Some foods are good because of the warm memories attached to them as much as the ingredients. These gooey caramel and chocolate bars fall into that category. My mother always made these for trips to my cousin Dale’s lake property, and my sisters and I couldn’t wait to get to Swan Lake—of course we were pumped to go water skiing, but digging into these decadent bars was a top priority, too. Mom would make a couple batches, cut and stack them in a Folger’s coffee can with wax paper between each layer, and stash ’em in the freezer. (Unlike most baked goods, these suffer no ill-consequences from being frozen!) Once these were pulled from their secret hiding place, the frozen squares would thaw in about 15 minutes, and were the consistency of a chewy candy bar. With mouths full of chocolate-caramel goodness, we could forget about itching our mosquito bites for a while. (And how deathly afraid we were to go to the latrine alone.)
A couple nights ago, we took a trip down memory lane when my Mom brought over a pan of bars. They were even better than I remembered—partly because this time we weren’t covered in mosquito bites, and dreading trips through the dark woods to the outhouse.
These are very similar to the Pillsbury Bake-off Carmelita Oat Bars (to be posted later), except this recipe uses caramel candies, more butter, and has double the amount of chocolate chips and nuts. More butter, chocolate, and nuts? Can’t go wrong there.
Makes 45-48 bars
2 cups All-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups margarine or butter, softened
64 Kraft caramels, unwrapped*
1/2 cup half and half, or milk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease large baking sheet (10″ x 15″). In large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and butter; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine caramels and milk in glass bowl or large glass measuring cup, and heat on high in microwave for about 3 minutes, or until mixture can be stirred smooth.
Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with melted caramels; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes to 1 hour, then cut into bars. Store bars in airtight container with wax paper between layers. They can be left at room temp once completely cooled, or frozen to be served at a later time.
*This is a bit of a chore. If unwrapping these candies is too tedious for you, call my Dad. He has the patience of a saint and happily performs the task, knowing the end result will be some sinfully delicious treats.