Once again, CSN Stores has furnished me with a lovely gift certificate on the condition that I review whatever purchases I make with it. This time around I nabbed four items: a hand blender, a candy thermometer, a cooking sheet, and a four-cup angled liquid measure. I decided I would test out the candy thermometer first, and what better way to employ one than by making caramel? This, of course, was a bold choice for me because I’m deathly afraid of things that are super hot and bubble. Call me old fashioned, but anything that has the potential to simultaneously suddenly explode AND maim me is something I stay away from. (And yes, I include “scarring” under the “maiming” category). Luckily, when I went through the great Apple Tatin phase of 2009, I overcame most of my caramel fears and felt more or less confident that I could tangle with the beast again.

After the jump, check out photos of the exciting process, including many shots of bubbling caramel (which is incidentally my stripper name).

Humble beginnings: a springform pan and parchment paper, both sprayed with PAM.

Finally getting to put those graham crackers from the Cool Whip basket to use. Here I have several of them with sugar, ready to be pulverized.

Crumbs. Nothing but crumbs.

And here comes the melted butter.

A few pulses later, and we have the makings of a graham cracker crust.

The mixture finds a new home in the pan.

With some finesse — for which I’m known — I manage to make a nice layer of graham crackery goodness. The pan, it should be noted, leaked butter onto my countertop. Poor (spring)form.

Oh look, it’s my shiny new baking sheet!

It works!

The pan goes in the oven, and while the crust bakes away, I attach the new candy thermometer to the saucepan.

Heavy cream, brown sugar, and butter make their triumphant debuts.

Meanwhile, the crust is done. I’m happy to report that the Farberware baking sheet did not warp at all during the process.

Cooling time. I had to place a paper town beneath the rack to prevent further butter leakage issues. And yes, there are dumb flower patterns on the paper towels. I DIDN’T REALIZE UNTIL IT WAS TOO LATE.

Over on the stove, I’m still busy getting my caramel mixture to come together.

Soon it’s a brown, shimmering mixture — not unlike many of the ponds in New Jersey.

Let’s take a moment to admire my new spoon rest. It’s not from CSN Stores, but I like it anyway; so I thought I’d give it a shout out. Whattup, spoon rest!

The caramel begins to bubble. I’m a little concerned that my thermometer isn’t low enough, but I know it’s not supposed to touch the bottom of the pan; so it’s the best I can do.

The goal is to get to 240 degrees, or a state that’s known affectionately as “Soft Ball.”

The ascent is surprisingly rapid.

C’mon, caramel. GIMME SLOW BALL!

Soon I discover that my fears about the thermometer being too high are wildly unfounded.

It is literally a hot mess in there.

When the HELL is this going to hit soft ball?

An aerial view of the ferocious bubbling.

Yes, there is a part of me that fears I’ll be spending so long taking these pictures that I might actually miss the soft ball stage. And then we all know what happens after that: HARD BALL.

So close…

Just a few more millimeters…


With great care, I pour the caramel over the crust. It’s still bubbling angrily, but it’s no match for me.

The caramel then must hang out for twenty minutes and then spend ten minutes in the freezer. While that happens, I melt some chocolate in cream. I also add some coffee powder. The recipe calls for instant espresso, but since I don’t have that, I just use some Starbucks Winter Blend.

Caramel, post-freezer.

Melted chocolate.

I spread the chocolate atop the caramel. The final component is complete. Now it’s just a matter of chilling in the fridge for an hour.

The time has come to cut this bad boy up.

After removing the pan’s sides, I’m left with a veritable disc of calories.

I make quick work of the thing, slicing it into umpteen squares. Clearly I was excited — as evidenced by this blurry picture.

The final result.

The verdict? Quite, quite good. This little bars are beyond rich. They’re like little, delicious rocks. I most certainly enjoyed these caramel bars; although, truth be told, I’m not sure if the coffee component is necessary. There are a lot of flavors going on as it is, and while the coffee tastes nice, I think I might prefer just a straight-up chocolate topping. Then again, that might result in an overly sweet confection. Either way, these things were super easy to make and were a big hit with my friends. Definitely a solid bake sale candidate.

Oh, and the thermometer was a delight!

For the recipe (which came courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis), click here.

10 replies on “ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Espresso Chocolate Caramel Bars”

  1. I can just hear the om nom nom that commenced after taking the last pic. They look delish and I wish I could just pop over and share one.

  2. that’s the kind of pan needed for my amaretti cake… guess my recipe should have said that specifically….those pans are great for keeping crusts really thin…

    looks delish…although I too am afraid of boiling and bubbling sticky things after attempting to make caramel apples one time..

    good work!

  3. Do you think that these will do better at a bake sale then say the chocolate tartlets you made? Was just listening to a little banter blender and that story cracks me up. Will banter with Ben and lisa make a return this year?

  4. You can tell CSN that because of you, I spent almost $100 on their site yesterday. I cannot wait for my indoor smoker, mango splitter and cast iron skillet to arrive!! Thanks B!

    1. PS – I also did a comparison at Amazon before making my purchase, and CSN was cheaper by over $10 and gave me free shipping!

  5. These are like the Millionare Shortbread, too bad you didn’t know about the recipe because it would have been a much cooler title of your post. MMM looks so good though!

  6. LOVE your site. I share your former fear of making anything that includes a “soft ball stage”, but HAVE to make these. Although the caramel still made a mess of your kitchen wall. I second the Ina comment–she thinks coffee enhances the choc. flavor. So anything Ina says, I do. And it’s a must for her FAB Beatty’s Chocolate Cake recipe. A MUST try 🙂 Be sure to use “good vanilla” for the cake and “really good” chocolate for the frosting!


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