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Chocolate caramel oatmeal bars

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The Pastry Chef's Baking

(Read caption) Melted caramel and toasted pecans over a parbaked crust then sprinkled with oats and chocolate chips make a delicious cookie bar.

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I’ve been cutting back on baking a bit but we had a potluck at church yesterday plus I could also bring some to work today so it seemed like a good time to warm up the oven. I had pecans in the freezer and a bag of caramels and a Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips in the pantry so I talked myself into trying out this recipe. Even if it did mean I had to go out and buy butter. And milk.

This was a basic recipe from one of my baking books that I’m trying to convince myself to thin off of my bookshelves. I shouldn’t need all these cookbooks, right? My problem is, one of the ways I’m trying to thin out my cookbooks is to go through them and make sure there aren’t any recipes in there that I want to try before I give it away. Well, you can imagine how (un)successful that approach is turning out to be. In flipping through the cookbooks, rather than putting them in the donation pile, I end up earmarking the recipes I want to try before I give the book away. Or before I put it back on my bookshelf.

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This was one such recipe because it was quick and easy to do – make the crust, reserve a handful for sprinkling on top, melt some caramels and milk, toast the pecans, parbake the crust, sprinkle with toasted pecans and chocolate chips and scatter handfuls of the reserved crust mixture over the top before baking again.

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It sounds harder than it is because it wasn’t hard at all. I did reserve a larger portion of the crust than the recipe called for because I wanted to make sure I had enough to cover most of the caramel. Caramel, when baked at high heat then cooled, tends to become more chewy than I care for so I didn’t want it fully exposed in the second baking. Also, when scattering the reserved crumb mixture, squeeze handfuls to clump together before sprinkling chunks over the top of the caramel, pecans and chocolate chips. You don’t really want a streusel crumb topping with a lot of loose crumbs. Instead, clumping the crumbs together makes for a more crisp top which is a nice contrast to the caramel.

Don’t skip toasting the pecans! That brings out the flavor and also adds a nice crunch. This was a good bar cookie (got compliments on it at work and at the church potluck) although I hate to admit – after cutting back so much on sugar, this did seem a trifle too sweet for me. If you want to counter the sweetness, try cutting back on the caramel and adding more toasted pecans. I left off the topping that was in the original recipe which called for melting more chocolate chips, covering the top of the bars with the melted chocolate and sprinkling with more pecans. This is the plainer version but still good.

Chocolate caramel oatmeal bars
From "Land O Lakes Cookies"

For the crumb mixture:
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the caramel mixture:
1 14-ounce package caramels, unwrapped
1/2 cup milk

For the filling:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

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1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 9- x 13-inch baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a large mixer bowl, combine all crumb ingredients. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until mixture is crumbly, 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve 1 cup crumb mixture; set aside. Press remaining mixture on bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a 2-quart pan, combine milk and caramels. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring until completely melted.
Sprinkle hot, partially baked crust with 1 cup chocolate chips and 1/2 cup chopped pecans. Pour caramel mixture evenly over chocolate chips and pecans. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture; pat lightly.

4. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until caramel is bubbly around the edges. Cool completely; cut into bars.

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