Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and all the bad things that may be. Let’s talk about…me eating all these bars because I’m addicted and I just can’t get enough, baby. I started singing a song there for you, but then quickly realized it was inappropriate for the internets so I had to change it up a tiny bit. I mean, this is a family blog after all. What kind of site do you think I’m running?!?! There are children on here, probably. But maybe not, I don’t actually know that for a fact. Who’s to say, really? Just in case there are kids on here though; eat your vegetables and fruits. Stay in school. Say no to drugs and alcohol and all that sort of stuff (This message has been brought to you by the responsible Jonathan Melendez).
Sometimes peanut butter and chocolate just need to mash together to make a dessert that’ll blow your mind, you know? Sometimes the only way to survive is by combining pretzels, chocolate, roasted peanuts, caramel, peanut butter and chocolate into one dessert. And in that order too. It’s an explosion of flavor that can solve any and all problems. When those moments occur it’s best to just go with the flow. Don’t fight it because fighting will only result in frustrated denial. You’ll eventually come around and when you do you’ll find yourself eating every last bit of this dessert. Maybe even licking the pan—I’m guessing. Well, when I put it that way, those consequences don’t sound all that bad. So go ahead and say no now, I dare you to. Say no to dark chocolate topped with salty pretzels. Say no to peanut butter caramel mixed with roasted peanuts. Say no to a buttery shortbread crust. I double dog dare you to. Really I’m just daring you to say no so that I can have it all to myself. There, now that it’s all out in the open, I feel much better.
The best way to go about this is to just dive in, head first, without regret. The sooner you come to the realization that you absolutely need these bars, the faster you’ll be able to devour them. Also you’ll be able to sleep better knowing that you had just about the best dessert known to man. Or for the time being. At the moment, this dessert is everything. Who know’s what it will be in a month, a week or even tomorrow? Just enjoy today and make these bars.
I’m trying to find the right things to say about this recipe. I mean sure I can say all the obvious things, like how delicious it is and how addicting these bars are. I can go on and on about the dark chocolate, the peanut butter caramel, the crushed pretzels and roasted peanuts in and on top of it. Sure, I can say all of that, but why would I? I can just let the bars speak for themselves. They can convince you to give them a try. Don’t believe me? I mean, did you look at that first image? If that doesn’t make you want to eat these right out of the computer screen then we’re not friends anymore. I’m kidding, but not really.
On a completely random side note, I noticed that my last post was comprised all of vertical shots. Every single image was a vertical, so I wanted to change things up a bit and do all horizontals for this post. Although the first and last few images have to be vertices because I’m OCD that way and I have a pattern that needs to stick. But for the most part, all the juicy middle bits are horizontal. Your scrolling fingers can thank me later. Enough yapping already, let’s get started.
We begin this quest by making the shortbread crust. We’re going to need softened butter. Room temperature butter.
Cream the butter on high for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
Reduce the speed to low and slowly stream in the granulated sugar. Raise the speed to high once more, and continue to cream until the butter and sugar are light and fluffy, about 3 more minutes.
Once again, lower the speed, and drizzle in the vanilla extract.
Stir until just combined. You might need to use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. You want to make sure everything is mixed well, so I guess I should say, use a spatula, instead of might need to. Just use the spatula friends. Use the spatula.
Stir once again for good measure.
It’s time to add the flour. We’re using just regular all-purpose flour. Nothing fancy here.
We’re also going to throw in a pinch of salt.
**Note: It might seem like salt is useless in desserts, since it’s such a small amount, but believe it or not, that tiny dash of salt enhances the flavors and just makes desserts so much better.**
Mix on low, so that the flour doesn’t go around flying everywhere, making a mess on you and in your kitchen. Then once you see the flour coming together with the butter and sugar, you can slowly raise the speed little by little to medium-high.
Continue to mix until the dough comes together and away from the sides of the bowl.
It should be slightly sticky to the touch but not overly sticky that it makes a mess of your fingers.
