Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

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It’s officially Christmas cookie season. That means, for the next couple of weeks (probably through New Year’s) it will be all Christmas cookies all the time. This year, I’m going the slightly nontraditional route with my tins, including some new recipes and experiments, but if you’re looking for some classics, here’s last year’s selection:

Anyways, this week’s recipe was definitely an experiment. I had seen it on Pinterest and thought they looked amazing. Also, I needed to make something that would keep for a week since I’ll be making the rest of my cookies in a bit of a cookie making binge next weekend.

Side note: when I told my mom my plans of baking for the entirety of next weekend, she immediately recommended I invite friends over to help. I had to explain to her that I actually love listening to Christmas music and spending the day alone in my kitchen making cookies. If that makes me an introvert I’m totally OK with that.

So, it starts off pretty straight forward. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

 

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Then, combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until fluffy.

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Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. It will be in smallish pieces.

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Press the dough into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper. You don’t want to skip the parchment paper on this one – it’s going to come in very handy when you go to cut the bars later.

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Bake at 325°F for about 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Put on wire rack to cool completely.

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At this point, I was cruising along, feeling totally fine about my decision with this recipe. My shortbread layer looked great, life was good.

Then, I came to the caramel layer. Now, I think I’ve discussed my fear of caramel before, but I couldn’t find the post to reference, so I’ll say it again: I am always afraid that I will burn the sugar. And burnt sugar is possibly the worst smell ever. It’s amazing that something so sweet and innocent can turn so vile and disgusting in about 5 seconds flat.

To add to this fear, this particular recipe called for a different combination of things to make the caramel than I was used to. I’ve made caramel using actual caramels and melting them with sweetened condensed milk. I’ve made it with just sugar and butter. But this called for a weird combination of the two: butter, sugar, karo syrup, and sweetened condensed milk.

However, the shortbread had gone beautifully, so I had no reason to doubt the recipe yet. I went ahead and trusted it. I combined the four ingredients in a medium saucepan, heating it over medium heat until the butter melted, stirring frequently.

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Then, I increased the heat to medium high, hoping to bring it to a boil while stirring constantly, after which I would reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to stir constantly until it turned amber in color. Alas, it was not to be. I began to notice little flecks of amber in my supposed caramel. I was pretty sure that wasn’t how it was supposed to work, but I pushed on.

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Turns out, my sugar found its way into the corners (round pans don’t have corners, but you know what I mean) of my saucepan and begin to do that terrible thing where it burns. Even my constant stirring didn’t prevent it. When I realized what was happening, I turned the heat down to simmer and just stirred until it turned less bright whitish-yellow than sweetened condensed milk, and called it a caramel, which I then poured over the shortbread layer.

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Now, it may be that I was just overconfident and got lazy, and your caramel layer may turn a beautiful amber. But I think if I were to make these again, I would use the caramel from my Peanut Butter Samoa Bars recipe instead of the one they had here. Fortunately, the end result, though maybe not as caramel-y as it was supposed to be, is still 100% delicious.

After letting the caramel cool for a bit, I put it in the freezer to chill overnight. You definitely don’t have to let it chill that long, I just didn’t feel like finishing it last night.

For the chocolate layer, I did decide to stray from the recipe’s suggestion of a double boiler and used the microwave method instead.

Combine the butter, chocolate, and karo syrup in a microwaveable bowl. Heat in 15 second intervals at 50% power, stirring after each interval, until smooth.

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Pour the chocolate layer over the caramel layer and sprinkle with sea salt. Chill until ready to cut and serve.

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These will keep in the freezer (and taste better out of the freezer), for as long as you want. I cut them into bars and wrapped them individually in plastic wrap, but that’s more because they’ll be going in tins later. End product: a slightly less caramel-flavored Twix bar.

Enjoy!

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

Shortbread Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Caramel Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons Karo syrup
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Karo syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • sea salt, for sprinkling

Shortbread Directions:

  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar using the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.
  4. Press the dough into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper.
  5. Bake at 325°F for 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Caramel Directions:

  1. Combine butter, sugar, Karo syrup, and sweetened condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Stir frequently until butter is melted.
  3. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (including in the corners).
  4. Reduce heat to simmer and continue to stir constantly until caramel turns amber in color.
  5. Pour over shortbread layer and chill.

