September 27, 2009

Chocolate Espresso Caramel Bars

As I briefly mentioned in my last post, I made a picnic for my mom and I in Central Park this past July. Along with the panzanella, I made these chocolate espresso caramel bars. (I also made a watermelon, feta, and arugula salad and spicy apricot glazed shrimp. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but this was not your ordinary, run of the mill picnic spread- it was pretty spectacular.)  Upon tasting the caramel bars for the first time, it was love at first bite. My mom and I polished off a whole batch within a matter of days. These things really are magical. For the past two months I have literally dreamed about them, almost nightly, waking in a cold sweat and salivating over the image of chocolate caramel gooey goodness.

Don't let the name of these heavenly treats throw you though. These in no way taste like coffee. Not that I have anything against coffee, I actually consider myself somewhat of an addict. My day does not begin until I have my first cup of joe. The espresso powder in this recipe is not intended to impart its flavor; its purpose is to intensify the flavor of the chocolate, adding depth. While watching the Barefoot Contessa last week, she reiterated this tasty little trick.  She added espresso powder to chocolate cupcakes, both to the cake batter and the frosting, with only the intentions of enriching the chocolate.  A nifty little trick to keep in mind, don't you think?

One of my favorite things about this particular dessert is its cross section.  The distinctive layers are so beautiful! A graham cracker crust and soft caramel center topped off with rich, intense chocolate.  Sort of like a Twix bar gone gourmet. This recipe is adapted from, once again, Giada. She suggests sprinkling the top with smoked sea salt, but at $17 a pop (!), I figured regular sea salt would do just fine. This is, of course, not necessary, but I really like the slightly salty finish.  It really leaves you wanting more, which, I guess, could be both a good thing or a bad thing.  Not such a great thing in my case, as I usually can't walk away from these things without eating at least 5.  I even tried freezing half the batch to save for a later date, (and to deter me from once again consuming the batch in its entirety) but unfortunately, they defrost way to easily.  Take one bar out of the freezer and it's soft enough to eat in 10 minutes.  But I guess that's comforting to know, should I start waking in the middle of the night again, dreaming about chocolate, I know it will only be 10 minutes before I can soundly fall back asleep.  

Chocolate Espresso Caramel Bars
Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

Vegetable cooking spray
12 whole graham crackers, crumbled
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 stick plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted 

pinch of salt

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar (packed)
1 tablespoon water

Chocolate Layer:
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

1 teaspoon course sea salt, optional

Special equipment: a candy thermometer


For the crust:
Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9x9-inch baking dish with parchment or waxed paper. Spray the paper and the sides of the pan with cooking spray. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the graham crackers, sugar, and salt. Process until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Add the melted butter and blend until the mixture forms into clumps. Spread the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing gently to form an even layer. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the crust is golden. Cool for 15 minutes.

For the caramel:
While the crust is cooling, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of cream, butter, sugar, and water. Stir over medium heat until the mixture is smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees F, about 5 to 7 minutes. Carefully pour the caramel over the warm crust. Cool for 20 minutes. Freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.

For the chocolate layer: 

Combine the chocolate chips and cream in a small bowl and place over a pan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the espresso powder. Remove the pan from the freezer. Pour the chocolate mixture over the caramel layer and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with sea salt, if using. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour until firm.

Allow the layers to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Using a warm, slightly wet knife, carefully cut around the edges of the chocolate layer. Cut into 1 1/2 by 1/2-inch bars and store airtight in a covered plastic container in the fridge.


  1. I'm definitely going to try these. I also like the idea of using the espresso powder to enhance chocolate in other recipes as well.

  2. I had these at Dana's and went back for thirds. Very sinful and addictive.