Browned Butter Caramel and Butterscotch Bars
The powers of browned butter and dark brown sugar should never be underestimated.
Nor should melted caramel and butterscotch chips.
I was craving something rich, buttery, and comforting but didn’t know exactly what to make. When I saw a half-used bag of dark brown sugar in the cupboard, I knew I had use it. Dark brown sugar imparts a richer and more complex sweetness than light brown sugar, thanks to the greater amount of molasses in it. Tis the season for dark and earthy molasses goodies, even if the molasses comes via dark brown sugar.
I brought a big bag of caramels with us to Aruba, mostly to eat on the plane and remarkably, we didn’t mow through them. Even after the Marshmallow Caramel Oreo Cookie S’mores Bars, I had some caramels and they’re a fitting partner for dark brown sugar.
I spied butterscotch chips in the freezer, and yes I keep all my baking chips in the freezer or they melt, and I knew their pop of sweet intensity would be perfect with the other ingredients.
I used browned butter in these bars and although you could make them by simply melting butter, I recommended going browned and dark. The resulting bars have layers of richness and flavors that can’t otherwise be achieved. It adds such depth of flavor to everything it touches, including these bars.
Brown the butter by placing one stick in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-low to medium heat. The butter will melt and it will also crackle, sputter, hiss, and make plenty of noise as it bubbles. Noisy butter is normal. Whisk the bubbling butter nearly continuously for the two to four minutes it takes for the butter to brown. Watch for little brown specks in the butter and you’ll likely smell a very nutty and rich aroma at the same time they appear. This is crunch time.
After seeing the browned specks, immediately remove the pan from the heat, and continue to whisk for another thirty seconds or so. The butter will be prone to burning after the little brown specks appear, and it can go from browned to burned in less than one minute, so keep a watchful eye. Transfer the browned butter into a medium mixing bowl so it doesn’t continue to cook and allow it to cool for a couple minutes before adding the dark brown sugar to it. The dark brown sugar and browned butter mixture resembles melted chocolate because it’s so dark in color and it smells divine.
Add one egg, vanilla, flour, salt, butterscotch chips, and bake the bars for about fifteen to twenty minutes. While the bars bake, unwrap and quarter ten caramels, and if the cellophane wrappers on your caramels are as stubborn as mine, it’ll take fifteen minutes just to unwrap them.
After the bars have baked for fifteen to twenty minutes and the top surface has just begun to set up and the bars are about ninety percent done, remove the pan from the oven. Baking times vary based on ovens, climates, and how well done you like things, and for me that’s very gooey, plus my oven runs hot here. In my San Diego oven, it would take twenty minutes, but in Aruba, it takes fifteen. The pan will be returned to the oven for another five minutes so it’s okay, and preferred, they’re a bit underdone.
Even sprinkle the caramels over the surface of the bars, and then lightly press the caramels just past the surface of the bars with your fingers or lightly tap them down with a spatula. Although the surface has set up, it offers little resistance to the rich and creamy caramels being wedged into it. Puncturing the tender surface with caramel bits was strangely satisfying. Although it appears that puddles of whole caramels are floating on the surface, it’s an optical illusion. Each puddle is really just one-quarter of a caramel square. It’s amazing how much they spread.
Return the pan to the oven and bake for about five minutes, or until the caramels have melted and the top has just set. The bars will firm up as the cool, and I prefer to keep these gooey. Overbaking will result in drier bars and the caramel will melt into one giant puddle on the surface, rather than many cute little brown tidepools, or it will burn.
Allow the bars to set up for at least two hours before slicing them because slicing into liquid caramel would be a real hot mess. If you’re impatient, placing the pan in the refrigerator to expedite the cooling is fine.
The bars are the brunette version of a blondie in terms of texture, and I adapted my go-to blondie recipe because it never lets me down and the batter whisks together in minutes. The robust dark brown sugar is complemented by aromatic, nutty, browned butter.
If they were a brownie, they’d be a very fudgy one, with no hints of cakiness. I don’t like cakey-textured anything, and didn’t use any chemical leaveners such as baking powder or soda, so they stay flat, dense, and intense.
The butterscotch chips suspended with the dark brown and buttery dough add unique sweetness, like only butterscotch can and they also provide a bit of texture.
I especially enjoyed the smooth, buttery, creamy caramel pools that float on top of the dark beauties. The caramel adds remarkable chewiness to the bars and I’ve never met a Caramel Sauce or Carmel S’Mores that I could resist.
It’s a good thing that the batch size is just nine bars.
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)
- 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed (light may be substituted but dark is preferred_
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt, optional and to taste
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
- 10 caramels, unwrapped and diced into quarters
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.
- Place butter in a medium sauce pan and heat over medium-low to medium heat. Butter will melt, begin to bubble, foam, hiss, sputter, and brown specks will form in the bottom of the pan; this process takes approximately 2 to 4 minutes, give or take. During the process whisk frequently or nearly continuously and keep an extremely watchful eye on the butter. Brown it long enough to see browned bits and specks, but don't burn it. Butter can go from browned and nutty-smelling to burnt and inedible in less than one minute.Watch for the brown specks and once you see them, remove the pan from the burner, continuing to whisk for another 30 seconds or so. Transfer butter into large mixing bowl and allow it to cool for a few minutes.
- To the melted butter, add the brown sugar and whisk to combine. Add the egg, vanilla, and stir to combine. Add the flour, salt, and stir until just combined, taking care not to over-mix or the blondies will be tough. Fold in the butterscotch chips. Ppour batter into prepared pan, smoothing it lightly with a spatula or offset knife.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until bars are about 90 to 95% done. The center should just barely be setting up and edges will be slightly pulling away from sides of pan. Remove pan from oven and evenly sprinkle caramel pieces over the bars. Lightly and carefully break the surface of the bars with the caramel pieces, poking them in past the surface layer and pressing down lightly; use caution so you don't burn your fingers. Return pan to oven for 3 to 6 minutes, or until caramels melt and turn into puddles and top surface of bars is set. Allow bars to cool for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving. Bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- To keep gluten-free, use your favorite gluten-free flour blend.
Banana Bread with Vanilla Browned Butter Glaze – My go-to banana bread recipe and both the bread and glaze can be made with browned butter for a rich and easy loaf
Magic Eight Bars – A twist on Seven Layer Bars, or Hello Dolly Bars, and they’re full of both chocolate chips and butterscotch chips
Coconut Oatmeal Toffee Cookies – A quick, small-batch recipe for cookies that are chewy and full of texture from the oats and coconut, with butterscotch chips incorporated
Double Chocolate Caramel Corn & Cocoa Rice Krispies Candy Bars (No-Bake with Vegan & GF options) – If you have odds and ends from holiday baking such as multiple bags of baking chips with minimal amounts in any of them, or marshmallows, nuts, candy, or boxes of opened cereal, these bars help thin out the pantry stash
Caramel and Chocolate Gooey Bars (GF with Vegan adaptation) – Packed with chocolate and caramel, dense from the oats, rich, and very gooey
Are you a fan of browned butter, dark brown sugar, butterscotch chips?
Tell me about your favorite recipes and feel free to link them.