What's Baking: Samoa Cookie Bars

When I traveled down to Chicago last weekend, I of course could not arrive empty-handed. So, the night before I left (and before I started packing, albeit for me, that's usually a 10-minutes-before-departure activity) I headed into the kitchen to bake up a treat.

I'm not sure exactly how I settled on making samoa bars -- although it was probably a Pinterest-related decision. I knew I wanted to make some sort of cookie bar, as they are typically much easier to deal with than baking individual cookies. I'm not really a crazy samoa Girl Scout cookie fan (if I had to choose, I'm more of a thin mint kind of girl), but I do like the combination of toasted coconut, chocolate, and caramel. Since I had all of the ingredients on hand, samoa cookie bars seemed like the right way to go.

And, oh man, it's kind of dumb how delicious these bars are. They are perfect for sharing with friends (or eating in the car on a five-hour road trip...), and really are a breeze to make.

Samoa Cookie Bars (printer-friendly version)
makes 32 bars

For the bars:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

For the topping:
2 cups coconut flakes (sweetened or unsweetened)
10-12 ounces chewy caramels, unwrapped (or you could use 1-2 cups of homemade caramel sauce)
3 tablespoons low-fat organic milk
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
6-8 ounces dark chocolate melting wafers (you could also use bittersweet chocolate chips)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet or 9x13 baking dish with parchment paper.
2. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
4. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. The dough will have a crumbly texture.
5. Turn the dough out onto the baking sheet or baking dish. Use your fingers or a rubber spatula to spread the dough into an even layer. (If using a baking sheet, the dough will likely not fill the sheet completely; form the dough into a roughly rectangular shape about 1/2" thick.)
6. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the dough is set and golden-brown in color. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
7. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Spread the coconut flakes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
8. Place the dark chocolate melting wafers (or chocolate chips) in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in the microwave in 30-45 second increments until melted. Stir until smooth. Carefully flip the cookie crust over and "paint" the melted chocolate onto the cookie with a pastry brush. Once evenly coated, place the cookie crust in the freezer for 10 minutes to help the chocolate to set.
9. Place the caramels, milk, and salt into a microwave-safe bowl. Cook for 2-4 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes, until completely melted. Stir until smooth. Fold in the toasted coconut.
Dollop the coconut mixture on top of the cookies. Use an offset spatula to spread the coconut mixture evenly over top the cookie layer. Drizzle with the remaining melted chocolate.
10. Place in the refrigerator to set, then cut into bars with a sharp knife. The cookie bars can be refrigerated or frozen, or kept at room temperature in an airtight container.

(adapted from this Baking Bites recipe)