February 15, 2012

sweet & salty cookie dough bars

I love over-the-top, rich desserts.  So much that the people who claim they can’t eat more than ‘just a bite’ of rich desserts make me want to slap them – right before I take their dessert & eat it.  These cookie bars are one of the richest sweets I’ve ever eaten, and I can’t wait to have them again.  They combine cookie dough, pretzels, peanut butter cups, chocolate chips, caramel, more peanut butter and more chocolate.  They’re decadent and fattening and everything I love in a dessert.  Bonus: you get to eat it with your hands.  For moms who are busy, this is GOLD.

Thing is, this dessert is not without its fair share of drama*.
First, I tasked myself with developing a brand new recipe for one of the best food bloggers I know.  She just had a sweet little baby boy, and I had set up a Meal Train so she wouldn’t have to worry about dinners during those first few weeks.  But rather than whip up a tried & true standby, I decided to try something brand new.  No pressure, right?
Second, the recipe was inspired by another food blog I stumbled upon, but rather than follow it verbatim I decided to get creative.  I knew Beth was a fan of the salty/sweet flavor combination, and Cookin’ Cowgirl’s recipe for Chubby Hubby Pie sounded like a winner.  Her recipe used time saving, premade items like store-bought cookie dough & caramels, but I wanted to do something a bit more homemade.  So I adapted my own cookie dough recipe.  And I attempted (unsuccessfully) to make my own caramel.  (Can we all agree that making dry caramel is super difficult?  Mine went from beautiful to burned in .24 seconds.)  Then I realized my springform pan was missing, and I couldn’t find my pie plate.  The kids tend to rearrange the baking items in the cabinets, so it’s probably in my bedroom closet.  So I ended up with a sort-of homemade cookie dough pie.  I used a store-bought Oreo crust & pre-made caramel, and filled it with homemade cookie dough & topped it with homemade ganache.  I was happy enough with the result to deliver the pie to Beth, but I was motivated to try it again.  I began to envision this combination in bar form.  Using the feedback from taste-testers, I tweaked the recipe to include more peanut butter, less caramel & I dropped the crust altogether. 
Third, I was incredibly insecure about this dessert.  I routed samples to a number of friends & fellow bloggers, and I got the ‘too rich’ comment more than once.  Personally, I love the richness, but I respect the palates of these folks & wondered if I needed to tweak.  Ultimately, I decided this recipe is not for the sugar-weary, but spot-on for those up for decadence.  
I’m really happy with the result.  However, there’s one more bit of drama.  I can’t think of a suitable name for these bars.  I’ve tossed around many ideas, but they all seem too literal, or too dorky, or too ridiculous.  What do you think they should be called? 

Sweet & Salty Cookie Dough Bars
For the dough:
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 sticks salted butter, room temperature
1 c dark brown sugar, packed
½ c demerara (natural) sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
5 oz chocolate chips (I used bittersweet)
1 cup pretzels, coarsely chopped
1 cup peanut butter cups, coarsely chopped (I used a combination of milk & dark)
For the peanut butter topping:
1 c peanut butter
5 tbs caramel sundae topping (or if you’re a show off, make your own)
1 tbs heavy cream or half & half

For the chocolate ganache:
5 oz chocolate chips (I used bittersweet)
½ c heavy cream or half & half
Preheat oven to 350˚.  Line a 9x13 baking pan with wax or parchment paper, making an ‘X’ with two long pieces of the paper so it hangs over all four sides.  Grease the paper with butter or spray.  This will ensure easy removal of the bars once they’ve cooled by simply lifting the paper and transferring the bars to a cutting board.
Sift flour, baking soda & salt into a bowl, combining well.  Using a stand or handheld mixer, combine the butter and sugar until creamy, about two minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, fully combining.  Add the vanilla and mix on medium speed about three minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl.  Reduce speed to low, and slowly incorporate the dry ingredients until fully combined.  Gently fold in the chocolate chips, peanut butter cups & pretzels.
Spread the dough into the prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes.  (I pulled the bars after 35 minutes, and they remained a firm, yet gooey consistency that I love.)  Allow to cool completely.
Combine the peanut butter, caramel topping & cream in a microwave-safe bowl & heat until just warm.  Stir to combine ingredients completely & spread over cooled bars.
Put the chocolate chips & cream in a heatproof bowl & place over a small saucepan with water in it.  Heat over medium on the stove until chocolate begins to melt, stirring constantly.  Once the mixture is smooth& glossy, spread immediately over the bars.  Refrigerate until the ganache is set and bars are completely cool.
If you’d like to try this out as a pie, the above recipe will make enough to fill two store-bought Oreo crusts – perfect for sharing & keeping.  The bake time will be reduced substantially.  Cookie consistency is a personal decision, so just keep an eye out until they’re the doneness you prefer.
Finally, I mentioned that this was part of a meal I dropped off to Beth.  The much healthier main course was beef & mushroom barley soup – a favorite childhood comfort food of mine – and the recipe is featured on her blog.  Check it out!
*Updated: the drama continues. This post was written, proofed & awaiting publishing when it just…vanished.  I’ve rewritten it, though it’s not nearly as clever as it used to be.  Stupid cursed, nameless cookie bars.  


  1. These are delicious! Thank you so much for sharing them last weekend, I complete gobbled mine in seconds on Monday! And thanks for sharing the recipe on your blog (even if it was with a little bit of drama), it was worth it!

  2. These look delicious, Amanda. I saw your soup recipe on Beth's blog, and her picture of your dessert looked so good, I clicked over to see the recipe.

    I think you chose a great name for them. Sweet and Salty is all the rage, after all. :-D

  3. I thought they were delicious! And not "too rich". True, they were rich, but I also don't understand the term "too rich". NEVER!

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I just want to thank you again for putting peanut butter cups in there. :)

  5. So delicious, my staff asked for more.

    I'm sorry, did we decide AGAINST the dirty name for these bars? Whatever for?? ;-)

  6. This is surely addictive... looks super yumm...