Have you ever looked at a recipe and known - just KNOWN - that you'd love it? I like to think that I feel that way often, but in reality, after executing the recipe (maybe not to the T, but pretty damn close), I'm disappointed. I was prepared for that to be the way with the Butterscotch Blondie Bars with Peanut-Pretzel Caramel (they really couldn't have come up with a shorter name?) in the December 2011 Bon Appetit. I added them to my list of holiday baking, making sure I had plenty of cookies that were guaranteed to be tasty, and I set to baking.
And holy CRAP, these things are good! They're a nice mix of sweet and salty (but not too salty), crunchy and chewy, love and more love. I changed the recipe a little bit (by adding almonds), and I would change it further to include more pretzels (I have done so in the recipe below). 2011 apparently was the year I became confident making caramel, and this was the perfect way to end the year on that account.
As far as serving goes, I ended cutting these up into tiny pieces because it's so rich. I originally cut 36 or 40 bars from the 13x9 pan, and I doubt I could have eaten one in a go. Cutting them up even further made them last throughout the holiday, as well.
Caramel Nut Bars (adapted from Bon Appetit)
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 13x9 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang so you can pull the bars out easily later. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
Heat butter in a medium pan over medium heat, stirring until browned bits form at the bottom of the pan, about 7-8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer). Add brown sugar and beat until combined and the mixture looks like wet sand. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan - it will puff as it bakes, so don't worry if you think you're spreading it too thin.
Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and edges pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool completely before moving on to the topping.
Caramel Nut Topping
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 cups roasted peanuts (or a mix of peanuts and almonds)
2 cups salted pretzels, coarsely crushed
In a large saucepan, stir together sugar and water over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil without stirring (seriously, hands off!) until caramel is a deep amber (or caramel, if you will). This always takes longer than I think it should, but I'd rather it take a long time than burn the caramel right off the bat. Add honey and return to a boil, stirring, for about a minute. Add butter and stir until melted. Add cream and whisk until smooth (maybe wear a pot holder because this will steam and bubble A LOT). Add nuts and pretzels and mix until everything is covered in caramel. Pour over cookie and press down evenly. Chill until cool, then remove from pan and cut into bite-size pieces. Store in the fridge but bring to room temperature before serving.