Recipe: Cinnamon Walnut Dulce de Leche Bars

Do you like dulce de leche? I mean, how could you not. Creamy, rich, and sweet — it's caramelized milk and sugar with just a hint of tanginess. And these cookie bars are oozing with this Latin American sweet treat — plus just a dash of cinnamon and walnuts.

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I adapted these bars from Nick Malgieri's recipe for Caramel Crumb Bars. These are fabulous (I believe Nick says that if had to choose just one cookie this would be it). But I found the recipe as written slightly confusing and when I made them the caramel filling didn't turn out as dark and rich as I would like. So I started tweaking.

I added a little more salt to the shortbread base, and some walnuts and cinnamon to the topping. I cooked the filling longer to make sure it darkened into that truly dark and gooey dulce de leche that I loved.

These might still look a little tricky, but they come together incredibly fast. The dough makes the base of the cookies, but then you add a little more butter and flour and make a crumb topping to sprinkle over top as well. I made these twice in the last two days and both times they were very well received! They're chewy, with a bit of crunch from the walnuts, and gooey in the middle with all that creamy dulce de leche. They are definitely my new favorite go-to dessert!

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Cinnamon Walnut Dulce de Leche Bars
About 24 bar cookies

Filling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
Cinnamon
Kosher salt

Dough & Crumb Walnut Topping
1 1/8 cups unsalted butter (2 1/4 sticks, or 18 tablespoons), softened and divided
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar, divided
2 tablespoons dark rum, divided
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped

1/2 cup dulce de leche, to serve (optional)

Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and then line the pan with parchment paper so the ends hang over the long sides.

Make the filling: Whisk the butter, honey, brown sugar, and sweetened condensed milk in a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes. The mixture will turn from a creamy pale caramel color to a darker, browned-toast color (see photo above). Whisk frequently to prevent too many scorched bits from developing. After 15 minutes, whisk the mixture thoroughly one more time and remove from the heat.

Make the dough: While the filling is simmering, make the dough. Beat 1 cup unsalted butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon rum in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in 2 1/4 cups flour, the salt, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir just until a soft dough forms and the dough pulls away from the bowl.

Pat 3/4 of the dough into the prepared baking pan. Pat and spread it into an even layer. Pour the finished filling over the dough and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.

Make the crumb walnut topping: Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour to the dough that is left in the bowl. Add the walnuts, the remaining teaspoon of cinnamon, and the remaining 1 tablespoon rum. Drop in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and use your fingers to mix everything together until it forms soft, clumpy crumbs.

Sprinkle these crumbs over the filling in the pan. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned.

Remove and let cool for 15 minutes. The use the parchment paper ends to lift the cookies out of the pan and place them on a rack to finish cooling.

Serve at room temperature or slightly warm. If desired, you can drizzle warm dulce de leche over the bars before serving. Slice into 2-inch squares to serve.

Adapted from Nick Malgieri's The Modern Baker, via Smells Like Home

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More Bar Cookie Recipes
Sour Cream Raisin Bars
Nanaimo Bars
Halfway Cookies
Raspberry Hungarian Pastry

(Images: Faith Durand)

Per serving, based on 8 servings. (% daily value)
Calories
631
Fat
39.7 g (61.1%)
Saturated
22.4 g (111.9%)
Trans
1.4 g
Carbs
63.5 g (21.2%)
Fiber
2 g (8%)
Sugars
29.2 g
Protein
6 g (12%)
Cholesterol
91.5 mg (30.5%)
Sodium
304.3 mg (12.7%)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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