Caramel Coconut Cluster Bars
Yield: 24 bars
3 cups flaked sweetened coconut, divided
For the Cookie Base
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Caramel Layer
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the assembly
6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
2 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
Toast the coconut
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Spread the coconut in an even layer on the baking sheet and toast, tossing and turning every 4 minutes or so, until the coconut just starts to turn golden, about 12 minutes total. Remove the coconut from the oven and set aside to cool.
Make the Cookie Base
Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper, allowing the parchment to overhang on two sides. Lightly spray the parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and the flour mixture and beat just until combined.
Turn the dough out into the prepared baking pan and, with lightly floured hands, press the dough into an even layer on the bottom of the pan (do not press up the sides). Prick the top of the dough with the tines of a fork and bake the crust for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until golden. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
Make the Caramel Layer
In a medium saucepan, combine the corn syrup, both sugars, and 2 tablespoons of water and stir gently so you don’t splash any of it up on the sides of the pan. Set the saucepan over low heat and continue to stir gently until the sugar dissolves. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure the bulb of the thermometer is immersed in the syrup. Turn the heat up to medium-high and wait without stirring for the mixture to reach 240 to 245 degrees F, about 7 minutes. Keep a watchful eye on the temperature while you proceed with the next step—you do not want the mixture to exceed 250 degrees F.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the cream and sweetened condensed milk. Gently warm the mixture; do not let it boil.
Once the sugar mixture turns amber, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter and the warm cream mixture until completely combined (be careful as it will bubble up when you add the cream mixture). Place the pan back over medium heat, stop stirring, and bring the mixture back to 245 to 250 degrees F.
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and fold in 2 cups of the toasted coconut.
Pour the caramel directly onto the cookie base and, working quickly, spread it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of toasted coconut over the caramel. Let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, then place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a knife to loosen the chilled bars from the sides of the pan, then lift the bars out using the parchment paper overhang. Spray a sharp knife with nonstick cooking spray and cut the bars into twenty-four 3-by-1 1/2-inch rectangles and place on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.
Assemble the bars
Melt both chocolates together in the bowl of a double boiler over medium heat or in the microwave (in a microwave-safe bowl, cook the chocolate at 50% power (medium) for 15-seconds bursts, stirring between each blast, until melted).
Dip half of each individual bar in the melted chocolate, scrape off the excess chocolate with an offset spatula, and place the bar back on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining bars.
Alternatively, dip the bottom of each bar in the remaining melted chocolate, scrape off the excess chocolate with an offset spatula. Return to the baking sheet to set. Once set, squeeze the chocolate into one corner of the zippered plastic bag and twist the other end of the bag a few times to form a makeshift pastry bag. Use a kitchen scissor to snip off the small corner of the bag where the chocolate has collected (you don’t want too large a snip or the chocolate will ooze out).
Working quickly, drizzle the chocolate in a zigzag pattern across all of the bars. Place the pan of bars back into the refrigerator for 15 minutes to let the chocolate set up. Serve immediately. The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 4 days. They taste really good directly from the refrigerator as well as at room temperature—entirely up to you.
Excerpted from Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. Copyright © 2012 by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. Excerpted by permission of Stewart, Tabori & Chang, an imprint of Abrams. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Anyone start these yet?
Wanted to try them today, but didn’t have time. Am looking forward to making them….they sound so yummy.
I’m hoping to bake tomorrow or Thursday, these sound delish!
Okay, I’ve made these TWICE as soon as the book came out, and I’m really hoping the third time’s the charm! I had two problems both times: 1) my shortbread crust was dry and crumbly, despite being extra careful not to overwork the dough the second time, and 2) taking the caramel up to 245-250F made a very tough/chewy caramel. I had these bars when I visited BAKED last summer, and their caramel is light-colored and heavenly soft, yet it holds its shape. I’m gonna go for color this time, rather than exact temperature. Any suggestions on the crust??
I made these last weekend and the shortbread didn’t hold together and I actually thought the shortbread-to-caramel ratio was a little too heavy on the caramel side (never thought I’d say that). I couldn’t get the caramel to get back up to 250, so I gave up and it turned out perfect… Lol. I might try a different shortbread recipe… :)
I was thinking of using a different shortbread recipe too, though I want to give it another go. I’m glad it wasn’t just me– my shortbread would totally apart while cutting the bars, and big chunks would break off while dipping the bottoms in the chocolate. :( How high did you take the caramel, if not 250F?
I think I only got it up to about 235ish. I turned my burner up all the way and literally ten minutes went by and the temp would not increase (I don’t know why). I also was also wary about it reaching “hard ball,” since that didn’t seem to be the right consistency of the old school Girl Scout cookies.
My shortbread was fine (I barely handled it and cooked it a bit short). But my caramel was overcooked and isn’t edible right out of the refrigerator, unless you want to break a few teeth!
I used my thermometer this time (Thermapen, very accurate and I checked calibration). I think 250 is too high, and it should be more like 240 (soft ball stage instead of hard ball).
Dafna, I always do better with caramel when I go by sight and smell. I like that approach – I was just nervous this time because I wanted it to be just the right texture for the bars.
Hmm, I don’t know what my deal is with the shortbread! I will try again, and this time I’ll take it out a little earlier– maybe I’m just overbaking and drying it out? I will also be going by sight and smell for the caramel. I think 240 *max*– I’m going to do a little research. I’ll report back to the team if I find out anything useful. :)
Mark Neufang says
I find it very difficult to go by color with the caramel on these, as the recipe includes brown sugar. I kinda had to laugh when it said “when mixture turns amber” because it already was amber you even started it!
Erin Star says
I know, I thought the same thing about the brown sugar – had to put all my faith in my thermometer on this one. *scary*
I know, right?! The whole “amber” thing make me chuckle too, as it reminded me of the “almost clear” brittle debacle. I took my caramel to 235F, and it was AWESOME.
Making a note in my book – caramel to 235, thanks Dafna!
I made these last night. I’m still not sure how I feel about them. I think I undercooked my caramel in the first step. The consistency is good, but it tastes really buttery.
Mark Neufang says
HOLY COW!!!! My shortbread was fine… it was the caramel that came out like a freakin’ JAWBREAKER!!!! My advice? DON’T REFRIGERATE these. I found that if I heated them up in the microwave a little bit, prior to dipping them in the chocolate, they were fine… I don’t know what a did wrong, but they were rock hard. I thought I would break a tooth!
Yes, I put my bars in the fridge and couldn’t bite into them. But after a half hour out, they were fine.
Yep. It’s not you – I really think it’s the temperature of the caramel (should be cooked to soft ball rather than hard ball).
I got the caramel down this time, but still ended up with crumbly shortbread. Grrr!
matt - baked dude says
hi guys…hmmm…re: the caramel bars.
so, my scottish grandma would be super thrilled (it’s her shortbread recipe – and once you get the hang of it, i promise it will be your go-to shortbread recipe).
caramel is trickier. we try to get it super stiff so it doesn’t squeeze out (probably more of a concern at the bakery when we pack to go orders) so maybe i should have said almost hardball???
and re: color. good point. i guess i still think there is a difference between amber(s). :)
BTW – this really is a great shortbread recipe. The shortbread cookies from Explorations are on the schedule for next month!
I’m keeping mine in the fridge. I have to let them sit out for 30 minutes before I can eat one. It keeps me from making a piggy of myself!
Erin Star says
Better late than never I suppose…these bars are KILLER!