Chocolate vs. Caramel. It’s an on-going debate in our house. On the rare occasion that we eat out, and the even rarer occasion the we decide to get dessert, we tend to share – and we’re always faced with choosing between the double-triple chocolate decadence, or some trendy salted caramel treat. Oh – or standing in the frozen section at Kroger, staring at the Private Selection Ice Cream choices and arguing over whether to get Sea Salt Caramel Truffle or the Denali Maximum Extreme Fudge Moose Tracks…the struggle is real, folks.
I’m a caramel girl at heart. And Nick is chocolate through and through.
Which is why this dessert is perfect for us. It’s loaded with a thick layer of caramel that you can sink your teeth into, but is touched with a scattering of chocolate chips that meet Nick’s requirements (“If it’s not chocolate, it’s not dessert.”).
If you were around last summer, you may remember me recounting to you the story of one of our first fall-like days, when I simply had to leave the house with 2 little ones (one only a few weeks old) to buy a bag of caramels to bake a treat – for no reason other than the fact that it was fall, and caramel holds a special place in fall’s repertoire of treat offerings. But then the weather warmed back up and I got reminiscent for summer and had to make a few last salads…and then I got distracted with pumpkin and started making pumpkin everything…pumpkin cookies…pumpkin cinnamon rolls…and those caramels were all but forgotten.
And then suddenly it was February, and I was rummaging through my baking cupboard trying to find some chocolate chips (because yes, my huge bag from Costco had suddenly diminished to a mere 1/4 cup of chocolate chips…how does that happen?!) and…
Voila! There was my bag of caramels!!!
It was like finding $5 in the pocket of a sweatshirt you put away after winter. Boo yeah!
Within 2 days, I’d busted out the recipe for which I’d originally bought them months ago: Oatmeal Caramel Dream Bars. You see, I dream of making these ALL THE TIME, but don’t let myself because…guys, I don’t think I’ve ever given any of these away. Because they never make it that far. I think I could finish a pan of these myself in a matter of days.These bars are not for the faint of heart. They’re hearty and solid, soft and sticky, sweet and salty…they’re everything I want in a bar and more. Like I said, caramel definitely wins out as the main attraction in these. But the chocolate adds a nice flavor variety so they’re not quite as overwhelmingly sweet & rich. And the oatmeal provides a nice structure and texture to support the super soft caramel that almost soaks into the bottom layer of oatmeal cookie.
My one tip for these is: Don’t bake the bottom layer for too long! You see, first you bake it by itself. Then you add the caramel and chocolate chips, and then you flatten the remaining half of the oatmeal cookie dough into little flat chunks and scatter it on top of the caramel – and then bake it again.
Which means if you baked the bottom layer for too long the first time around, by the time you bake it the second time, it will be overbaked. This makes it not only really hard to cut and get out of the pan, but really hard to bite through – sticky and rock-solid hard. No bueno. So if you’re unsure, err on the side of underbaking that bottom crust. A slightly soft and messy bar that you have to eat with a fork is way better than one you can hardly bite through.
I’m really, really excited for you to try these! And if you’re on a diet…sorry, these are not your friend…maybe next time?
- 1½ c flour
- 1½ c oatmeal
- ¼ t salt
- ½ t baking soda
- 1½ c brown sugar
- 1⅛ c melted butter
- 14 oz caramel candies
- ¾ c whipping cream or evaporated milk
- 1 12-oz bag milk chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Mix first 6 ingredients together.
- Press ½ of the mixture into the bottom of a 9x13 pan.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes.
- While crust is baking, heat caramels and cream in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until caramels are completely melted and combined with cream.
- Pour caramel mixture over warm crust. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top of caramel.
- With remaining dough mixture, take small handfuls of it and flatten in your hand, then lay on top of warm caramel to form a disjointed top "crust".
- Bake for an additional 10-15 mins.