Saturday, October 30, 2010

Espresso Caramel Bars & a "Clayton's" Post

Espresso Caramel Bars 2, cropped

Back in the late '70s/early '80s, here in New Zealand, we had a non-alcoholic beverage called Claytons, which at the time was marketed as "the drink you have when you're not having a drink". Pretty soon, the word "Claytons" passed into common usage to describe anything that was considered a poor imitation of, or poor substitute for, the real thing.  So I'm bringing you today a Claytons post - a poor substitute for a witty and engaging post, but I hope you will agree is better than no post at all.

Somehow this has been a very "spare time deprived" week, and I now have a back log of posts to try and churn out over the next couple of days.  So, I'm sorry to deprive you of some interesting dialogue to entertain you with, but in the interests of sharing a great recipe with you, I'm cutting straight to the chase.

This is my weekly post for I Heart Cooking Clubs, where we are cooking along with Giada de Laurentiis, who I'm pleased to see appears to be gaining popularity already with those who were initially not so enthusiastic about sharing this time with Giada.  Our theme for the week was chocolate, which was just the excuse I needed to make these Espresso Caramel Bars that I've had bookmarked for months.  As is so often the case when you keep eyeing up a recipe for months on end, you have high expectations, and of course it very often follows that the higher your expectations the greater your disappointment when you finally get around to making it.  In complete contrast to the norm however, these Espresso Caramel Bars exceeded all my expectations, and I will definitely be making these again.  Let's face it - crispy, biscuit crumb base;  ooey, gooey, slightly chewy, caramel centre;  fudgy, espresso chocolate topping - what's not to love?


We don't have graham crackers here in New Zealand, so I substituted digestive biscuits in the base and, in actual fact, I didn't have quite enough of those so I added a few vanilla wine biscuits in as well.  I imagine you could also make this recipe gluten-free by substituting with some gluten-free biscuits in the base.

Also, the chocolate topping calls for instant espresso powder, which I don't have.  I substituted with a 1/4 cup strong espresso which worked just fine.  I also used dark, bitter chocolate instead of the semisweet called for in the original recipe - I think this could be a bit sickly sweet with semisweet chocolate.

Lastly, I didn't sprinkle the suggested smoked sea salt over the top, because I simply didn't have any, but I can imagine that would be a nice addition.  I did, however, use regular butter instead of unsalted in the base and the caramel, which I think balances out any potential this has for being too sweet.

Espresso Caramel Bars 1, cropped

Espresso Caramel Bars
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

For the crust:
vegetable cooking spray
170g (6 oz) graham crackers or digestive biscuits
1/4 cup sugar
170g (1-1/2 sticks) butter, melted

For the caramel:
1/2 cup cream
113g (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon water

For the topping:
2 cups semisweet (or dark) chocolate chips
1/2 cup cream
1-3/4 teaspoons instant espresso powder or 1/4 cup strong espresso
1 teaspoon smoked sea salt, optional

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F).  Spray the base of a 23 cm (9 inch) round springform tin with cooking spray, line with baking parchment, then spray the paper and sides of the tin.

Break the biscuits into the bowl of a food processor, add the sugar, and process both together until you achieve the appearance of fine breadcrumbs.  Add the melted butter, and continue to process until the mixture forms into clumps.  Tip the mixture into the prepared baking tin, and using your fingers spread it out and press gently into an even layer.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until the crust is just golden.  Remove and cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all of the ingredients for the caramel in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pan.  Set over medium heat and stir until the mixture is smooth.  Bring the mixture up to a boil and then, without stirring, cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F (use a candy thermometer) - about 7 minutes.  Very carefully pour the hot caramel over the still warm crust.  Cool for 20 minutes, then freeze until firm - about 10 minutes.

Now to the topping.  Combine the chocolate and cream in a small bowl, set over a pan of simmering water, and stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.  At this stage add either the espresso powder or liquid espresso, stirring to combine well.  Remove the baking tin from the freezer, and pour the chocolate over the top of the caramel, smoothing with a spatula.  Sprinkle the smoked sea salt over the top if you're using it, and refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm.

Remove from the fridge, and allow about 30 minutes for everything to come to room temperature.  Run a slightly wet, warm knife around the sides of the tin, between the tin and the chocolate layer, and then release the side of the tin.  Lift out of the base, remove the paper, and cut into bars or squares.  Store in an airtight container.

Espresso Caramel Bars 3, cropped

Interested in getting to know Giada a bit better?  Then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all been cooking up ....


.... or check out Giada's Kitchen and many of her other titles, available from Amazon, Book Depository UK and Fishpond NZ

Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites    Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California    Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes


  1. Good grief woman! Those bars look absolutely amazing! You did such a good job on them they almost look too good to eat. I laughed over "Clayton's". I think I might start using that. Love it! :o)

  2. These look wonderful! I want to use the term Claytons but I'm afraid no one would get it over here!

  3. Oh my goodness, those bars look insanely good. Loved the story behind Claytons. I think your Claytons post is not as Claytons as you think!

