This has been the summer of the bar cookie. My kids are all very into helping in the kitchen, so for my sanity I’ve kept our bakes simple. A big lifesaver has been simply pressing cookie dough into the pan vs. individually portioning it out; because do you know how long it takes to get through a recipe with three children all wanting their turn for each step?
For the most part, I don’t mind. But I do have a renewed appreciation for the humble bar cookie. Focusing on tray bakes also reminded me of a few recipes sitting in my “to try” file, most notably carmelitas: a buttery oatmeal and brown sugar bar cookie filled with chewy caramel and chocolate.
Of course I had to put a little bit of a spin on it. First: brown butter! Since we’re melting butter for the crust/topping anyways, just take the extra couple minutes to brown it, thereby adding some delicious nutty complexity to these bars. Maillard reaction FTW!
Second, homemade caramel! Most carmelita recipes call for using either caramel ice cream topping or chewy caramel candies melted down with cream; but I think it’s worth it to make your own salted caramel sauce. You can control the darkness of the caramel (go dark! It helps tame the sweetness of these bars.), plus it only takes a few minutes. Seriously, once you start making your own caramel, it’s hard to accept anything less than homemade.
Since we’re only making a small amount of salted caramel, I strongly prefer the dry method (i.e. not adding water to the sugar at the beginning) for speed. Your sugar may clump and look a bit questionable, but it’s fine, everything is fine! Stirring is fine! Just turn down the heat if you need to and let any lumps liquefy, then turn the heat back up to get that caramelization going. As always, whenever you’re making caramel, have all your other ingredients measured out and ready to go before you start heating the sugar.
You can make the salted caramel sauce ahead of time (it lasts for ages in the fridge); just gently reheat to a pourable consistency when you’re ready to assemble the carmelitas.
Be generous with the salt, both in the caramel and with the garnish on top! These bars need it!
Cool and chill the carmelitas completely before cutting. I know it’s tempting to dig in ASAP, but if you cut these bars before they’re completely cool you will have a gooey mess on your hands. I like to pop the whole tray in the fridge for an hour or two to make cutting a breeze.
Brown Butter Carmelitas
Yield: One 8x8 pan
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours45 minutes
A delightfully buttery oat bar cookie stuffed with chocolate, salted caramel, and toasted nuts.
For the salted caramel sauce:
160g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp sea or kosher salt
45g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g heavy cream (35%), at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the base and topping:
150g unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 tsp espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g all purpose flour
100g light brown sugar
90g rolled oats (regular, not quick or jumbo)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
150g bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or a mix of semisweet and bittersweet)*
55g well-toasted nuts, finely chopped**
Flaky salt, for garnish
Make the salted caramel sauce: In a medium heavy-bottomed, light-colored saucepan, sprinkle the sugar in an even layer. Place over medium heat. Once the sugar starts to melt around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to drag the melted parts toward the center of the pan. Continue dragging and swirling the pan to make sure the sugar is melting evenly and not scorching. If the mixture gets very lumpy and grainy, don't panic! Turn the heat down and stir until the chunks melt. Once all the sugar has liquified, you can turn the heat back up.
As soon as the melted sugar turns the color of an old copper penny, remove it from the heat and add the salt and butter, stirring continuously. Be careful, as the mixture will bubble up! Whisk until the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth and combined.
Still continuously stirring, add the cream in a slow, steady stream—again, taking caution as the mixture will bubble and rise. Return the pot to medium-low heat for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently, to thicken the sauce slightly.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Transfer to a heat-safe container and let cool while you prepare the rest of the carmelitas.
Make the base and topping: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Line an 8x8 pan with foil or two criss-crossed pieces of parchment, leaving 2-3 inches of overhang on at least two of the sides for easy removal. Lightly grease the foil or parchment.
To brown the butter, place the cubed butter in a small, light-colored saucepan over low-medium heat. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir frequently with a heatproof spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan as needed. The butter will crackle, foam, turn clear gold, then finally start browning. It’s done when the crackling subsides and you smell toasted nuts. This process takes about 8-10 minutes total, but the butter can go from browned to burnt in a flash—so keep an eye on it.
