Chewy Peanut-Caramel Bars

Makes about 32 bars

These are what Snickers bars would be if they were turned into bar
cookies. Nancy Baggett says these irresistible bars are runaway best
sellers at school bake sales. Our recipe tester's daughter took some to
her high school and instantly became "Miss Popularity." These are good
cold from the refrigerator, good at room temperature, and good frozen
(like when you try to keep them in the freezer for unexpected guests, but
your family finds them and eats them anyway).

Adapted from Baggett's "The All-American Dessert Book" (Houghton Mifflin,
2005).

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups flour
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into chunks
5 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:

1 1/4 cups tightly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped unsalted peanuts
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels or mini-morsels

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375
degrees. Prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking dish by lining it with aluminum
foil and coating the foil with nonstick spray oil. For the crust: In a
food processor, blend the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse
until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the cream and vanilla
extract and pulse just until the dough holds together, being careful not
to overprocess. Press the dough firmly and evenly across the bottom of the
baking dish and prick the crust all over with a fork. Bake for 20 to 25
minutes, or until just tinged with brown all over and slightly darker at
the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

For the topping: In a heavy, medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add
the brown sugar, corn syrup, cream, butter and salt. Bring the mixture to
a boil, stirring frequently. Add 2 1/2 cups of the peanuts. Cook, stirring
frequently, for 2 1/2 minutes, adjusting the heat so the mixture boils
briskly. Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
Pour the hot topping over the crust, covering the entire surface as evenly
as possible and smoothing it with a greased table knife, if necessary. Let
cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the chocolate morsels on top and let stand
for a few more minutes or until the chocolate is partially melted. Using a
table knife, spread the melted chocolate over the topping. Sprinkle the
remaining 1/2 cup peanuts on top. Let cool completely before cutting into
bars about 1 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches.

The bars can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up
to
10 days or frozen for 2 months. Bring to room temperature, if desired,
before serving.

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