Autumn Baking: Salted Caramel Butter Bars

I think I finally cracked the caramel code. After successfully making caramel from scratch four times, I now have the recipe memorized and the technique down. Let’s just not talk about the two times I burned the dickens out of the sugar or nearly set the house on fire when the cream boiled over, mmm-kay?
The problem is, I have an electric range and the element heats very unevenly. So I have to be really careful where I put my thermometer or one section of the sugar syrup burns before the other section is fully carmelized. The trick is to gently swirl the pan once or twice once the sugar melts and to put the thermometer on the hottest part of the element. 
Oh, and don’t ever walk away. Even for a second to put laundry in the dryer. Just don’t. 
Anyway, I put my newfound caramel-making skills to good use with this recipe for Salted Caramel Butter Bars for Doug’s coworkers on Friday. This is by far my favorite recent recipe. There’s just something divine about the salty-sweet combination of caramel and coarse sea salt. Oh, and these are pretty rich so cut them small!

Also, the plate is vintage Mikasa Pivotal Antigua designed by Ben Seibel, the porcelain cup is vintage Rosenthal Romanze designed by Bjorn Wiinblad and the placemats came from Pottery Barn a few years ago. Since y’all always ask about the vintage stuff I use in my photos!

Salted Caramel Butter Bars with Homemade Caramel
adapted from Cookies & Cups and America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook


1 lb. salted butter (room temperature)
1 cup sugar
1½ cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tbsp coarse sea salt

Bar Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°
  2. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugars. Using mixer on medium speed, beat together until creamy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Sift the flour into the butter mixture and beat on low speed until a smooth soft dough forms.
  3. Spray a 9×13 inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. Wrap remaining dough in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator.
  4. Bake crust until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown approx 20 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool about 15 minutes.
  5. While the bottom crust is baking and the remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling (instructions below).
  6. Pour the caramel filling over the crust. If you are going to salt the caramel sprinkle it on caramel layer now.
  7. Remove the remaining chilled dough from the refrigerator and crumble it evenly over the caramel.
  8. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden, about 25 – 30 minutes.
  9. Let cool completely (overnight is best) before cutting into squares.
Filling Instructions
  1. Pour the water into a large saucepan. Add the sugar to the center of the pan, taking care not to let the granules adhere to the sides of the pan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Once boiling, uncover and continue to to boil until the syrup is straw-colored and registers 300 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes. Reduce to medium heat and continue to cook until the syrup is a deep amber color and registers 350 degrees on the thermometer, 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, bring the cream and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan. (if the cream simmers before the syrup reaches a deep amber color, remove it from the heat and cover to keep warm.)
  4. Remove the sugar syrup from the heat. Very carefully, pour about one-quarter of the hot cream into the sugar syrup and let the bubbling subside. Add the remaining cream and vanilla and let the bubbling subside. Whisk the sauce gently until smooth. Serve warm or cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
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