There comes a time when every cook gets to a point where they pretty much know what they're doing. When you're making something savory, you generally saute the onions first. You brown the meat before you put it in the spaghetti sauce. You cream butter and sugar together first when you're baking. There's a routine to cooking, and once you know the routine, you can make almost anything.
I've gotten to a point when I'm cooking or baking where I use a recipe mostly for a list of ingredients. Once I've got everything I need for the recipe, I can usually figure it out from there.
There also comes a time when every cook knows that you don't have to reinvent the wheel each time you're in the kitchen. You discover what recipes work for you and what doesn't, what you like and what you don't.
Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars are a new twist on the traditional chocolate chip cookie.
When I was trying to come up with a recipe for this article, I found myself stumped. I've shared quite a few of my favorite recipes with Tribune Chronicle readers since we started this feature, and I had a hard time thinking of something I wanted to make that I hadn't done already.
So I turned to the Internet for inspiration. I recently got sucked into Pinterest, and there were a couple recipes I'd pinned that I'd been meaning to try. It seemed that now was as good a time as any to give one of those recipes a shot.
The one I kept going back to was Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars. It sounded like something absolutely decadent to ring in the new year with. I gathered my ingredients and sat down to look over the recipe. (I probably should have read over the recipe before I started, but following directions in the correct order is something that I've never been good at.) I realized that half of the recipe was for chocolate chip cookies, and the other half explained how to include the layer of salted caramel.
Salted Caramel Chocolate
Chip Cookie Bars
2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips
10 ounces caramel candy squares, unwrapped
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Fleur de sel (or other sea salt)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square pan; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
Using an electric mixer, mix together the melted butter and sugars on medium speed until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix, just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine the caramels and heavy cream. Microwave on high until the caramels are melted, stirring every 30 seconds. This will take about two minutes.
Press half of the cookie dough into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Pour the hot caramel over the dough cookie dough and spread into an even layer, leaving some empty space around the edges. Sprinkle the caramel with the sea salt. Drop the remaining cookie dough in spoonfuls over the caramel and gently spread the dough with a spatula until the caramel is covered. Sprinkle the bars with additional sea salt.
Bake the cookie bars for 30 minutes, or until the top of the bars are light golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the pan. Cool the bars on a wire rack to room temperature, then refrigerate for about 30 minutes to allow the caramel layer to set. Cut into squares and serve. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.
Now, I'm a girl who likes chocolate chip cookies, and perhaps it's boring and uninspired, but I've never found a chocolate chip cookie recipe I liked better than the Nestle Tollhouse recipe. My Grandma Bollas' chocolate chip cookies - a recipe that I used for a previous Tribune Cooks article - are pretty good, but I'll take the ones on the back of the chocolate chip package, thanks.
So I whipped up a batch of the Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie dough before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.
I discovered that this recipe is one of those easy recipes that looks more difficult than it is - all we're doing here is layering chocolate chip cookie dough, caramel, sea salt and more chocolate chip cookie dough. But the result is a rich, chewy, almost fudge-like bar that seems like it should be more complex to make.
Two things to note: If you're celiac like me, make sure you look at the ingredients of your caramels. I neglected to do so and wound up with caramels that had wheat in them. (I know, right? Who puts wheat in caramels?) I ate some anyway, but that's not something I'd recommend doing if you can avoid it.
Secondly, the sea salt is a must. I didn't really get the whole salted caramel craze until I tried it myself. The combination of sweet and salty gives these bars a complexity of flavor that's amazing. If it wouldn't make me seriously sick, I'd eat the whole batch myself.
So dig out your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, whether it's been passed down for generations or you just found it on the back of the package of chocolate chips, and give it a new twist. If you're using your own cookie recipe, start following the recipe provided at the part where you microwave the caramels.