Dark Chocolate Espresso Caramel Bars

May 14, 2015

Watching Food Network has become a habit. 2pm to 4pm, Mondays to Thursdays. I especially love Giada's shows because I almost always find easy pasta and dessert ideas in her shows. This recipe is one of them.

Giada's recipe calls for a graham cracker crust but I didn't have graham crackers in the pantry when I made these so I made an alternative paleo chocolate and almond crust. I'll include both in the recipe below so you have both options when you make these.

These bars are very chocolatey and highly addictive. A recipe calls for 12 ounces of dark chocolate and that's a LOT of chocolate in my book. The espresso added to the chocolate intensifies the dark chocolate flavor and kind of gives you a jolt of energy with each bite.

The soft caramel layer is so chewy but not too sweet so it isn't cloying. I think it's the caramel that makes these bars quite addictive because you just want to have more of the caramel after you finish one bar. One important note though: you need a candy thermometer to make the caramel.

I was supposed to sprinkle flaky sea salt on top of the chocolate layer but I absentmindedly sprinkled the salt on top of the caramel layer. Good thing I still had cacao nibs so I sprinkled cacao nibs on top of the chocolate layer instead. You can omit the cacao nibs and sprinkle flaky sea salt or smoked salt on the chocolate as in the original recipe.

The layers look beautiful, don't you think? And you get all kinds of different textures in one bite - sweet, salty, and chewy caramel, smooth chocolate, crunchy cacao nibs, and firm and crisp chocolate crust that binds everything together. These are definitely better than any commercially available candy bar out there.

Dark Chocolate Espresso Caramel Bars Print Recipe
Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis, makes approximately 16 bars
Graham Cracker Crust
  • 12 whole cinnamon graham crackers OR
  • 2 cups cinnamon graham cracker crumbs - regular graham crackers will work too
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
Paleo Chocolate Cookie Crust
  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons chia seed meal (or ground chia seeds)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce with no added sugar
  • 1 ounce dark chocolate, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon liquid vanilla stevia
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar - regular brown sugar will work too
  • 1 tablespoon water
Chocolate Layer
  • 12 ounces chopped dark or semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons instant espresso powder - I used Starbucks Via
  • 1 teaspoon smoked sea salt or cacao nibs, optional
Make the crust
  1. Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round springform pan with parchment or waxed paper. Spray the paper and the sides of the pan with cooking spray. I don't have cooking spray so I just greased the pan and parchment paper with butter.
  2. You can make either the graham cracker crust or the paleo cookie crust.
  3. For the graham cracker crust. If you're using whole graham crackers, crush them to small crumbs before combining with the sugar and melted butter. Blend until the mixture forms into clumps.
  4. For the paleo cookie crust. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients - almond flour, cocoa powder, chia seed meal, coconut sugar, baking soda, and salt. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the wet ingredients - applesauce, melted chocolate, liquid vanilla stevia, and water. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and combine.
  5. Spread the crust mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing gently to form an even layer. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the crust is set. Cool for 15 minutes.
Make the caramel
  1. While the crust is cooling, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of cream, butter, sugar, and water. Stir over medium heat until the mixture is smooth.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees F, about 5 to 7 minutes. Watch the caramel closely.
  3. Carefully pour the caramel over the warm crust. Cool for 20 minutes. If you want, you can sprinkle flaky sea salt over the caramel layer at this point. Freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.
Make the chocolate layer
  1. Combine the chocolate and cream in a small bowl and place over a pan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth, about 3 minutes.
  2. Whisk in the espresso powder.
  3. Remove the springform pan from the freezer. Pour the chocolate mixture over the caramel layer and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with cacao nibs, if using. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour until firm.
  4. Once firm, remove from the pan. Cut into bars using a warm knife for easy cutting. To heat your knife, you can run it through hot water and then wipe it clean.

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