**Tip: If you find the dough to be too “wet” or sticky, add a bit of flour (a little at a time) until the desired consistency is reached. If you’ve made shortbread before, you’ll know what to look for.**
Place the dough into a 8-inch square baking pan, lined with parchment paper, with the sides hanging out.
**Tip: Leaving the sides of the parchment paper hanging from the pan will make it easier for you to remove the bars from the pan later on when you go to cut them. That way you can grab the parchment paper “handles” and lift up the bars out of the pan.**
Dust your hands with flour and pat out the dough to evenly cover the bottom of the pan.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until the edges of the crust are golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack, allowing the crust to cool down completely before proceeding to the next steps.
While the crust is cooling, let’s turn our attention to the peanut butter caramel filling layer. It’s actually super simple so don’t start panicking and crying. Wipe that sweat off your brow and take a deep breath. Pull yourself together. The first step is to boil water. That’s really easy right? You can boil water, right? RIGHT?!?!
Fill a pot halfway up with water and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow it to simmer.
Place a heat-proof bowl over the pot, making sure the bottom does not touch the water. This is what fancy foodie people call a double boiler. We can be just as fancy.
What makes this caramel so easy is that we’re getting a little help from the store with sweetened condensed milk. Throw in a can of that stuff into the bowl.
**Note: Make sure you pick up the correct can. You want sweetened condensed milk NOT evaporated milk. The two are totally different and one won’t work in place of the other. Keep that in mind. A rule I like to stick to, is that sweetened condensed milk is in the small can while the evaporated milk is in the taller can. You can also read the labels, that helps too…I guess.**
Add the peanut butter, next.
**Tip: Make sure to use smooth, regular peanut butter. This isn’t the recipe for homemade or that natural stuff because it’s too thin and watery. I find those peanut butters don’t work well with this recipe. So be bad and use the good ol’ fashioned stuff.**
And the last thing is the brown sugar.
Whisk the ingredients together until smooth.
Cook over the double boiler, stirring constantly for about 3 to 6 minutes until the mixture is completely smooth and somewhat thickened.
Pour the warm caramel over the cooled crust.
Spread the caramel with an offset metal spatula, making sure to cover the crust completely.
So I’m going to be completely honest with you and let you know that I made a mistake as I was making this and shooting it. I wrote out the recipe with the intent of having chopped up roasted peanuts folded into the caramel before spreading over the crust. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, so make sure to do that. I didn’t realize that I missed a step until after when I saw the chopped nuts off to the side. Oops. Happens to the best of us. Let’s just laugh about it.
So BEFORE you spread the caramel, let’s rewind. Chop up the roasted salted peanuts.
Fold the chopped peanuts into the caramel and then pour over the cooled crust, spreading it out evenly with an offset spatula.
**Tip: If you missed the step like I did, have no fear. You can add the peanuts on top of the caramel and then just lightly press them in. I won’t tell anyone if you don’t. Although I’ll just deny it if you do, and put the blame on you.**
Place the pan in the fridge and allow to chill for at least 30 minutes. You want the caramel to set.
In the meantime, we need to melt some chocolate. Remember that double boiler method from earlier? Yep, we’re being fancy again. Bring that up to a boil. Grab a clean bowl and place it over the water once more.
Dump in the chocolate.
We’re going to use dark chocolate for this one BUT if you don’t have dark chocolate on hand and all you have is, let’s say, milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate that’s okay. Feel free to use that instead.
**Tip: You can use whole chocolate that you cut up into small pieces to melt, or you can take the shortcut like I do all the time, and just use chocolate chips. Works like a charm.**
Carefully, melt the chocolate, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t seize on you. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the bowl from over the boiling water.
Pour the melted chocolate over the cooled caramel.
Same as with the caramel, spread out the chocolate evenly over the entire caramel layer. Make sure to smooth it out as much as possible.
We’re going to top this with salted pretzels. I think we have this salty and sweet thing covered rather well, don’t you?