Chocolate Directions:

  1. Combine butter, chocolate, and Karo syrup in a microwaveable bowl.
  2. Microwave in 15 second intervals at 50% power, stirring after each interval, until smooth.
  3. Pour over caramel layer and sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Chill until ready to cut into bars.
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Strawberry Lemonade Bars

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This weekend, I didn’t have to bake at all.  I had three lovely sous chefs to do all the work.  I just diced some strawberries and they did the rest.  Here they are, hard at work:

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When sitting down to decide on a recipe, we had an assortment of cookbooks scattered across the table.  Did we want to turn to Magnolia’s? What about the Boozy Baker? Maybe Claire’s Cornercopia had the answer? The only requirement was that it include fruit.

We tossed around a bunch of ideas, but ended up settling on Strawberry Lemonade Bars from Pinterest, because bars are easy to make and travel with, and I wanted to send them far away from the condo so I wouldn’t eat them all, as was the fate of the Coconut Scotchie Ice Cream Sandwiches.

Alas, I didn’t read the entire recipe in advance, so though my friends have left, the bars remain.  Hopefully they were able to snack on enough of the crumb topping to have gotten a little enjoyment.

So, though I don’t have the first hand experience with baking this one, here’s what I observed!

First, make the crumb topping.  To do that, melt the butter in the microwave and add the two sugars, whisking to combine.

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In case you were unsure as to what whisking looked like, Sheila was sure to include plenty of action shots for you.

Next, add the flour and stir to combine.  It should resemble sand with large clumps. Reserve a heaping 3/4 cup of the crumb in a separate bowl.

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Press the remaining mixture into an 8×8 inch pan, lined with aluminum foil lined with cooking spray. This will be the crust.

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Next, it’s time to make the filling. Put the egg, sour cream, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract in a bowl and whisk to combine.

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Add the flour and continue to whisk until smooth.

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Evenly pour the filling over the crust to create the second layer in the pan.  More awesome action shots courtesy of Sheila ahead!

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Finally, the strawberry layer.  This is where my own work was finally used.  Dicing two heaping cups of strawberries is not an insignificant undertaking.

In a separate bowl, toss the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and cornstarch to combine.

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That’s a shot of Shirlee being Marj’s arms to do said tossing.  There’s also a video, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t upload it.  Anyways, add the flour to your own discretion in order to thicken.  Depending on your strawberries, this could be as much as 2 1/2 tablespoons, or as little as none.

 

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Spread the strawberry layer as evenly as possible on top of the filling.  It’s not the end of the world if you mix things together – no one will complain about marbled strawberry bars.

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Sprinkle with the remaining topping. We added a little lemon zest to the crumb topping, which I think was a good idea from Marj. Bake at 350°F for around an hour, until edges are bubbling and the crumb topping is slightly golden.  It’s worth it to check around 45 minutes since fresh vs. frozen berries have different results here.

Cool for at least two hours before slicing and serving.  Mine are currently sitting in the fridge chilling further, since the recipe recommended serving them chilled.  You can store them at room temperature for a week or in the fridge for 10 days.

Huge shout out to Shirlee, Sheila, and Marj for doing all the baking/photography for the week! Wish I could send you guys a bar!

Everyone else, enjoy!

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Strawberry Lemonade Bars

Crust and Crumble Topping Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Filling Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour

Strawberry Layer Ingredients:

  • 2 heaping cups strawberries, diced
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • up to 2 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour

Directions:

  1. Crumble and Crust: Whisk together melted butter, sugar, and brown sugar until combined. Add flour and stir to combine. Reserve a heaping 3/4 cup of crumble and press remaining crumble into the bottom of a 8×8 inch pan lined with aluminum foil sprayed with cooking spray.
  2. Filling: In a bowl, whisk together egg, sour cream, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract until smooth.  Add flour and whisk until combined. Pour filling layer over crust evenly.
  3. Strawberry Layer: Toss strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and cornstarch in a large bowl.  If too runny, add flour to thicken to desired consistency before pouring evenly over the filling layer.  Sprinkle with reserved crumble.
  4. Bake at 350°F for 60 minutes, or until sides are bubbling and the crumb topping is slightly golden.  Allow to cool at least two hours before slicing and serving.

Lemon Squares

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Continuing on my theme of doing something extra for Lent, this week I baked lemon squares at the request of an art teacher at school.  I bring things into the staff room pretty regularly, but usually it’s just leftovers of things I make for others.  This time, the lemon squares are specifically for my fellow teachers.  And it’s finally spring, so yellow, citrusy treats finally feel appropriate.

