I confess. I have never completely gotten over my childhood sweet-tooth. I can always rationalize it: I NEED a bit of sweet after dinner or with a cup of coffee or because I had a bad day and I deserve it…. So to celebrate the sweet-tooth, I want to dedicate Saturdays to sweet yummies. I’m starting it off with my current guilty pleasure: Salted Caramel Espresso Bars–the perfect combo of sweet and salty, smooth and gooey; AND truly just the thing with a cup of coffee! Need a bit more to convince you? Have a look–notice the smooth chocolate, the sweet, gooey caramel layer, the perfect graham crust and the perfect touch of sea salt…..mmmmmm:
I found this recipe in a magazine in the grocery checkout lane: Italian put out by the folks at Better Homes and Gardens. It’s a recipe from Giada–she who is too gorgeous and too thin to be a chef, but makes luscious food. I have altered it just a wee bit to account for my personal cooking laziness.
Now that you’re drooling…go get your ingredients!
For the crust:
Vegetable oil cooking spray
9 whole graham crackers, crumbled, about 1 1/2 cups (cinnamon grahams are fine)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
For the caramel:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1 TBSP water
For the chocolate layer:
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 3/4 tsp instant espresso powder (1 pkg of Starbucks Via works if you can’t find espresso powder)
1 tsp sea salt
To make the crust:
Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 7 x 10 3/4 inch non-stick baking pan with cooking spray. Lay a piece of parchment paper in the pan, allowing for there to be a couple of inches of excess on the short sides. Spray the parchment paper lightly with cooking spray.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the graham crackers and brown sugar. Process until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add the melted butter and blend until mixture is combined.
Spread the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing gently to form an even layer. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges of the crust are golden. Cool on a rack at room temperature for 10 minutes.
To make the caramel:
In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the heavy cream, butter, brown sugar and water. Stir over medium heat until the mixture is smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook without stirring until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees F. 5-7 minutes. Carefully pour the caramel over the cooled crust. Allow the caramel to cool and set at room temperature, about 30 minutes.
To make the chocolate layer:
Here’s where I’ve altered the recipe–I use the microwave to melt the chips, Giada uses a double boiler. My way is faster and makes less dishes! : )
Combine the chocolate chips and heavy cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each 30 seconds, until chocolate and cream combine smoothly. You will have a stage in the middle that looks funny and sort of soupy, this is ok.
Stir in the espresso powder.
Pour the chocolate mixture over the caramel layer and smooth the edges with a spatula.
Sprinkle the top with sea salt. Allow the chocolate layer to harden. I put my bars in the freezer for a bit–they’re easier to cut later if they’re a bit more firm than leaving them at room temperature. They should be set in 30 minutes or so. If you let them go longer, just leave them out for a bit before attempting to cut them.
Using a warm, damp knife, carefully cut around the edges to free it from the pan. Using the paper overhang as handles, carefully remove bars from the pan and set on a cutting board. Cut about 1 inch squares and store in a refrigerated air-tight container. Bring bars to room temperature for at least 1-2 hours before serving. (Makes about 48 bars.)
I like to give these little bites of heavenly yumminess as gifts. (It is MUCH too dangerous to have a whole batch in the house, and my friends love them!) To make sure they don’t stick together and so they look pretty, I wrap each one in waxed paper and tie it with a pretty ribbon.
Enjoy after dinner, with a cup of coffee or if you’ve had a rough day and you deserve a little somethin’ yummy!