These salted caramel peanut butter bars – in miniature bite-size form – are about the best way to win over someone’s heart. They may also offer you their kidneys, liver and spleen. They’re that good.
We’re taking a week off to transition the house from post-Thanksgiving chaos to pre-Christmas jollity (move all the furniture back where it came from, vacuum the last bits of piecrust off the dog, etc, etc) so this is a repost of a favorite recipe from a couple of years ago.
This, my friends, is one of those recipes that goes there. And by “there” I mean to that place of ultimate deliciousness that defies logic and reason. It takes all the elements that make treats actually a treat and truly (madly, deeply) delivers what it promises. Sweet, salty, peanut buttery, caramel-y, chocolatey, cookie-ey. All in one teeny little salted caramel peanut butter bar bite.
I say “teeny little bite” because these are so decadent that I think they’re best as little bite-sized squares but honestly how big you cut them is up to you. I mean, if you want to serve them as two 4″x 8″ planks, that is entirely your business. Nerds do not judge. Well, unless you get your Game of Thrones noble houses mixed up. Then we are merciless and will never let you live it down no matter how many times you explain that the banners of house Tyrell and house Martell look kind of similar especially from a distance oh my god just drop it already.)
The one thing these beauties are not, is neat. The caramel is a little drippy. The chocolate top might crack a bit (especially if you try to cut them in the tiniest squares possible). Believe me when I tell you; none of this matters. Not one tiny, messy, delicious bit.
- You could use your favorite jarred caramel sauce but it’s so easy (and much cheaper) to make your own. Tastier too. Our Salted Caramel Sauce recipe has step by step instructions.
- You can make the caramel sauce several days ahead and just warm it to a pourable temperature when you’re ready to use it. Less than a minute in the microwave should do it.
- This is not the place to use home-made or “natural” peanut butter. It’s much thinner and tends to separate which will give you an oily filling. You want the supermarket standards here, like Skippy or Jif.
- The salted caramel peanut butter bars would be great with a dark chocolate top so use whatever you like best.
- Whipping the peanut butter makes it much lighter and easier to spread.
- Do not skip lining the tray with foil. These would be very difficult to get out of the pan otherwise.
- I based the recipe off of this one from Averie Cooks. She has lots of great bar cookie ideas.
- Shortbread Crust
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, very soft (1½ sticks)
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Peanut Butter Filling
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter, room temperature
- ½ cup confectioners' sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Caramel Layer
- 1 cup salted caramel sauce (cooled but still pourable) or your favorite jarred salted caramel sauce
- Chocolate Layer
- 1¾ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 2 tsp corn syrup
- 2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening (this keeps the chocolate from cracking when you slice it)
- Maldon salt (or other flaky sea salt) for sprinkling on top
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil leaving a few inches of overhang. Spritz lightly with cooking spray; set aside.
- Shortbread Crust - Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, and mix lightly with a spoon or your fingers just until until a sandy, crumbly mixture forms (do not over mix of the shortbread will be tough). Tip the mixture into the prepared pan and press crumbs down to form an even flat layer of crust with your fingers or the bottom of a flat measuring cup. Poke crust with a fork in a dozen or so places so steam can escape while it bakes. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until crust has just barely set. It should not take on any color, but crusted over and set. While crust bakes, make the filling.
- Peanut Butter Filling - Melt the butter in a small microwave-safe bowl, about 1 minute. In a bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer), add the peanut butter, sugar, melted butter and vanilla and mix until smooth and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Using an offset spatula or a butter knife, spread evenly over the (mostly) cooled crust. Cover lightly with foil and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.
- Caramel Layer - Drizzle caramel sauce evenly over the peanut butter layer (make sure the sauce is warm enough to be pourable but not hot). Pour it all over and spread it into corners with a knife. Cover again and chill for just a few minutes while you melt the chocolate.
- Chocolate Layer - Combine the ingredients in a medium microwave-safe bowl and heat in 15-seconds bursts, stirring each time, until mixture is almost completely melted. Once it’s very close, give it a second and let the residual heat finish the melting. Remove pan from fridge and pour chocolate over caramel layer. Tilt the pan around to even the chocolate layer or, if needed, smooth it very, very lightly with an offset spatula or knife. Sprinkle salt over the top, to taste.
- Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil, and place pan in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or overnight, before lifting out with foil overhang, and slicing and serving. We found freezing the bars for 30 minutes helped with cutting but let the bars sit at room temperature before serving.