We live in a big-but-not-huge town. We have a P.F. Chang’s and a Pottery Barn and two malls and two full-price movie theaters. But we don’t have a Williams-Sonoma. Instead, we have a few delightful, locally-owned kitchen stores. One of them holds a monthly baking contest, and these Carmelitas were supposed to be my ticket to local baking contest greatness.
See, a Carmelita is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill treat. Rather, it is like a buttery oatmeal cookie that swallowed a caramel-filled chocolate bar and then got bibitty-bobitty-booed by the dessert fairy godmother and received an extra dose of deliciousness. Everyone I have ever talked to who has tasted one has proclaimed it to be the most wonderful thing ever. I’m not exaggerating! I tasted my first Carmelita last year while I was visiting my sister. I liked it so much that I helped her eat the whole pan in two days. Just the two of us. A 9×13″ pan. Two days. And we liked it…obviously.
When I got my kitchen store newsletter in January, I started planning out my strategy. Some months I knew I’d be gone, some months I couldn’t think of a good cookie to make, but September–Oatmeal Cookie Month–I knew would be mine because I was going to make Carmelitas, and no one can resist them. They were like my fail-safe. If my coconut macaroons didn’t win in April (they didn’t), and if my bar cookies didn’t win in June (nope), and if my thumbprints didn’t win in August (er, not them either), then I’d knock everyone’s socks off in September with the best oatmeal cookie any of them had ever tasted!
The email naming the winner took a few extra weeks to be sent–no lie–and I was on pins and needles the whole time. When I saw it sitting there in my in-box, I had one of those strange prickling sensation on the back of my neck that you always hear about in stories–not a good feeling. The thought popped into my head that if I had won, they probably would have called or emailed me or something before just sending it out in an email newsletter. But I still didn’t think any cookie could beat my sweet Carmelitas, it just wasn’t possible! But it was true: a recipe for oatmeal cookies studded with white chocolate and dried cranberries had been crowned the champ. I just could not–and a part of me still doesn’t–imagine any oatmeal cookie tasting better than the best cookie I’d ever had.
If I sound just a wee bit crazy, get a load of this! Last week, I had to go into the kitchen store to buy 20 tiny salt spoons (more on that another time), and I actually brought up the oatmeal cookie contest to the cashier! Even though it had occurred to me to ask about the results, I don’t think I had really planned on doing it, because I sort of ummed and uhhed and stumbled all over my words. It ended up being, “Umm, well, I sort of was wondering, um, do you guys, you know, like…..keep the results from past contests? ‘Cause I was just, you know, um, maybe if you, you know, remembered the Carmelitas, uh,” **very blank look from the cashier at this point**, “how close it was, uh, you know, like,” and I just sort of trailed off! These baking contests have turned me into a raving lunatic!!
All of the crazy obsessiveness boils down to this: Carmelitas are to-die-for. Make them. Now.
32 caramel squares, unwrapped
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
Combine caramels and cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until completely smooth; set aside. In a separate bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, and baking soda. Pat half of the oatmeal mixture into the bottom of an 8×8″ pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over crust. Pour caramel mixture over chocolate chips. Crumble remaining oatmeal mixture over caramel. Return to oven and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely before cutting.
*A stint in the fridge will help them cool off if you’re pinched for time. They shouldn’t be served cold, but all of that molten caramel takes a long time to cool down. They should be stored and served at room temperature.
**If you want to use homemade or store-bought caramel sauce in place of the caramel/cream mixture, use 1 1/4 cups of caramel sauce, and omit the caramel squares and heavy cream.
***To make a 9×13″ version, simply double the amounts.