Pour the butter and all the toasty bits into a small bowl or glass measuring cup and whisk in the espresso powder (if using) and vanilla. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes (it can be warm, but not piping hot when you add it to the rest of the ingredients).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, and baking soda. Pour in the brown butter mixture and stir with a fork until all the dry ingredients are evenly moistened.
Bake the crust: Transfer about 60% of the mixture (~260g) to the prepared pan and use the bottom of a measuring cup or small glass to press it firmly and evenly along the bottom. (Reserve the rest for the topping.) Bake for 10 minutes.
Finish assembling and baking the bars: Remove the base from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate and nuts over the top. Pour the caramel sauce in an even layer over the chocolate and nuts. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top.
Bake until the topping is lightly browned and the caramel is bubbling on the edges, about 18-20 minutes. Cool at room temperature for an hour, then refrigerate for 1-2 hours until firm.
Cut into desired sizes and serve lightly chilled or at room temperature. Store leftover bars in an airtight container in the fridge or at room temperature for up to 5 days; freeze for longer storage.
*Chocolate chips are fine; I recommend something in the 55-70% cacao content range. I used a mix of semisweet chocolate chips and Callebaut 70% callets.
**I used almonds, but any nut you like will work here.
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Here’s another recipe to add to your “what to do with extra egg whites” list: brown butter fortune cookies! Making fortune cookies is both simple and fun, and the result is much tastier than what you typically get with your takeout.
The batter comes together simply with a bowl and a whisk, no mixer needed. Well you do need to brown some butter. You could use plain melted butter (skip the water if you do), but I think browning it is worth the few extra minutes for the extra flavor. This is a simple cookie, so the nuttiness really shines through!
My favorite way to make fortune cookies is in a waffle cone maker. It’s fast and produces perfectly even, crisp rounds. I have a Chef’s Choice 838 which is sadly discontinued, but try calling up your local kitchenware or restaurant supply store to see if they have one lurking around (that’s how my husband found ours). I suspect a pizzelle or krumkake iron would also work very nicely, though I don’t own those kitchen gadgets (yet…). However, you can definitely make fortune cookies successfully in a regular oven as well, so don’t let a lack of equipment deter you!
Shaping the fortune cookies takes a little practice; but after a couple goes you’ll be set. The cookies are hot, so you might want to wear gloves or use the edge of a tea towel to protect your fingers. (I don’t bother, but I have asbestos hands.) Placing the shaped cookies into an egg carton helps lock the shape in as they cool completely.
Here are a couple different ways to shape the cookies; try both and see what works best for you.
Don’t worry if the shaping takes you a few tries. Even if you end up with some misshaped cookies, they’ll still taste wonderful! By the way, fortune cookie factories often sell their misshapen cookies. One place in my hometown calls them the “unfortunates”…ha!
If baking the cookies, I find it easiest to spread the batter on silicone mats, such as a Silpat, versus parchment paper. The mats don’t crinkle and produce smoother cookies.
Every oven is different so I recommend baking a single test cookie to determine the perfect timing for you. (Let the cool completely so you can accurately evaluate the crispness.) But If you find out after the cookies have cooled that the centers aren’t completely crisp, it’s ok — you can bake them in a low (250F) oven for 5-10 minutes, or until dry.
Once your fortune cookies have cooled completely, you can drizzle on or dunk them in some tempered chocolate for extra flair. These would make the perfect edible Valentine’s day cards!
Use this same batter to make ice cream cones, bowls, or curved tuiles!
Brown Butter Fortune Cookies
Yield: 15-18 cookies
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Brown butter fortune cookies are delightfully crisp and nutty. Include personalized messages for the perfect edible gift! Fortune cookies can either be baked or cooked in a waffle cone iron.
56g unsalted butter (yields ~45g browned butter)
30g cold water
100g egg whites (about 3 large), at room temperature
80g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp pure almond extract (optional)
80g all purpose flour
Brown the butter: Place the cubed butter in a small, light-colored saucepan over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir frequently with a heatproof spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan as needed. The butter will crackle, foam, turn clear gold, then finally start browning. It’s done when the crackling subsides and you smell toasted nuts. This process takes about 10 minutes total, but the butter can go from browned to burnt in a flash—so keep an eye on it. Pour the butter and all the toasty bits into a heatsafe bowl and add 30g cold water. Cool to room temp.
