I had been raving about the Dream Bars at Potbelly’s and finally my mom asked me to bring her one so she could try it. As per usual, after a few bites of the sugary oatmeal, caramel and chocolate chip confection she said, ” I think we can do better, or at least as good”. You can decide.
While Potbelly’s Dream Bars are soft, from being wrapped in plastic, ours have several distinct layers: crumbly oatmeal topping, creamy caramel and crunchy shortbread. Mom likes to add toasted walnuts or pecans to hers to cut the sweetness but for me and my friends, the sweeter the better so I don’t add nuts.
Originally we used the wonderful but pricey Knudsen caramels but many sheet pans of cookies later my mom put her foot down and told me if I wanted to keep on baking sheet pans of cookies for my swim team I’d have to make my own caramel and so she taught me. One day we’ll update the recipe to reflect our caramel recipe.
- ½ sheet pan (18” by 13”)
- Mixing bowls/tools
- Measuring tools
- Parchment paper
- For Crust/Topping:
- 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (25 ounces)
- 1 ⅓ cup granulated sugar (about 9 1/2 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 32 tablespoons unsalted butter (4 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened to cool room temperature ProTip: To soften butter but keep cool, beat it with a rolling pin while in the package before cutting.
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
- 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (6 ounces)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- For Filling:
- 26 ounces good quality caramels
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
- 8 ounces good quality chocolate chips (Ghirardelli is preferred)
- Adjust oven rack to middle position; pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Very lightly grease bottom of pan with cold butter then put a sheet of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan. ProTip: Leave overhanging “wings” of parchment paper to help lift bars out of pan when done cooking.
- 2. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, oats and salt at low speed until combined. With machine on low, add 32 tablespoons butter one piece at a time; then continue mixing on low until mixture resembles damp sand. Sprinkle vanilla extract in and mix well.
- 3. Measure 2 1/2 cups flour mixture (unpacked) into medium bowl and thoroughly mix in 2 tablespoons of softened butter set aside; distribute remaining flour mixture evenly in bottom of prepared baking pan. Using hands, firmly press mixture into even layer to form bottom crust. ProTip: After pressing mixture onto bottom with hands use the bottom of a measuring cup to press it down to form and even layer. Bake until edges begin to lightly brown, but is not fully cooked, 14 to 18 minutes. ProTip: Set timer to a minute or two before the recipe tells you how long to cook it (in this case set to 12 minutes) so you can make sure nothing burns. Once cooked, let cool until it is cool to the touch, about 20-30 minutes.
- 4. While crust is baking, begin filling. Put caramels and cream into a medium sized pot and turn onto medium heat. Melt caramel into cream, stirring constantly, until there are no lumps. Let cool until it is about room temperature but still pourable, about 30-40 minutes.
- 5. Spread filling evenly over crust making sure to bring the caramel to the edge of the pan; sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over caramel. Lump streusel topping into sizes ranging from peas to hazelnuts and spread evenly over filling (do not press streusel into filling). Return pan to oven and bake until topping is deep golden brown and filling is bubbling, 22 to 25 minutes.
- 6. Cool to room temperature on wire rack, 2 hours; remove from baking pan. Using chef’s knife, cut into squares and serve.
- 7. These will last 2-3 days in tupperware and freeze very well. ProTip: If you like them soft keep them in tupperware with a piece of bread in the container. If you like them crisp keep them in a tin.