Roughly chop the pretzels into pieces of varying sizes. You can leave them whole if you prefer.
Sprinkle the top liberally with the chopped pretzels, making sure to get every bit of surface covered. The crunchy topping will be a great texture for the bars.
Place the pan back in the fridge for another 30 minutes or until the chocolate is set and has hardened. You can also pop it into the freezer if you want to speed up the process.
**Tip: I like to make these a day in advance or in the morning so that it has enough time to fully set. Sometimes it takes a bit longer for the caramel layer to set and you don’t want to cut into them until it is they’re ready because it’ll make cutting really difficult.**
Once chilled and ready to go and you feel like you might pass out if you don’t eat one right this second, or you feel the sudden urge to attack someone because all you’ve been thinking about are these bars, well then you can go right ahead and remove them from the pan with those handy dandy parchment paper handles.
Cut them into even squares. Or you can cut a few into large pieces, set those off to the side for yourself, and then cut the remaining pieces into smaller squares so that way everyone else gets smaller portions and you’re left with more for yourself. Not that I would ever do something like that. I certainly wouldn’t hide these where no one can find them so that I, and only I, eat them all without sharing a single piece. No I would never even dream of it.
These are actually the perfect dessert to make and share with someone special because they’re super easy to make and transport and keep rather well. You can store them in the fridge for up to a week or freeze them for several weeks (just thaw them out before eating because I swear you’ll lose a tooth if you don’t).
You can hand these out as gifts (the holidays are upon us) and watch people’s faces light-up and be all like “What the?!!? Whoa!! These look AMAZING!” You think I’m overreacting but I’ve seen it happen with my own two eyes. TWO EYES, I TELL YOU!!
I’m always one to say that a gift from the heart—like something you take time to make for instance—is so much more special than anything you can buy at the store. Too many of us worry about how much something costs and what the price of a gift should be, whether it’s enough or too much. Let’s not think about that, the holidays aren’t about how much money you spend on a someone’s gift. It’s about the time and effort you put into it. Homemade goodies are always the way to go. So give it a shot this year and get in the kitchen to make some presents. Start with these bars. You won’t be disappointed. Enjoy!
Chocolate Peanut Butter Caramel Shortbread Bars
The name might be a mouthful to say, but the taste is just a simple collaboration of flavors that go so well together. These bars are super easy to make. If you know someone who has a nut allergy, you can easily omit the peanut butter and chopped nuts. The caramel will still come out perfect without it. You can top the bars with sea salt instead or add in your favorite flavors. These bars are perfect for the holiday season.
yield: 16 bars
- ¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
- ½ cup peanut butter, creamy
- 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped
- 1 (10 ounce) bag dark chocolate chips
- ½ cup pretzels, coarsely chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper, allowing the sides to hang off. Set aside.
2. To make the shortbread crust, in the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and granulated sugar, for about 3 minutes, until creamy. Stir in the vanilla extract. Use a spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, and stir once more. Slowly add the flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides. Dump the dough into the prepared pan and press out evenly with lightly floured hands. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.
3. To make the caramel, fill a pot with water, halfway up, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and place a heat-proof bowl over the simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add the condensed milk, peanut butter, and brown sugar to the bowl. Stir until completely smooth and cook for about 3 to 6 minutes until the mixture has slightly thickened and come together. Remove the bowl from over the boiling water and fold in the chopped peanuts. Pour the caramel over the cooled shortbread crust. Evenly smooth it out, making sure to cover the crust completely. Place in the fridge and allow to chill for at least 30 minutes.
4. Bring the water to a boil once more and place a heat proof bowl over, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Melt the chocolate in the double boiler, stirring frequently until completely smooth. Remove from heat and pour over the chilled caramel. Spread out evenly and top with the chopped pretzels. Place back in the fridge for another 30 minutes before slicing. Remove the bars from the pan, using the excess parchment paper. Cut into even pieces and store any leftovers in the fridge. Will keep up to a week, or a few weeks in the freezer. Enjoy!