I joined Baked Sunday Mornings in Fall 2012, when the group had already baked through about ⅔ of BAKED’s second book, Baked Explorations. Although I baked most of the remaining recipes, there were quite a lot that I had missed and intended to bake eventually. If you’ve been following, you know that we’ve now baked all the way through the third and fourth BAKED books, Baked Elements and Baked Occasions, respectively. I baked every single recipe in Occasions, the first time I’d ever baked my way completely through a cookbook! Since we’ve exhausted the newer books, the group went back to the very first book, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, recently. I was intending to bake every recipe in this book too, but then I realized… I actually don’t have to. Admittedly, I’ve learned so much from making recipes that I didn’t expect to make/like (see here, here, and OMG here), but this week’s recipe for Cinnamon Mocha just wasn’t something I felt like making. First of all, I don’t have an espresso machine at home and it seemed a little silly to run to Starbucks for a couple of shots of espresso to make the mocha; but also, I just don’t have a lot of interest in posting beverages in this space (except milkshakes– all bets are off). And so I decided to “go rogue”, as we say when a baker in the group chooses a different BAKED recipe in a given week. Doing this gives me the opportunity to go back to Explorations and visit some of the recipes that I missed before coming into the group; in paging through the book, I got so excited, as I had forgotten how many fabulous recipes there are! One of my favorite recipes (which I had once made) is for these Heartland Turtle Bars. I know, I just said I was going to make recipes I hadn’t tried, but I remember loving these so much that I’m starting here. The theme of Explorations is heritage American recipes, and this one was discovered in the South Dakota/Iowa/Minnesota region, hence the “heartland” reference.
The bars consist of a buttery, oatmealy bottom crust and top crumb layer sandwiching a triple filling of toasted pecans, chocolate, and brown sugar caramel… so yeah, I felt pretty good about picking these. 🙂 They feel very autumn- and winter-appropriate, what with the pecans and chocolate. Also the caramel. Also the oats. I think you see what I’m getting at, yes?? Anyway, they felt right for this week, and my coworkers really appreciated them as we barrel toward the holidays. These are easy enough to pull together if you don’t have tons of time, so that’s a nice feature as well.
The oat mixture comes together very quickly. You simply mix up the flour with salt, baking soda, and dark brown sugar, then add the oats. (I just mixed it all together with my hands.) You then pour in melted butter… and I say, if you’re using melted butter, why not use brown butter, amiright?? Also, a recipe note says that these are extremely buttery, and it’s okay to reduce the quantity of butter by a tablespoon or two. In cooking the butter, a little bit burns off, so I figured it would be a good compromise: a little less butter, but that butter would be more intensively buttery. #winningwithbutter
Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked about butter. You pour in the butter, and I also added ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, then mix the liquids into the dry ingredients. The mixture will be damp and sandy, but not so wet that it forms a dough. You’ll press ⅔ of this mixture onto the bottom of your cake pan and bake it for 10 minutes– I gave it a few extra minutes to get a handsome golden hue. Let this cool, then scatter the toasted pecans and chocolate chips evenly across the crust.
Finally, you’ll make the super-easy caramel filling by melting together the butter and brown sugar and letting it boil for a minute, then adding heavy cream. Immediately pour this over the nuts and chocolate and spread it evenly as the chocolate melts. (You’ll end up with what looks like a solid chocolate layer, but you can definitely taste the caramel.) Sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture across the top evenly and bake the bars for another 10-12 minutes– I gave them a couple of extra again. I loved seeing the bubbling caramel on the edges of the pan, and my kitchen smelled heavenly, all buttery and caramely-like.
The bars need to cool and be chilled before cutting, which I’ll be honest, was just not okay, because I wanted to stuff the whole slab in my face as soon as it was safe not to burn the crap out of it. So I *patiently* waited and cut them after they’d been chilled. (After that, they don’t need to stay in the fridge, FYI.)
Guys. The turtle bars are nutty, buttery, brown-sugary, chocolaty, and caramely all at the same time in your mouth, and you won’t want to share them. Buuuut people will really like you if you do. 😉 These would be a great holiday treat on your dessert table or in your cookie exchange, or really at any time, ever. I’m also thinking that you could make extra caramel and drizzle it over the top of the bars. Too much? (I didn’t think so.) You can find the recipe for Heartland Turtle Bars at Baked Sunday Mornings, and please check out my baking friends’ Cinnamon Mochas while you’re there!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.