salted caramel should not be missed. Although it appears that my bars turned out incredibly different from the original recipe. This may have occurred for a number of reasons. However, I can't imagine they were any less delicious.
As for my changes to the recipe I reduced the brown sugar by a third and halved the vanilla, but the most significant change was to reduce the chocolate chips from two full cups to a cup and a third. For me, it was a bit too much chocolate. Heck, I was originally going to use only a cup, but decided an empty bag of chocolate chips was better :). With full disclosure in mind, I suppose I should also mention that the caramel wasn't prepared exactly as I will have it listed in the recipe. My mother accidentally forgot to add the butter, which we both didn't realize until it was much too late. And when we did realize it, she wouldn't let herself (or me) forget it for the rest of the day. My mother apologized profusely with the hope that she hadn't ruined the whole thing. Her over apologetic panic (as I call it) was amusing to me because this is usually my M.O. I considered the oversight a none-issue and not worth worrying about. I don’t see the butter lending much structure or firmness to the caramel.
My reduction in chocolate chips (giving me less batter overall) coupled with the need to change the pan from 11x7 inches (I'm not even sure I've ever seen one) to a 9 inch square pan (figuring 81 square inches was close enough) likely accounts for the majority of the differences between these and the original bars. The combination caused the dough to be spread a bit thin and I would suggest using an 8 inch pan instead. And though I did make my own caramel, which may have been a tad softer than in the original recipe, I don’t think it realistically impacted the final product.
When it comes to actually building the bars my suggestion is to refrigerate the prepared layers (cookie-caramel) before adding the final cookie dough layer. Otherwise there is no elegant way to spread the cookie dough over the caramel. I ended up pushing the caramel around a bit more than I would have liked, but eventually got it pretty even.
My first thought as I cut into the bars was that they had risen much more than the original. The layers were also far less defined and the bars seemed to have a more uniform structure. Not unlike a blondie. The caramel layer had essentially fused with the bottom cookie layer. But the discrepancy was easily ignored after my first taste, which was nothing short of fantastic. The creamy sweet caramel flavour combined with the lightly sweet chewy cookie, and the richer semi-sweet chocolate was good on its own; but then everything is turned upside down when the salt hits your palette. It's just too much to process. The contrasting flavours are crazy good and so well balanced. Not too sweet, not too rich, not too salty and no one flavour overpowered any other (making me extra happy that I had reduced the chocolate). As an interesting (perhaps?) side note the chocolate chips never really re-solidified. Three days after baking they were still in a half melted and gooey state. Not that I'm complaining. What this did mean however, is that there was little to no texture variance, making each bite super soft and chewy. This is good or bad depending on your tastes. It was almost like a Mars bar (that's a Milky Way bar for Americans. It's all very confusing). And even though I would have preferred a bit of a difference in texture, I'm not complaining. Besides, I like Mars (Milk Way) Bars :).
So my Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars didn't end up having (what looked like) the ooey-gooey crispiness of the original, but this is by no means a bad thing. What I ended up with was fantastic on its own, even though it was completely different. The flavours work so well together, and how could they not? We're talking about combining a terrific chocolate chip cookie, with salted caramel. It’s like the RoboCop of desserts and we all know how awesome RoboCop is. If you're not sure, the correct answer is “SUPER AWESOME!” :)
Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod2 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour (287g)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter butter, melted (169g)
2/3 cup packed golden yellow/light brown sugar (140g)
1/2 cup sugar (100g)
1 large egg, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tsps to 1/2 tbsp Sea salt, for sprinkling
Adapted from me1/2 cup sugar (100g)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp heavy cream
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp unsalted butter (28g)
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 325F and line an 8 inch (my suggestion), 11x7 inch (per the original recipe), or 9 inch (what I used) pan with foil and grease foil.
In a medium bowl add flour, baking soda and salt and whisk to combine. Set aside to begin preparing caramel.
Attach a candy thermometer onto a small saucepan and add sugar, cream, honey, butter and salt.
Set saucepan over medium-high heat and continuously 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.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla
While you're waiting for the caramel to come to temperature finish the cookie layers.
In the bowl of a mixer, add butter and both sugars and beat until combined. Add egg, egg yolk and vanilla and continue to beat until mixture is smooth.
Check your caramel temperature!
Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients until no streaks of flour remain.
Check your caramel temperature!
Stir in chocolate chips.
Divide the cookie dough in half pressing the first half into the prepared pan. Spread evenly and smooth top.
Pour warm caramel over cookie layer and spread until even. Sprinkle half of the salt (you don't have to use it all) over top of the caramel until sufficiently covered.
(At this point I would suggest refrigerating for a few minutes)
Top caramel layer with other half of cookie dough and spread evenly. Sprinkle the remaining half of salt over top until sufficiently covered.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until top is lightly golden and the edges are pulling away from the pan (32 minutes for me).
Allow to cool in pan on rack until completely cool.