Salted Caramel is the celebration of opposite flavors and in this dessert bar you'll find the gooey caramel nestled between layers of buttery shortbread rich with vanilla bean and just the right amount of salt. The tender secret to making these bars is to slightly cook the bottom layer of the bar before topping it with the caramel filling the final layer of crumbled shortbread. The intoxicating smell of the bars baking will be almost too much to bare, but be sure to resist the urge to cut into the bars right away! They must cool in order to slice correctly. Serve them with a scoop of ice cream or slices of fresh fruit. They can be cut into bite-sized pieces too, for the perfect addition to a dessert buffet.
Salted Caramel Butter Bars
For the Crust:
1 lb. butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
4 cups Texas Pure Milling All Purpose flour
For the Filling:
1 bag (14 oz.) caramel candies bits (Kraft®)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
To make the crust:
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. Add flour and mix until smooth. Spray a 9x13 inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. Place remaining crust mixture in the refrigerator. Preheat to 325°F. Bake crust until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown approximately 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool about 15 minutes.
While the bottom crust is baking, and the remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling. Place the unwrapped caramels in a saucepan, add the cream, vanilla and dash of cayenne. Cook and stir over low to medium heat until completely melted. (You can also use the microwave in short bursts to melt the caramel mixture.) Pour the caramel filling over the crust. Generously salt with sea salt.
Remove the remaining chilled dough from the refrigerator and crumble it evenly over the caramel. You may find the chilled dough doesn't "crumble" that easily. If so, just place on a cutting board and chop into the size pieces you want for the topping.
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.