  4. Brenda, Pam, MM - thank you all so much - let me tell you these really are pretty darn good. Pleased to know that the Claytons story "resonated" with you all - feel free to make it your own :-)

  5. Those bars look like an absolutely decadent treat! The photos are mouth-watering! I can't wait to make them.

  6. I have my in-laws here, I really have to ask them about clayton (I didn't kwon it!). And I don't know Giada. Is she Italian? Does she lives in New Zealand?

    The caramel bars look decadent!

  7. These look the perfect bars to put in a decorated tin and gift over the holidays! Thanks for your spin on them.

  8. Oh my gosh, Sue...I have these marked too and totally wish I would've made them this week. I know I will in the future, because they ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!! I was waiting til I could get out and find some smoked sea salt, cuz I'm a totally salt caramel freak, so... Awesome ;)

  9. Caramel is my love can't wait to try this decadent goodie!

  10. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but my husband would love these. I am intrigued by the smoked salt addition though.

  11. These bars look so perfect. My baked goods never look this good, even when (maybe even especially when) they taste amazing!

  12. Liz - thank you so much - hope you make them soon.

    Hi Alessandra - thanks for visiting - I'm sure your in-laws will remember "Claytons". Yes Giada is Italian (born in Rome), but lives in California.

    Maggie - thanks for visiting - good idea - these would make a lovely gift, especially in a pretty tin or jar.

    Heather - you are going to love these, and now that I have finally found some smoked sea salt, I'll definitely be adding that next time.

    Ananda - this is definitely a decadent treat, but sooo worth it - hope you try it soon.

    Mangocheeks - your husband will adore you if you make these for him. I can't wait to try this again with the smoked salt.

    Nico - thank you for such a kind comment. Trust me - I am no baker, so if I can get them to look like this anybody can :-)

    Sue :-)

  13. Fabulous. Need I say more?

    You could become famous with those brownies. OK, you and Giada.......

  14. Those look so luscious, Sue!! Great job and great post...not a Clayton at all - lol!


  15. Sue - Your posts (and comments) are always witty and endearing, not to mention that your picture of these bars is absolutely amazing. Just look at how gorgeous those bars are! I'm loving the layers of deliciousness on these bars. I can tell by looking at them that they were worth every calorie.

  16. Sweet & Savoury - thank you so much - I don't think these would ever bring me fame, but they could be useful as bribes to get me other things!! :-)

    Veronica - thanks so much - you're very kind. I would definitely share some of these with you if you were here :-)

    Kim - definitely worth the calories - thank you for such lovely comments.

    Sue :-)

  17. These look devine!! I love reading your post. One of my dearest friends is from New Zealand, I'll shock her and try out the "Claytons" on her. In between all of the times of course, that I am trying to figure out what in the hell she's saying to me. Example: She was leaving fresh eggs out for me to pick up. It took me a week to figure out that she wasn't really putting eggs out for me in cat litter. She meant the "letter box", sounded like litter box aka the mailbox here. We have shared many a laugh over my Texas ears and her New Zealand mouth! Cheers ~LeslieMichele

  18. Ooo, I bet that was delicious..very very beautifully done!

    Glad you liked my paneer mushroom masala recipe..Regarding your question about kasoori methi,It is dried fenugreek leaves , known for its unique flavor,used for flavoring and garnishing Indian curries. You can find it in any Indian store.If you are not able to find it you can leave it out.

    US Masala

  19. These are just gorgeous and I think your post is very non-Claytons! ;-) I'm going to have to bring over my Frothy Chocolate-Espresso Shakes so we can overdose on chocolate and espresso. ;-)

  20. Hi LeslieMichele - thanks for visiting. I'm so thrilled that you have a New Zealand friend - love your story about the "litter box" - that is hilarious :-)

    Hi aipi - was indeed delicious. Thanks for letting me know about the kasoori methi.

    Hi Deb - oh yes, please bring the frothy chocolate-espresso shakes - I'll be waiting.

    Sue :-)

  21. Love your story about Claytons. Although your telling of it, no longer makes your post a Claytons post! Your bars look decadent.

  22. Oooh! I love that you subbed digestives! I will do that too, graham crackers aren't my fave - but I love me some digestives. The squares look wonderful!

  23. Hi Cook of the House - thanks for visiting and your lovely comment - very decadent indeed.

    Natashya - thanks for stopping by. I don't really know what graham crackers taste like, but can certainly recommend digestives here.

    Sue :-)

  24. If ,i aint mistaken, i found ur site with these lovely bars, somebody linked back to u and im gng to find that site and link back to u both too:-))

    These are totally gorgeous , and yummyluscious and the best bars ever , have orderd for the caramels, takes time to get here:-))

    huggies and love, 'Mia.


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