Sometimes you just want something super indulgent and easy to make.
That’s where carmelitas come in. They’re the bar cookies I didn’t know I was missing until I had them, and they’re the perfect thing to have while sipping a coffee. Carmelitas are what you might get if you crossed a Twix bar with a buttery oatmeal cookie, and they don’t require a mixer to make. The base is the same mix as the topping, with a layer of dark chocolate chunks and a thick layer of caramel in the middle. They’re rich, sticky, and a little gooey in the best possible way.
These carmelitas involve a simple homemade caramel sauce. It’s flavourful and silky, and with a thermometer it’s easy to get the perfect consistency. However, you could use dulce de leche or a storebought caramel sauce if you don’t feel like making it. I’ve included directions for that below. Just make sure you choose one that’s thick and spreadable. Warm it slightly while the cookie base is baking so it’s pourable when you need it. The caramel makes the bars quite sweet so I like to add 1/4 tsp of kosher salt to the sauce while warming it up, but that step isn’t necessary if you make the caramel yourself. I’d opt for a darker chocolate- the slight bitterness also helps balance the bars out quite nicely, so I usually use one in the 70% range. I personally like the irregular texture of chopped chocolate, but you can use chips if you prefer.
A few notes on making caramel:
- A candy or instant-read thermometer goes a long way here- I’ve given general endpoints and times, but they’ll depend on your stove so temperature is a good way to go. I usually just use an instant-read (the same one I use for meat) that can read up to at least 350°F.
- Boiling sugar is kind of like a toddler- when you can’t hear it, that’s when you need to be paying extra attention. Once the water boils off, the bubbling will start to get quieter and the temperature will start to rise rapidly, so make sure you have the cream ready to go before that and don’t walk away from the stove.
- Using cream that’s cold from the fridge means that the caramel will stop darkening as soon as you add it, so cook it to a medium amber colour before adding the cream for the best flavour.
- Cooking the caramel (after adding the cream) to 235°F means it’ll be soft and gooey but still hold its shape in the bars when cut- if it’s much harder or runnier than that it’s probably been cooked too hot or not quite enough. It’ll still be delicious, just a bit messy!
- Be careful! Boiling sugar can get much hotter than water and it’ll stick to your skin. It’ll bubble a lot when you add the cream, so err on the side of using a larger pot.
- Let the bars finish cooling a bit longer than you think- sugar stays warm for a long time. If you cut the bars before they’re cool, the caramel might still be a bit liquid and stick to everything.
- Store these bars in an airtight container. Sugar is hygroscopic-it attracts moisture, so the caramel will get softer and stickier over a few days as it pulls moisture from the air, especially if it’s humid in your home.
- These bars will last a couple of days at room temperature, but honestly I can’t speak to longer than two days because they don’t last that long around here!
- 100g water
- 225g granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp (2g) kosher salt
- 200g 35% (aka heavy/whipping) cream, cold from the fridge
- 125g (1 cup) flour
- 100g (1 cup) large flake oats
- 125g (about 1/2 cup, packed) brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
- 115g (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
- 80g (about 1/2 cup) chopped dark chocolate
- About 300 mL (1 1/4 cups) caramel sauce (add 1/4 tsp kosher salt if store bought)
To make the caramel sauce:
In a large saucepan, bring the water, sugar, and salt to a boil over medium heat. If you need to, you can swirl the pan gently while it comes to a boil so the sugar can all dissolve. When it starts boiling, stop swirling the pan- if there are sugar crystals stuck to the side, you can take a wet pastry brush to them so they dissolve into the boiling sugar syrup. Alternatively, you can cover with a lid for a minute or two so the steam dissolves the sugar. Make sure you have the cream scaled out, because when it starts taking on colour you’ll need to act quickly.
When the syrup has been boiling for a few minutes, it’ll start to turn the colour of honey, then quickly turn amber- as soon as it reaches amber (about 350°F if you have a thermometer), pour in the cream and stir constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon. It’ll bubble pretty vigorously, so be careful not to let it boil over. Keep stirring over medium heat until the mixture reaches 235°F (this takes about 10 minutes for me with the stove set to medium heat).
As soon as the mixture reaches 235°F, carefully pour into a heatproof bowl and set aside while you prepare the carmelitas.
To make the carmelitas:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line an 8×8 square pan with parchment paper so the bottom is covered and there’s a bit of overhang on each side. You’ll use this as a sling to remove the bars from the pan, and the parchment will help with cleanup. If the parchment flops into the pan, you can secure it to the sides of the pan with un-painted binder clips.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt with your hands or a spoon until everything is well combined.
Add the room temperature butter and rub it in into the dry ingredients between your fingertips. Keep rubbing the butter in until you get pea-sized clumps, and everything is more or less evenly distributed.
Add half of that crumbly oat mixture to the lined square pan and press across the base of the pan until completely covered. Press flat using your fingertips or something with a flat bottom- an offset spatula or the bottom of a cup measure works well.
Bake for 10 minutes at 350°F.
Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle evenly with the chopped chocolate. Pour the caramel sauce over the chopped chocolate, carefully tipping the pan as needed to ensure the caramel reaches the edges.
Sprinkle evenly with the remaining oat mixture and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes until the top is lightly browned and the caramel is bubbling at the edges.
Cool completely (at least 3 hours or overnight) before slicing.