I have never actually made lemon squares from scratch.  I think I didn’t realize there was a way to do it without a box mix.  And as I started looking through recipes, I wasn’t totally sure how to pick one.  I settled on the one that called for the juice of two lemons without being any more specific than that.  I have no idea how much juice you can get out of a lemon, so I didn’t want to mess with the ones that called for exact amounts.  Also, this recipe claims to be “The Best Lemon Bars Recipe”, so it had to be good.

First, mix together 2 cups of flour, butter, and 1/2 cup of sugar.  I hadn’t used my hand mixer in awhile, but was in a bit of a rush so I pulled it out.  That resulted in quite a bit of flour on my counter top since in its absence I had forgotten that it only has two speeds: fast and faster.  

 

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Then, press the mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 pan as evenly as you can.  One benefit to using 2 full sticks of butter is that there is absolutely no need to grease the pan.

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Bake the crust at 350°F for 20-30 minutes, or until the edges of the base are golden brown.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup flour.  This time I decided to go the hand whisking route since I didn’t want any more splatter.

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Whisk in the eggs until well combined.  I think it’s really the eggs that give lemon bars the great yellow color.

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Finally, whisk in the juice of two lemons.  I don’t have a juicer, but I am admittedly pretty good at getting the maximum amount of juice out of a lemon just by squeezing with my bare hands.  If you go this route, don’t forget to pick out any seeds that may have found their way into the batter.

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When the base is done, remove it from the oven and pour the lemon mixture over the top.  Return it to the oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  You aren’t really looking for anything in particular here – the bars will solidify as they cool.

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Finally, cut the bars into squares once cool.  I haven’t tasted them (obviously) but my doorman hasn’t come running up to complain since I gave him one, so they must be edible.  If you want to dust on some confectioner’s sugar on top, definitely wait until they are completely cool.  More sugar is never a bad idea.

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Enjoy!

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Lemon Squares

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 lemons, juiced

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, blend together the butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and flour until crumby and combined.
  2. Press mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan.
  3. Bake at 350°F for 20-30 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining flour and sugar.
  5. Whisk in eggs and lemon juice.
  6. Pour over base after removing from oven.  Return to oven and bake for 20 more minutes.
  7. Allow to cool in pan before cutting into squares.

Granola Bars

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I decided to be selfish this weekend.  Usually, I love to bake things for other people.  I bring treats into work and they disappear before 2nd period.  I bring treats to my classes and my students remember that I can be cool on occasion.  I bring treats to friends and make more friends.  But this week I decided to make something only I would get to eat: granola bars.

Now, I’ve made granola before, so if you’ve been reading me stuff for awhile, you know that I’m a little bit obsessed with the stuff.  I recently became addicted to Kind bars, but part of me understands that that is because they are really candy bars in disguise.  So, turning to Serious Eats, I found a recipe that claimed to be healthy and went for it.  The healthy part was also appealing after spending my evening last night with some other teachers eating fried chicken and Portuguese egg tarts (thanks Tim!) – I needed to counteract that somehow.

So without further ado, your first step is to generously grease a 9×13 inch glass baking dish.  I know what you’re thinking – Meg, how is generous use of butter healthy?  Let’s just assume it is and move on.

 

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Next, mix together the oats, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, whole wheat flour, cranberries, and almonds in a large bowl.

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Two confessions: the first is I didn’t have enough brown sugar so an “unpacked” 1/2 cup looked like this:

 

 

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Second, I never toast nuts when recipes tell me to.  I pretend it’s because I like how the nuts taste raw (which I do), but it’s more because I’m too afraid to burn them.  And I’ve never had a situation where I didn’t toast the nuts and people found my baked good inedible.  So I think that’s fine.

Next, in a separate medium bowl, whisk together the honey, egg whites, oil, applesauce (or mashed banana if that’s what you prefer), and vanilla extract.  You’ll need to gain a little momentum with the whisk before you really get the honey going, but it does become pretty liquidy after a bit.

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I happened to be finishing one container of honey and moving on to a second for this project.  Want to know what is infuriating? Trying to get the last couple drops of honey out of one of those little bears.  It just doesn’t work.  You would think someone would have thought of that before creating a bear with that many crevices – very impractical.

