Time Consuming: No
This is one of my favorite desserts to bring to events because... 1) They come together quickly. 2) The filling makes them incredible soft. 3) The caramel adds a sweetness that's tempered by the peanut butter, so it's not too sweet. 4) I can't stop eating them.
These bars are amazing. Possibly one of my favorite things I've made this year, they're that good. The cookie layers perfectly sandwich the peanut butter caramel middle. To make it extra special, as I was cooking the caramel for the filling, I dropped in a vanilla bean and stirred until all the little flecks of vanilla caviar speckled the gooey filling (just make sure you take it out before you spread it over the cookie base).
This recipe makes a 13x9" pan of incredible bars. When you're spreading the first layer of cookie into the pan, you will worry that there is no way that two-thirds of the dough will cover it. But just keep squishing it around until you get the whole bottom covered - it will seem thin, but the layer will puff up when it bakes. For the cookie topping, I dropped teaspoon sized dough balls all over the surface, they puff up and spread out, but still leave little windows for the silky, gooey peanut butter caramel to peak through.
yields one 9x13 pan, cut into whatever size you'd like
chocolate chip cookie dough
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
5 tablespoons shortening (if you have a tablespoon sized cookie scoop, it makes quick measuring from a tub of shortening)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
Peanut Butter Caramel Filling
1/2 cup (4 oz) evaporated milk
11 ounces caramels, unwrapped (you can buy Kraft Caramels, Kraft Caramel Bits, or Werther's Original Chewy Caramels - I used Werther's because someone bought out all the Kraft caramels)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
*optional: the caviar from 1 vanilla bean, or 1 whole split vanilla bean
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Optional: Coarse salt, like Kosher or Sea Salt. You can be extra special by using vanilla sea salt if you have it.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9x13" pan with foil - leave enough overhang so you can lift the bars out of the pan when they're done. Set aside. In a medium bowl, lightly whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together, set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and shortening together until combined. Add both sugars and beat for about 2 minutes - until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, beat until combined. Mix in chocolate chips.
3. Add half of the flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Then add the remaining flour mixture and mix again until just combined.
4. Take about two-thirds of the dough and press it into the bottom of the pan. It will seem like it won't cover, but just keep smooshing it until it covers - it will be fairly thin. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until it's just set and hardly brown.
5. While the base layer is baking, begin making the filling. Unwrap caramels and place in a medium saucepan. Add peanut butter, evaporated milk (and the vanilla bean if you are using it). Whisk over medium heat until smooth.
6. When the cookie base is finished (which probably happened while you were making the filling), pour the peanut butter caramel over top, and spread evenly (if you put in a whole split vanilla bean, make sure to remove it.) Sprinkle 1/4 cup of chocolate chips (or more, I'm not judging) over the peanut butter caramel.
7. Drop teaspoon sized dough balls over the surface of the caramel layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt (optional) and bake for 18-20 minutes (until the cookie dough on top is lightly browned)
8. Cool completely in pan then cut into 24 squares (or however many you want). I chilled mine in the fridge to make cutting a little easier.
From Everyday Reading