Wednesday, May 2, 2012

It’s a No-Grainer: Flourless Cashew Dulce de Leche Chocolate Bars

I call them Cashew Turtle Bars, an old fashioned name, for sure.

These things STILL don’t have real name. At first I thought Cinco de Mayo Cashew Bars. Wickedly delicious cashew, dulce de leche and ganache bars? Caramel cashew chocolate-topped bar cookies? Not inspiring names but geez, so rich and delicious, we had to give most of them away or the both of us would have eaten all 18 of them in a day. These have a cashew cookie bottom, a layer of dulce de leche, and a thick topping of chocolate ganache. A few salted cashews embellish the top. When I go to a real candy store, cashew caramel turtles are usually one of the goodies I have to have.  There is a single, lonely one left and if I can sneak into the kitchen quietly, while my husband showers it'll  be gone.

Even though we don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I wanted to honor the day with a little something that includes a popular South-of-the-border ingredient like dulce de leche. I am not as much a baker as a cook, and needed something good, and easy in the cookie realm that could be made without adding any grain flour. Then I remembered those peanut butter cookies that you stick a Hershey’s Kiss into while they’re hot. Those are just peanut butter, eggs, vanilla and sugar. And they’re fabulous with no flour. How about substituting cashew butter for the peanut butter, and baking it in a 9” square pan? Bingo. Cookie base with no grain. I had a can of Dulce de Leche ready in the pantry, and always have  plenty of Ghirardelli Chocolate chips to make the chocolate ganache. A star is born. Cashew Turtle Bars? Cinco de Mayo Bars? Still no name. What could be better than cashews, caramel and chocolate? If I can make these, you can too. People will FOLLOW you for these, really.

Flourless Cashew Dulce de Leche Chocolate Bars
 aka Turtle Bars or aka Cinco de Mayo Bars 

Make these in time  for Cinco de Mayo, even if you weren't planning to celebrate, either. These are very, very easy to make, but they do require chilling time of about an hour between making the layers. Keep the finished bars refrigerated until serving time. Ovo Lacto Vegetarian, gluten free, grain free. But so damn good, who cares?

1 cup unsalted cashew butter
1 egg
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can dulce de leche (Nestle La Lechera Dulce de Leche, 13.4 oz can)

1/2 cup cashew halves and pieces
8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips, high quality
2/3 cup heavy cream

Cut a piece of baking parchment that will leave an overhang on two sides of a 9” square baking dish so you can use it to help lift out the cookies. Spray the pan and parchment with baking spray and set aside. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

In a medium bowl mix the egg, cashew butter, brown sugar and vanilla and salt until it forms a soft dough. If your cashew butter is unsalted, add another ¼ teaspoon of salt and mix in well. What you’ll have is something between a dough and a batter. Dump it into the middle of your prepared pan, and with wet fingers, pat it out into an even layer, as smoothly as you can. Rewet your hands as needed.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes until it’s browned lightly on the edges and the center springs back gently when pressed. Remove the pan to a rack and cool to room temperature. Spread the dulce the leche evenly over the cooled crust and place the pan in the refrigerator for about an hour until the dulce de leche is cool and firm.

Place the chocolate chips in a heatproof medium bowl. Heat the heavy cream until just below a simmer, and then pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips. Let stand about 3 to 4 minutes, and then stir with a silicone spatula until it smoothes out and all the chocolate is melted. Let cool for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a softly spreadable consistency. You can speed things up with an ice water bath if you wish, but be careful not to get any water into the ganache.

These are easy to remove from the pan by gently lifting,
 using the parchment overhang as handles.

When the ganache is ready, remove the pan from the fridge, spread the chocolate ganache over the dulce the leche, and then decorate the top with cashews. Refrigerate until completely cold. Lift the uncut bars out of the baking pan using the parchment “sling” and place it on a cutting board. Cut with a long, sharp heavy knife, rinsing in hot tap water and wiping the knife blade carefully between cuts so the layers don’t look smeared.

Makes 18. Store in fridge, although at room temperature, they’re even gooier, goodier.

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