Chocolate Walnut Bars with Sultry Caramel Sauce

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The word caramel was first recorded in English in 1725. It came via French from the Spanish “caramelo.”  Whatever its origin, caramel is decadently rich, sweet and sultry with its buttery finish and soothing texture.  I wrote this recipe on a chilly, windy, midwestern day with damp air and blowing leaves, the kind of day that makes you happy to be indoors with a warm and fragrant kitchen and a personable dog near by.  It is fabulously sugary and fatty and spares no calories.

1-DSC_0592Chocolate Walnut Bars

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup chopped walnuts, divided into two 1/2 cup portions
2 cups unbleached, organic flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large organic eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups high quality, dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Caramel Sauce

1 and 1/2 cups organic sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil and spray foil with a coconut cooking spray or butter.  In your food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of walnuts until coarsely ground then whisk them together with flour, baking powder and baking soda.

Beat the butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl.  Add vanilla.  Gradually beat in the dry ingredients and then the chocolate and then the remaining 1/2 cup of walnuts.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan and bake until just done, about 30 minutes.  Place pan on a rack to cool.

While the bars are cooling, make your caramel sauce.  Place sugar and water into a heavy saucepan and heat until boiling over medium heat, swirling constantly.  Once the syrup is just boiling, reduce the heat enough to keep it boiling but not so hot to burn the sugar.  Continue to swirl and heat the syrup until it turns a rich brown color.  Be very careful because it is easy to burn caramelized sugar.  Once the color is sufficiently rich and brown, turn off the heat.  Carefully add the heavy cream, butter and vanilla.  It will bubble up furiously at first.  Turn heat back to low and stir and heat the caramel mixture until all of the caramelized sugar has dissolved and the sauce is finished.  Allow sauce to cool.  It will thicken as it cools.

Serve Chocolate Walnut bars warm with warm Caramel Sauce spooned over them.