Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Caramel Streusel Bars

I was watching Cupcake Wars the other day and one complaint that came up often was a situation of disappearing flavor.  The competitor would describe their cupcake as including a particular flavor but upon being eaten by the judges, they could not taste it.

This usually happens when one flavor is so strong that the other flavors just get overpowered by it.  That does not always mean that it tastes bad, but it does mean you have wasted some of your ingredients since they cannot be tasted.

Should you have a flavor that stands out in a recipe, you should list it first in the name of the recipe.  For instance, someone decides to make a recipe for Ginger Pecan Lemon Bars.  They are very much interested in a gingery tasting bar, but the end result is Lemon Bars with a slight taste of ginger and pecan. This is where reading the entire recipe prior to baking can be beneficial.  A lot of times you can judge (based on quantities) which flavor will be prominent.

This original name on this particular recipe had the flavor of cinnamon first, but the real outstanding flavor is caramel.  The bars have a soft, buttery base, creamy caramel center and crunchy topping.  If you love caramel or dulce de leche, this one is a keeper.  Note the units of measure in the instructions because several of the amounts listed in the ingredients are split up when used. This recipe makes about 24 bars and uses a 9X13 inch pan for baking.

Caramel Streusel Bars
courtesy of The Kitchn website

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbs honey
6 tbs unsalted butter

Ingredients/Dough and Crumb topping
2 tbs dark rum (divided)
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (divided)
3 1/4 cups flour
1 1/8 cups unsalted butter (2 1/4 sticks/18 tbs) at room temp
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon (divided)

Take a 9X13 inch pan and grease the bottom and sides.  Then place a piece of parchment, cut to size 8X18 inches, on the bottom of pan with the excess hanging over each long side of the pan.

To create the filling, put filling the ingredients in a saucepan set over medium heat.  Once the butter is softened by the heat, whisk the ingredients together.  Cook for 15 minutes, whisking constantly.  In the beginning, the butter will not seem like it is blending with the sugar.  As you continue to whisk, the butter residue will soon disappear and the color will change to a dark,tan/brown.  The end result will be a very thick, smooth caramel.
Remove saucepan from heat and set aside.
For the dough, sift 2 1/4 cup of the flour, 1 tsp cinnamon and salt together in a medium size bowl and set aside.  In a separate bowl, beat together 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 tbs rum and 1 cup of softened butter until light and fluffy.  This should take about 2 or 3 minutes.  Then fold the sifted ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture until doughy clumps are formed.   

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Take 3/4 of the dough and press evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Then scoop out the filling and spread all over the dough, until bottom, sides and corners are equally covered.

Add 1 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of brown sugar to the leftover 1/4 cup of dough and mix together.  Then stir in the remaining tsp of cinnamon, 1 tbs of rum and walnuts.  Once evenly distributed, blend in the 2 tbs of softened butter with a pastry cutter or your hands.  This creates the streusel topping.

Due to the moisture in the dark brown sugar, my ingredient amount of flour (listed above) is more than the original.  The adjustment was done in order to make the streusel crumby instead of doughy.

Sprinkle the topping over the filling.  Place pan in preheated oven and bake for about 35 minutes.  The top will be lightly browned when done. Remove and cool in pan for 15 minutes.  Then slide a knife between the bars and the pan on each short side.  Pull up on the parchment handles and place on rack to finish cooling.

Cut into 2 inch squares for serving.  These bars are tasty at room temperature or a little warm.