Do you have someone in your life who is a complete and total ice cream fanatic? A person who would eat ice cream every single day…and sometimes do…when left to their own devices? I know you know someone. Is it you? A friend? Someone you love? Isn’t it funny how there’s always someone we know who… yeah, they’ll eat other desserts…but all they really want… is ice cream. Put it on the side of any other dessert and we know, what they’re really savoring. Now I don’t want to necessarily rat my husband, Gary, out…. but seriously? I’ve never seen anything like it. His eyes actually glaze over and he becomes trance-like when he’s eating it. He loves it any time of year and in any form. Nothing else comes close. If there’s an ice cream shop anywhere in the vicinity, all else stops, until he gets some. Everybody has a favorite way to eat it, but Gary’s? It’s mixing toffee bits or Heath Bar crumbles in with it. See where I’m leading…?
In her James Beard Foundation Award Winner cookbook, Baking, from My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan (author of the best-selling BAKING WITH JULIA), has a wonderful way of laying out her recipes. She’ll first have the recipe written out, but in the sidebar of many of them, is a “Playing Around” feature which encourages you to do something fun in developing the finished product further. This particular recipe started out as one for Caramel Crunch Bars. The “Playing Around” feature, suggested sandwiching ice cream in the middle and making them into something fun for… (ahem) …kids. Perfect, I thought! And I was right. Gary told me he “gives these a #1 rating of all-time”. I asked, “#1 of what?” His reply….”everything!” If you have an ice cream lover in your life, throw a few of these in your freezer. You can’t go wrong.
Caramel Crunch Bars
For the base
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or finely ground instant coffee
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 ounces bittersweet or premium-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
For the topping
6 ounces bittersweet or premium-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup Heath Toffee Bits
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9-X-13-inch baking pan, line the pan with foil and butter the foil. Put the pan on a baking sheet.
To Make the Base:
Whisk together the flour, espresso powder, salt and cinnamon.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, or until the mixture is light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla, then turn off the mixer. Add all the dry ingredients, cover the stand mixer with a kitchen towel (so you and your kitchen don’t get showered with flour) and pulse the mixer on and off on low speed about 5 times – at which point a peek at the bowl should reveal that it’s safe to turn the mixer to low and mix, uncovered, just until the dry ingredients are almost incorporated. Add the chopped chocolate and mix only until the dry ingredients disappear. If the chocolate isn’t evenly mixed, finish the job by hand with a spatula. You’ll have a heavy, very sticky dough. Scrape the dough into the buttered pan and, with the spatula and your fingertips, cajole it into a thin, even layer.
Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the base is bubbly – so bubbly you can almost hear it percolating – and puckery. It will look as though it is struggling to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer the pan to a rack and turn off the oven.
To Make the Topping:
Scatter the chopped chocolate evenly over the top of the hot base and pop the pan back into the oven for 2 to 3 minutes, until the chocolate is soft. Remove from the oven and immediately spread the chocolate over the bars, using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the toffee bits over the chocolate and press them down lightly with your fingertips. Place the baking pan on a rack to cool to room temperature.
If, by the time the bars are cool, the chocolate hasn’t set, refrigerate them briefly to firm the chocolate.
Carefully lift out of the pan, using the foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. Trim the edges if they seem a bit thick. Cut about 54 bars, each about 2 inches x 1 inch, taking care not to cut through the foil.
Caramel Crunch Ice Cream Bars:
When the kids’ birthdays roll around, cut these into large squares, 3 to 4 inches on a side. Working with half of the squares, leaving them frosted side up and working on a baking sheet, spread them with a thick layer of softened ice cream – vanilla, chocolate or cinnamon. Top with the other half of the bars, frosted side up, and slide them into the freezer to firm up again. If you need to keep them for a while, double-wrap each bar in plastic wrap or aluminum foil.