Anyways, you then create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the honey mixture.

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Using your hands, work together the dry and liquid ingredients until they form a loose ball.  This is very messy, but smells very good and tastes very good when you lick your fingers.

Flip the mixture into the baking dish and push it into a rectangle with about a half inch border around the outside.

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Bake at 350°F for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the outsides of the bars begin to brown.

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Then, allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before cutting into bars.  I was able to get 20 squares out of it.

 

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Then, allow to cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container. 

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They end up being almost cookie-like in texture (probably because of the flour and eggs), but I’m still calling them a granola bar.  You could also very easily substitute in different nuts or fruits based on what you like without any terrible consequences – I just happen to like almonds and cranberries (And craisins were on sale…).  I can’t think of a reason they wouldn’t keep for a good long time in an airtight container – all that could happen is they get a little stale, which is fine since granola bars are supposed to be crunchy anyways.

Enjoy!

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Granola Bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup unpacked light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Generously grease a 9×13 inch glass pan.
  2. Mix together oats, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, flour, cranberries and almonds in a large bowl.
  3. Whisk together honey, egg whites, oil, applesauce and vanilla extract in a medium bowl.
  4. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the liquid ingredients.  Work into a loose ball using your hands.
  5. Turn out onto the baking dish and press into a rectangle, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the outside.
  6. Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes or until edges get brown.
  7. Allow to cool in pan 5 minutes before cutting into 20 bars and removing to wire rack to cool completely.

 

Magic Bars

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I had a really hard time deciding what to bake this weekend.  I was home in Massachusetts with my parents, who are currently in the the process of selling the house I grew up in, and when I have the whole kitchen at my disposal I always feel like I need to make something extra special.  Also, when I bake at their house, I know that I won’t have to bring the treats home with me, so there is little danger that I will eat them all.  This also makes me want to bake more extravagant things.

However, at the same time, I was running into the problem of not wanting to spend my whole weekend baking when I only see my parents once every couple of months.  So I finally settled on something that is both extravagant and fast: Magic Bars.

For those of you reading from my Yale past, these are the same magic bars they served in the dining hall – you know, the ones that people would horde in napkins to smuggle back to their rooms and save for late night studying.  They’re also called seven layer bars due to the seven different layers of deliciousness that go into them.

First step, melt the butter.  I need to find a butter cup like the one my mom has – it’s my favorite way to melt butter. (I’m sure not many people have a favorite way to melt butter, now that I think about it.)

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Then, mix the butter with the graham cracker crumbs in a bowl with a fork.  If you’re lazy like me, you can use the pre-crushed graham crackers.

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Press the graham cracker into the bottom of a greased 13×9 inch pan.  You probably don’t actually have to grease the pan with the amount of butter that goes in, but better safe than stuck in the pan forever.

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Next, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the crust.

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Then sprinkle the butterscotch chips on next.  You can substitute peanut butter chips here and end up with an equally delicious result.

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Then, sprinkle the coconut on top of the chips.  Remember to always pack coconut when you’re measuring it.  At least, that’s what I do since my mom is a coconut addict.

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Then, add the chopped nuts.  I used walnuts, but you could also use pecans or some combination of nuts if you like that better.

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Finally, drizzle the can of sweetened condensed milk over you other layers to cement it all together.

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Now, those of you that are counting layers are having a moment of panic.  Wait! Meg! You said SEVEN layer bars!  I only count six!  That, my friends, is because you are forgetting the butter.

 

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When you use a whole stick of butter and it doesn’t totally fit in the butter cup, that warrants being considered a layer of its own.

Anyways, bake the bars at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until milk is bubbling and edges are slightly browned.

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Allow to cool in the pan completely before cutting into bars.

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Magic bars can be stored covered at room temperature.  If you want to try something a little different, though, I did discover in college that if you keep them in the fridge they turn into a really awesome texture as well.  Definitely worth a try.

Enjoy!

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Magic Bars

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1 1/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

Directions:

  1. Combine melted butter and graham cracker crumbs with a fork.
  2. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of a greased 13×9 inch pan.
  3. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly on top of crust.
  4. Sprinkle butterscotch chips evenly on top.
  5. Sprinkle coconut for the next layer.
  6. Add the chopped nuts.
  7. Drizzle condensed milk over the top of the layers.
  8. Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbling and lightly browned.
  9. Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.