While sheltering in place, I have dealt with my feelings via pie, cake, doughnuts, babka, and banana cream pie eclairs, because I am a well-adjusted adult with a rather loosey-goosey interpretation of the “self care” concept. My next step was to comfort myself with cookies, but because it was one ding-dang-diddly doozy of a week, these “bar cookies” are actually one gigantic candy bar. If I had just stopped at shortbread, caramel, and chocolate, it would have been a Twix. But since I added beer and pretzels it is not a Twix, and since I cut it into large squares it’s a cookie. You tell yourself whatever you need to tell yourself so you can wiggle these into your self care routine. Right now, what’s important is that you’re happy.
The beer you use for this recipe is entirely up to you—I have no strong recommendations for brands, nor do I care to limit you to any sort of style. Personally I like using any beer that is strongly sour, like lambics or certain citrus beers, because it helps temper the caramel’s more cloying attributes. For the ganache, you can use chocolate chips or regular chopped chocolate; just use a 1:1 ratio by weight. You shouldn’t eat all of these in one day (even if it’s a really, really bad day), so plan ahead for storing. I like wrapping each piece with the type of thin wax paper sheets you find at sandwich shops, then keeping some in a sealed container in a cool cabinet, and some in the freezer, which you might think is for long-term storage, but really it’s because frozen candy is awesome.
Beer & Pretzel Caramel Bars
Makes one 9x13 pan
For the crust:
- 1 cup (two sticks) butter, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 3/4 cup flour
- 3 cups roughly broken-up pretzels
For the caramel:
- 4 cups beer (your choice)
- 1 cup (two sticks) butter
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 2/3 cups heavy cream, divided
For the ganache:
- 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
For the top:
- Flake or coarsely ground sea salt
- Crushed pretzels
First, reduce the beer
Pour the four cups of beer into a saucepan and boil until it reduces to one cup; depending on your stove and the size of your pan, this can take between 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on it, and once it’s done, remove from heat and set aside.
While the beer is reducing, get the rest of your stuff prepared: measure out your caramel ingredients (it is very important to do this!), line a 9x13 baking pan with nonstick aluminum foil, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Next, make the shortbread
Using a mixer, cream together the butter, salt, and sugar until light and fluffy, then mix in flour. Dump the crumbly mixture into the baking pan, shake it back and forth a few times to level everything out, then firmly pack down, making the shortbread as even as possible. Bake for about 25 minutes until golden, then let cool for about 5 minutes. Scatter the pretzels evenly across the top, shake out a bit to level, and set aside.
Now, make the caramel
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat, melt the butter, then stir in the sugar, brown sugar, water, salt, corn syrup, and one cup of heavy cream. Once smooth, clip on a candy thermometer and cook, stirring constantly, until the temperature reaches 240 degrees. Slowly pour in the reduced beer and the remaining 1 2/3 cups of heavy cream and continue to cook while stirring until the temperature reaches 250 degrees.
Immediately pour the caramel into the baking pan, going slowly to give it time to settle in between the pretzels. Gently shake to even things out, then let cool on the counter for one hour, followed by another 30 minutes in the fridge.
When the caramel is set, make the ganache
Put the chocolate and corn syrup in a bowl; bring the cream to a boil on the stove, pour into the bowl, let sit for one minute, and whisk until smooth and shiny.
Remove the pan from the fridge. Pour the ganache evenly on top, spreading out with an offset spatula. Sprinkle with sea salt, then cover and place in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. Sprinkle with additional crushed up pretzels, pat down a bit to make sure they stick, and continue refrigerating for another hour or so until the ganache is fully set.
Remove the bars from the pan by lifting out the foil, then cut them into squares, bars, triangles, or teeny-tiny bite-sized pieces. To store, wrap each piece in wax paper or plastic, put into a larger container, and keep in a cool place.