Sweet and Salty Caramel Nut Bars

Crunchy, nutty, chewy. Sweet enough to satisfy a craving, but not so rich to be overwhelming. A grown-up version of a Nature Valley Nut Bar.

I was looking for a dessert to bring to my boyfriend’s family Christmas dinner. It was the first time that I’d be meeting his parents, along with 20 of his closest relatives. I wanted a recipe that would please a crowd, and I think I found it.

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My inspiration was the cashew nut, which grows from a tree that also produces the cashew apple. In recent years, research (some of it funded by nut farmers) has shown that eating nuts can lower LDL and total cholesterol. There is not enough evidence about how nuts affect overall cardiovascular health (risks of heart attack, stroke, etc). But really, the point isn’t how “good for you” these bars are — it’s about savouring every nutty bite when you choose to treat yourself.

Roasting the nuts ahead of time produces their signature aroma and flavour. If you can’t find pre-roasted nuts, toasting them on the stove top or in the oven using low heat is well worth the time. Another tip is to seal any seams in the bottom crust very well (pinch it together with your fingers), otherwise the crust will crack during baking and the caramel-nut mixture will seep through.

Bon appetite!

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Sweet and Salty Caramel Nut Bars

Recipe modified from: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/rustic-nut-bars-233301

Yield: 40 squares

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 3/4 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 egg, beaten

Topping

  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tbsp whipping cream
  • 1 cup peanuts, toasted and salted
  • 2 cups cashews, toasted and salted
  • 1 cup pistachios, toasted and salted
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted

Method

  1. Grease a 9″x 13″ baking pan with butter, then line with parchment paper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and table salt in a large bowl.
  3. Use a fork or a pastry cutter to rub the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is rice-sized and evenly distributed throughout.
  4. Add the beaten egg to form a dough, and press the dough evenly into the pan (just the bottom, not up the sides). Bake at 375 ° F for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are light brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Cool for 30 minutes before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.
  5. In a large pot over medium heat, bring the sugar and honey to a boil, stir to dissolve the sugar, then boil for 2 minutes. The mixture will foam and froth– use a large pot to prevent it from boiling over.
  6. Add peanut butter, butter, and whipping cream, stir to dissolve, boil for 1 minute.
  7. Turn off the heat, add nuts and salt. Stir to coat nuts with peanut butter and caramel mixture.
  8. Bake at 375 ° F for 15-25 minutes. Allow to cool before drizzling with melted chocolate (I melted the chocolate in the microwave and put it inside a ziplock bag with a corner snipped off as a makeshift piping bag).
  9. Remove from the pan and cut into ~1.5″ squares.

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