Mix the batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together egg whites, sugar, and salt until frothy (1-2 minutes). Add the extracts and cooled butter; mix until very well combined. Sift in the flour and whisk until smooth. Cover and rest at room temperature while you preheat the oven or waffle cone iron. If you’re going to include fortunes in your cookies, have them prepared before you start baking the cookies.
To bake fortune cookies in the oven: Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats. Using an offset spatula or back of a spoon, spread a 1 Tbsp portion of batter into a thin circle 4-5″ in diameter. Bake until golden, about 9-11 minutes. Slide an offset spatula under the entire cookie to release, then immediately shape (see step 5). Note: I recommend doing a test bake with one cookie to determine the correct baking time for your oven. After you’ve figured it out, I would stick to baking two at a time as the window to shape the fortune cookies is short, 10-15 seconds once the cookies come out of the oven. Use a cool baking sheet / silicone mat each time or the excess heat will make the batter difficult to spread.
To make fortune cookies in a waffle cone iron: Cook 1 Tbsp portions according to manufacturer’s instructions (mine took 85-90 seconds), then immediately shape (see step 5).
To shape fortune cookies: Place the fortune, if using, in the center of the cookie. Fold the cookie in half to create a half-moon. Hold the cookie rounded side down. Pull the corners up so they meet while pushing the middle down, creating the classic fortune cookie shape. Alternatively, you can fold the cookie, rounded side up, over the edge of a loaf pan or glass. Try both methods and see which works best for you. Refer to the videos above for more visual guidance. Hold the cookie in place until it sets, 5 to 10 seconds. Place shaped cookie into the space of an empty egg carton, tips facing down down. Let cool completely.
Storage: Store fortune cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Here’s the thing: I don’t mind complicated recipes. Since I break a lot of my baking into multiple days, a long list of directions doesn’t usually put me off. Plus, there’s something really satisfying about seeing larger projects come to life!
But sometimes you just need simple, 30-minutes-no-oven-required back pocket recipes; and this is one of those gems. These are not your back-of-the-box Rice Krispie treats. These are BROWN BUTTER RICE KRISPIE TREATS. But good news, they’re practically just as easy as the original recipe. What makes them special?
Brown butter. If you’re going to melt the butter anyways, why not take a few extra minutes and brown it for that extra delicious nutty edge? Oh yeah, this also calls for double the butter compared to the original recipe, because you only live once (don’t worry, it’s not so much that they’re greasy).
More marshmallows. WAY more marshmallows. And some are left unmelted for an extra surprise. Nothing is worse than a dry Rice Krispie Treat.
Thick, bakery-style pieces. I like my treats tall, so I make them in an 8×8 pan (I do the same thing with brownies). Double the recipe if you’re making this in a 9×13 pan; no thin and wimpy Rice Krispie treats here!
Salt. One of my pet peeves is under-salted baked goods. Especially when you’ve got all the sweetness from the marshmallows in there — you need a little bit of salt to round out the flavor. You might as well throw a dash of vanilla in there while you’re at it.
OK, enough talking. Here we go!
Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats
Makes 9 – 16 treats, depending on how big you like them
113g / 8 Tbsp unsalted butter
425g / 10 cups mini marshmallows, divided
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
Dash of pure vanilla extract
160g / 6 cups crispy rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies (about half a 12-ounce box)
Line an 8×8 pan with foil. Lightly butter or oil the foil for easy removal. Measure out all your ingredients — this is a quick and simple recipe, but once you start, you do need to move quickly!
In a large pot over medium-low heat, brown the butter. It will melt, foam, turn clear gold, then finally start browning (and smelling nutty). Stir frequently with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan as needed.
When the butter has browned, take the pan off the heat and add the salt, vanilla, and 8 cups of marshmallows. Stir constantly until the marshmallows are melted and you have a smooth mixture. If the residual heat from the butter isn’t enough to melt the mallows completely, turn the heat back to low.
Add the cereal and stir until evenly coated with the marshmallow mixture. Stir in the remaining two cups of mini marshmallows.
Immediately scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and, using a greased silicon spatula or a piece of greased parchment/wax paper, press it firmly into an even layer. Let cool completely at room temperature before cutting into squares.
Store in an airtight container and eat within 3 days.