Before you read any further, you should probably hit the gym for an extra session or do a couple more laps on the track, because these gooey turtle bars with shortbread crust are so tantalizing, so tempting and so irresistible that you'll feel compelled to make them and eat them and I don't want to be responsible for the dreaded "December weight gain"!
It's so hard to be "good" during the holidays when all the treats are everywhere, but hey, it only happens once a year and I figure if I'm going to indulge, it better be worth it, and boy, are these ever worth it!! Plus since they're fairly rich, you can't really eat more than a small square at any one time, so there is a bit of portion control going on here too, thankfully!
What makes these especially wonderful other than the chocolate, pecans and caramel (hah!) is the deliciously crisp and buttery shortbread crust that everything sits atop. Plus it comes together easily too. You mix melted butter with sugar, flour, vanilla and salt, press the dough into a baking pan and bake. Piece of cake, or should I say, shortbread!
While the dough cooks, you make the caramel. It's gooey and rich with hints of vanilla and like the shortbread crust, it's fairly easy to make too--like all caramel (and sort of like children too) you just need to give it your full, undivided attention for about 15 minutes and it'll behave beautifully!
Then, while the shortbread crust is still warm, you pour the hot caramel sauce over it and scatter the entire surface with a generous amount of whole pecans and chopped chocolate. It's a touch job, but somebody's got to do it!
These are holiday-worthy decadent and people go MAD for them!! I speak from experience. The crust is buttery crisp, the caramel stays sticky and almost molten even when it sets up and the chocolate and pecans add the crunch and flavor that only chocolate and pecans can add!
Make these for your holiday celebration and watch them disappear. And then hit the treadmill or the torture of your choice extra hard the next morning and your dessert-guilt (and all those extra calories) will disappear too! I love the holidays!
Gooey Turtle Bars with Shortbread Crust
You will need a candy thermometer for these
Makes about 30-36 small bars
Prep Time for the Crust: 10-12 minutes; Bake Time for Crust: 20-25 minutes; Prep Time for Caramel: 20 minutes; Assembly Time: 10 minutes (plus at least an hour or two for caramel to set so that you can cut these into bars)
For the Shortbread Crust
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and warm
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
For the Caramel and topping
1 3/4 cups brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
One 14ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups (7 ounces) whole pecan halves, toasted
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1. To make the Shortbread Crust: Preheat oven to 350ºF and make sure the oven is divided into thirds. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil so that there's an overhang on both ends.
2. Mix the melted butter, sugar, vanilla and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and mix just until you can't see any more flour. The dough will seem oily but that's ok. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and use your fingers to press it evenly into the corners and all over the bottom of the pan so that it makes a thin even layer. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the edges of the crust are a dark golden brown and the center is golden too. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool slightly.
3. While the crust is cooking, you need to make the caramel which takes about 15 minutes total. Use a heavy, 2-3 quart saucepan and place into it, the brown sugar, corn syrup, salt and water. Stir together and turn the heat to medium. Add the butter. Use a heatproof spatula or spoon to stir constantly as the butter melts, scraping the bottom and sides. Scrape off the spoon if you need to and stir the scraped off part, back into the mixture. Bring to a medium boil and sit constantly, scraping the sides and bottom of pan, allowing the mixture to boil for about 3 minutes so that the sugar can totally dissolve. Stir in the condensed milk and bring it back to a boil, again, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom and sides. You want the mixture to boil but not at too high a boil, so lower or adjust the heat as needed. Clip a candy thermometer to the pan and keep stirring. When the temperature registers 235ºF remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Quickly pour the hot caramel over the warm shortbread crust and tilt the pan to level the caramel. Sprinkle the pecans and chocolate all over the caramel and set aside to let the caramel and chocolate cool and set. I let it sit about 3 hours.
4. When ready to serve, grab the edges of the foil and lift the entire thing out of the pan, transferring to a cutting board. Gently peel off the foil. Use a sharp knife to cut the cake into small bars or squares. They will be sticky but that's what you want. Serve immediately or stack them in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers at room temperature for up to one week.
Note: Recipe adapted from Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy by Alice Medrich.