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Need dessert for a crowd? These nutty, chewy bars fit the bill for being both yummy and trendy. Nuts and caramel are a favored American duo; adding the tang and crunch of salt as a counterpoint was part of a natural flavor evolution that has captured the imagination of sweet-makers in everything from handmade chocolates to lattes. The bars can be made ahead, packed for easy storage, and stacked beautifully on a platter for a family reunion buffet or a covered dish supper.
Salted Caramel Nut Bars
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Filling and Topping
1 bag (14 ounces) vanilla caramels
1 package (12 ounces) peanut butter chips
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups toasted sliced blanched almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
Season like an Old Salt! When a recipe calls for seasoning with salt, cooks and bakers have a dizzying array of choices. The salts getting all the attention are considered “finishing salts,” used to add a final flourish to dishes from beef to brownies. In the case of salt and caramels, a coarse sea salt, such as this one from Dean & DeLuca, a fleur de sel from the French coastal town of Guerande is an excellent choice. www.deandeluca.com
1. For pastry, position one oven rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 375° F. Spray a 15 x 10-inch jellyroll pan with nonstick vegetable spray; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With a pastry blender or with two forks used scissor fashion, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the egg, milk, and vanilla. On a sheet of lightly floured wax paper, roll dough to a 17 x 12-inch rectangle.
3. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and gently press into bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until dough is lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly.
4. For filling, unwrap caramels and place in a large saucepan with the peanut butter chips and milk. Stir over low heat until melted and smooth, about 12 minutes.
5. Spread the caramel mixture over crust; sprinkle almonds over caramel mixture. Cool on wire rack about 1 hour until filling is set. Sprinkle salt over the almonds. Cut into 48 bars.
6. To store, wrap in foil or place in a covered tin or food storage container.