Dulce de leche cookie bars bring shortbread, chocolate and milky caramel cream together in the most delightful way!
If dulce de leche didn't grab you, you must not know what it is! However, it's probably why you're here right now. You share my love of the milky caramel sauce. It's a staple in Latin American desserts and it's simply caramelized milk.
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How do I make Dulce de Leche:
You can buy this golden brown sauce in a can or jar at the store, but you can also make it at home by simmering sweetened condensed milk. Since sweetened condensed milk is already reduced and sugar is added, the caramelization happens faster than just making it from scratch.
For my dulce de leche cookie bars I wanted a filling that would have that rich milky texture, but be reminiscent of a Millionaire's Bar or Twix bar! I added butter, brown sugar and some salt to the sweetened condensed milk as I cooked it. Cooking it helps to thicken it just a little so it will hold up as a filling for a cookie bar.
Make shortbread crust:
Of course I needed a delicious shortbread as the base of my cookie. Butter, confectioners' sugar and flour is the base for a tender, flaky cookie crust.
Make sure to line your pan with parchment so you can lift the bars out of the pan to cut them. I gave this little tip in my Peppermint Cloud Brownies recipe as well. I love doing this for any kind of brownie or bar cookie. Then I'm not digging out each square from the pan.
I really like this 9-by-13-inch pan because of the straight sides. I get nice little squares!
Dulce de leche cookie bars are my delicious take on the tasty Millionaire's Bars or Twix candy!
I topped the bars with melted chocolate. But don't stop there! If you want a festive design use red, green and white chocolate to make gorgeous swirls. I used white chocolate and tinted some of it red and green because I love the taste of real white chocolate. For ease you could totally just use candy melts that are already colored! Get all three colors here!
Some super cute design topper ideas using mini candies and melted chocolate make these cookies really fun. Get creative and decorate the cookie bars any way you like!
For more Christmas cookies try these fun orange-scented, cream cheese cookie Christmas Tree Lollipops. Great for party favors and cookie swaps!
Speaking of cute Christmas cookies, you'll also love my white-iced Candy Cane Cookies, to nibble on with some hot chocolate!
Dulce de Leche Cookie Bars
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened
- ½ cup confectioners' sugar
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ tsp salt
For Filling and top layer:
- 7 tbsp unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 2 cans (14 oz each) sweetened condensed milk
- Pinch salt
- 10 oz semisweet chocolate chopped
For decoration (optional):
- 4 oz white chocolate melted
- Red and green food coloring
- Red and green mini M&M candies
- Red and green fruit leather
- Heat oven to 350°F; place rack in center. Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing paper to extend on two sides.
- In a mixer bowl, beat together butter and confectioners' sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Beat in extract, then flour and salt until combined well. Press along bottom and ½ inch up sides of prepared pan. Bake until just golden brown around edges, 12 to 18 min. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool completely.
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, milk and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened and a deep caramel color, about 15 min. Pour over crust and spread evenly; refrigerate until completely cool, about 1 hour
- Melt semisweet chocolate; let cool slightly. Using a spatula, evenly spread over filling (for swirled top, see below). Refrigerate until set, about 1 hr. Using a knife, score chocolate layer into 1½-inch squares. Run a sharp knife under hot water; dry. Following score marks, cut into squares. Wipe knife after each cut (run under hot water and dry as needed).
For swirled top:
- Divide white chocolate into three parts. Tint one part red and one part green. Leave remaining part white. Dollop red, green and white chocolates over semisweet layer. Using a toothpick, gently swirl together colors.
- Using white chocolate, adhere candies to squares, making holly or wreaths. Using a small, clean paintbrush, make a snowman out of white chocolate; decorate with candy. Let stand until set, about 20 min.
- Can be made ahead. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week
Recipe & Food Styling Tara Bench
Photographer Ellie Miller
Prop Styling Renata Chaplynsky
Originally published Ladies' Home Journal Dec 2007