Just so we are clear, what these bars are not: peanut butter and caramel living on completely different planets (or in this case, layers). What they are: Peanut butter plus caramel, or in other words, caramel and peanut butter swirled together to create the most decadent layer to have ever visited a chocolate chip cookie bar.
It’s peanut butter and caramel together forever. And it’s totally insane. In a really, really good way.
After my brother emailed me saying I needed to make these disastrously delicious bars before taking another breath, it took a few variations to get the recipe just how I wanted so the rich caramel and peanut butter layer stayed prominent while not overpowering the buttery, sweet chocolate chip cookie dough. And who’s going to complain about multiple batches of peanut butter caramel? Not me and mine, that’s for sure. Judging simply from the reactions of those lovely souls who took several samples off my hands (and the bajillion squares I consumed all in the name of quality control and scientific cookie bar research), it was clear the combination of flavors would be fabulous.
As I mention in the notes below, if you choose to brown the butter first before making the cookie dough base, I won’t stop you. And I’ll probably end up on your doorstep (my only talent is being able to detect the delectable smell of browned butter from miles away). It’s not an essential step but one that may have you chasing your self-control across the neighborhood.
I've only ever used Trader Joe's soft and chewy salted caramels for this recipe (about 26 of them to be precise) but other brands of chewy caramel (like Kraft or Brachs) could be used too, as well as homemade if you want to be a total rockstar. Also, keep in mind if using milk with the caramels (instead of cream) the mixture will be quite a bit thinner and runnier. I've made it both ways and it's delicious either way - just richer and creamier with the cream rather than the milk.
Oh, and if you want to brown the butter first, I won't stop you. Just don't come back blaming me if your self-control flies out the window.
- 12 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 cup (7 ounces) brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 3/4 cups (13.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups chocolate chips
- 10 ounces soft caramels (see note above), unwrapped
- 1/3 cup cream or milk (see note above)
- 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9X13-inch baking pan with foil (the foil part is optional but helps the bars come out in one big slab after cooling, if that's your thing) and spray liberally with nonstick cooking spray.
- Whisk the melted butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar together in a large bowl until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour, salt and baking soda and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
- Spread or press about half (or just slightly more than half) of the batter in the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 8-9 minutes.
- While the cookie dough base is baking, add the caramels and cream to a microwave-safe bowl (you can also heat on low on the stovetop in a saucepan) and microwave for 1-minute increments at 50% power, stirring in between, until the caramel is melted and smooth. Stir in the peanut butter and vanilla extract.
- Drizzle the caramel mixture over the top of the baked cookie dough and spread evenly.
- Pinch the remaining cookie dough between your fingers and crumble over the top of the caramel.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes until the bars are puffed and the edges are slightly golden.
- Let the bars cool completely before cutting into squares.
Recipe Source: inspired by this recipe at Julie’s Eats & Treats after my brother emailed me and told me we couldn’t be friends until I tried and perfected the bars (after a few tries, I used a tweaked version of my favorite thick and chewy chocolate chip bars and adapted the caramel recipe so it didn’t overpower the bars)