Baked Sunday Mornings: Heartland Turtle Bars

When I first got my copy of Baked Explorations almost two years ago, the very first recipe I tried was a complete home run -- the sweet and salty brownie. Unfortunately, I was not as thrilled with my second recipe selection: Heartland Turtle Bars, an oatmeal bar filled with caramel, chocolate, and pecans. I thought that the bars were too buttery and I never made them again... until now, because they came up on the Baked Sunday Mornings schedule.

While I had always contemplated that if I ever made these bars again I would simply reduce the amount of butter in the bar base and topping (this is actually an explicit suggestion provided in the cookbook, along with the warning that the bars are quite buttery), I decided that instead I would make the recipe as written, but simply bake the bottom crust a bit more. I thought that some of excessive buttery-ness might have resulted form an underbaked crust last time.

The crust and topping are made from the same batter -- a mixture of flour, salt, baking soda, dark brown sugar, oats, and melted butter. You press two-thirds of the mixture into the bottom of a pan and bake it for about 10 minutes. To be on the safe side, I baked it for 15 minutes, and the top was just lightly golden around the edges.

Once the bottom crust is cool, you are supposed to sprinkle on chocolate chips and toasted pecans, and then spread on a caramel mixture made from butter, brown sugar, and cream. Last time I made the bars, spreading the hot caramel melted the chocolate chips underneath, so the middle layer became a homogeneous mixture of chocolatey caramel (you can see from the picture of the previous iteration of bars that they have what appears to be a solid layer of chocolate in the middle). This time I spread on the hot caramel first and then sprinkled the chocolate chips and pecan on top, followed by the remaining oatmeal mixture; the chocolate chips stayed intact as a result. The recipe says to bake the bars for an additional for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. I had to bake mine for close to 20 minutes before the top showed any significant color.

The bars definitely looked different this time around compared to my first effort. Besides having solid chocolate chips as opposed to a melted chocolate layer, this time the bars were considerably taller than before (I'm not really sure why). Baking the bottom crust a bit longer may have helped, because I thought these bars were slightly less buttery -- but make no mistake, this is a buttery dessert. I enjoyed the bars, but they are still not a personal favorite. Tom and I thought the bars would have benefited significantly from more caramel (although I don't think it makes any real difference taste-wise whether the chocolate chips are melted or not). For something called a "turtle bar," we both thought that there should be a thick layer of caramel goo in the middle. While these bars definitely have a caramel flavor to them, there was no discernible chewy caramel texture.

It's a beautiful bar and tasters enjoyed it, so I'll still chalk this one up in the win column.

Recipe: "Heartland Turtle Bars" from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, recipe available here at Baked Sunday Mornings.

Previous Post: "There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Butter: Heartland Turtle Bars," October 12, 2010.


Candy said…
Your bars look delicious! I loved this recipe, but agree they are awfully buttery and I will reduce the butter next time. I also was expecting a discernible layer of caramel and assumed it was something I did wrong.
Robyn said…
i felt like it's actually more of a butterscotch layer. i agree with you - if a recipe says caramel, i expect it to be chewy ooey gooey. like the salty caramel from the sweet and salty brownies! actually that would be a good experiement - making these bars with the salty caramel from that recipe!
Susan said…
We really enjoyed these as they're different from so many other bar cookies - I'm sure that's why your tasters liked them, too.

Bourbonnatrix said…
I also wanted a layer of actual caramel... I really like the recipe, but I think it could be tinkered with to make it closer to the idea i had of it in my head. Actual caramel, and it so needs a sprinkling of fancy salt on top! Good for you for making them twice though!
Sheri said…
There's such a thing as "too buttery"? :)

I loved these, but yeah, they're very rich. And I agree with Robyn - more like a butterscotch bar.
Chelly said…
Hmmmm....don't think there is such a thing, Sheri! But I am with the rest of you I was expecting a caramel layer also! Your bars looks beautiful!