High Altitude Baking: Crumbly caramel bars (recipe) | VailDaily.com

High Altitude Baking: Crumbly caramel bars (recipe)

Editor's note: High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.

Heavenly … that describes these mouth-watering bites of caramel cradled between tender, buttery dough. The balance between the contrasting flavors and textures is just right; neither overpowers the other and the mingling of the two leaves you wanting one more nibble of such a perfect combination. They are one of my all-time favorites and a regular on my cookie trays.

I'm as fond of the recipe as I am of its results. One dough provides both the crust and the topping and doesn't have to be baked prior to filling, so it requires less active time. Preparing the filling is also fast and easy; just be sure to watch it closely so it doesn't burn.

Crumbly caramel bars

(Make in an 8-inch-by-8-inch metal baking pan.)

1¼ cups bleached, all-purpose flour, (spoon and level), divided

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¼ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker's

Pinch salt

8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ tablespoon light corn syrup

2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar

7 ounces (half of a 14-ounce can) sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the lowest position. Line the pan with nonstick aluminum foil or regular foil, extending it several inches on two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked slab of cookies. If using regular foil, grease well with a vegetable oil-flour spray. Set aside.

To make in a food processor: Put 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the flour (set the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour aside), the sugar and salt in the bowl and pulse to blend. Cut the butter into 8 pieces, add them with the vanilla and pulse until smooth dough forms (stop before it forms a ball on the blade).

To make with a mixer: Cut the butter into 8 pieces, place in a mixing bowl, and soften to room temperature. Add the sugar and salt, and beat at medium speed until soft and light. Add the vanilla; beat to blend. Add 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour (set the remaining 2 tablespoons flour aside) and using the lowest possible speed, beat until smooth dough forms.

Spoon ¾ of the dough into the prepared pan, dropping spoonfuls all over the pan bottom. Gently spread them (compressing the dough as little as possible) to form an even layer. Place pan in the freezer or fridge to chill.

Use your fingers to work the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour into the remaining dough, rubbing and squeezing to form small clumps. Set aside.

Make the filling: Combine all of the filling ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer over low-medium heat, stirring constantly. Keep on a low boil (watch, it burns easily), stirring until it thickens slightly and turns to a light gold, straw-like color. Remove from heat, and cool for about 6 minutes.

Remove pan from the fridge and use a silicone or offset spatula to scrape the filling onto the dough layer and spread it evenly. Scatter the small clumps of dough mixture over top. Bake until the filling bubbles and the topping is baked and golden, about 28 to 35 minutes.

Remove to a rack to cool to lukewarm. Use foil handles to remove the baked slab and cut it into cookies while still slightly warm. Let cookies cool completely on a rack. Store, airtight, for a day, or freeze for a month.

This is a variation of a Nick Malgieri recipe. Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks "Baking Above It All" and "Cookies in the Clouds" (available at The Bookworm of Edwards and Gorsuch in Vail), is a chef instructor with Colorado Mountain College's Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at veradawson1@gmail.com.