chocolate-chip-dulce-de-leche-bars

These Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars work as well for a game day sweet as they do for a casual, but decadent Valentine’s treat.

Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars. Creamy sweet milk caramel, baked between chocolate chip cookie dough. Add pecans for turtle lovers!

They were inspired by my Dulce de Leche Brownies. Have you tried those yet? If you’re a fan of caramel and chocolate, you would love them. Of course, if you love caramel and chocolate, you’ll love these too!

Dulce de leche is my go to for a quick trip to caramel town. It’s not exactly like traditional caramel, which is often made with a base of water, sugar, cream and butter. Dulce de leche is milk and sugar based. Some people make their own dulce de leche by slowly heating a can of sweetened condensed milk until the sweetened milk caramelizes. However, I’ve never been moved to go the DIY route on it; this is one item I need not make myself. I’m quite happy to buy a can and have it ready to go in my pantry.

Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars. Creamy sweet milk caramel, baked between chocolate chip cookie dough. Add pecans for turtle lovers!

For those of you who haven’t tried dulce de leche, it’s very thick and creamy, but still has lots of caramel flavor that you’ll love. It’s not exactly like caramel; it’s milky creaminess and silky texture set it apart. It’s absolutely wonderful as another option for those of us who love caramel in all of its forms.

Thankfully, this recipe did not require a lot of testing. I adapted my Malted Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe as the base, leaving out the malt and the cocoa, though in retrospect, I’m sure it would also have been delicious had I not made any changes. In either case, the cookie dough mixes up quickly.

I used a combo of bittersweet and semi sweet chips to balance some of the additional sweetness from the caramel. However, if you’re a milk chocolate lover, use those instead. I think the milk chocolate would work nicely with the milky caramel. Or even mix some milk and some semi sweet. White chocolate is also an option, but now you’re getting even sweeter. Bottom line? You have options. Use them as desired.

Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars. Creamy sweet milk caramel, baked between chocolate chip cookie dough. Add pecans for turtle lovers!

I used 3 cups (about 18 ounces) of chocolate chips, but in the recipe I state, “2-3 cups.” I was conflicted as to whether or not I thought 3 cups was too much. Everyone loved them. With so many chips, though, they almost eat like a cookie candy bar, which is not necessarily a bad thing :) I’m just pointing it out and letting you know you can ease up on the amount. I think I’d try 2 or 2 1/2 cups next time.

When served at room temperature, they are thick and chewy. When warmed, they are melty and gooey and in that state, I had no issues with those extra chips. #indecisive They actually eliminated the need for a special topping should you decide to add some ice cream. It was like having hot fudge and caramel built right into the bar. We were pretty excited to have all that extra melty chocolate oozing around the creamy caramel and mixing with the ice cream and cookie. We had some pumpkin ice cream left over from the holidays and that, along with some vanilla was an amazing combo with the warm cookie bar. I’m kind of sad that the pumpkin ice cream is gone. It really added something special to our Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bar “Sundae.”

Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars. Creamy sweet milk caramel, baked between chocolate chip cookie dough. Add pecans for turtle lovers!

Once the dough is mixed up, it’s a simple assembly. Press about 2/3 of the dough into the pan and spread with the dulce de leche. I left a border around the dough so that the caramel wouldn’t ooze to the edge of the pan as much. Then using two spoons, just dollop the remainder of the dough evenly over the top. You’re not trying to cover every inch of space; you want space in between so the rivers of caramel are visible. So don’t make yourself crazy. Me? I tried to get it as even as possible since all of your eyes were going to be on the photo :/ But as you can see, it’s not perfect and it baked up just fine.

Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars. Creamy sweet milk caramel, baked between chocolate chip cookie dough. Add pecans for turtle lovers!

I hadn’t originally planned to add nuts to this recipe, but it was a winning choice. Turtles are my favorite candy so whenever I make something that has caramel and chocolate in it, I am compelled to add some pecans to get my turtle trifecta. It’s kind of funny…I’ve reminded my family of my love for turtles so many times that you’d think I’d get a small box of them on Valentine’s Day. But I don’t think it’s ever happened.

As a mother, you can sometimes feel like you’re talking to an empty room and everything you’re trying to impart to your family, whether it’s a life lesson, a simple question, a stern reminder or a comment on how much you love caramel, chocolate and nuts, often feels like it falls on deaf ears.

Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars. Creamy sweet milk caramel, baked between chocolate chip cookie dough. Add pecans for turtle lovers!

But that’s not generally the case. Okay, well it can be the case a lot of the time. (Cue me screaming into the dark ;) I’m really just joking about the turtles…because instead of going out to buy something on Valentine’s Day, my family chooses to make gifts. My husband creates these beautiful and insanely creative 3 dimensional valentine cards, and will spend hours doing so…just for us :) My kids also make cards or homemade gifts like origami flowers or felted flowers or little heart pin cushions for my sewing box. We try to take the time to slow down and do things for each other. #love

Turtle preferences aside, the pecans are wonderful in these bars and I, personally, would not leave them out. Nor would I leave out the sprinkling of salt on top that works so well with all the sweetness that lies beneath it. My family, who really did listen years ago when I said that I wanted our Valentine’s Day to be homemade and creative instead of store bought, has followed through on that tradition every year since. And clearly, since I’m often the one making the treats around here, I have no issue making these Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars with nuts…

Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars. Creamy sweet milk caramel, baked between chocolate chip cookie dough. Add pecans for turtle lovers!

just the way I like ’em.

 

Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars

Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Bars

Ingredients

  • 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 large or extra large eggs
  • 2-3 cups chocolate chips (I used bitter sweet and semi sweet) See recipe notes.
  • 1 (13.4 ounce can) dulce de leche, I used Nestle La Lechera
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or other flaky sea salt, optional to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13 x 9" pan with foil. Spray foil lined pan with cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together, flour, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugars until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add vanilla and eggs, adding eggs one at a time, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  5. Gradually add flour mixture beating until mostly combined. It's okay to leave some flour streaks.
  6. Add chips and mix until evenly distributed in batter and dry ingredients are no longer visible.
  7. Take about 2/3 of the cookie dough and pat it evenly in prepared pan. (I used a layer of plastic wrap to press the dough into the pan and keep it from sticking to my hands.)
  8. Empty the dulce de leche into a microwave save bowl and heat briefly, maybe 30 seconds, or until easy to spread. Check and stir at 15 second intervals. Don't overheat or you'll have to wait for it to cool down before spreading on dough. You just want to soften it a little.
  9. Spread dulce de leche evenly over cookie dough, leaving about a 1/2" border along the edges.
  10. Drop the remaining cookie dough by spoonfuls evenly over the dulce de leche layer.
  11. Sprinkle chopped pecans over the top of the cookie dough, if using. They will likely nestle in between the mounds of cookie dough. That's fine.
  12. Finally, sprinkle fleur de sel evenly over all.
  13. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
  14. Allow to fully cool before cutting into bars. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.