Caramel de Lite Cookie Bars

makes 24 cookie bars

For the Shortbread

4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 extra large egg yolk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

For the Topping

3 cups of loosely packed shredded sweetened coconut, toasted*

14-ounce bag of Kraft chewy caramels, unwrapped

4 tablespoons half and half

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon coconut extract

10 ounces dark, semisweet, or milk chocolate chips, divided (I used a mixture of semi-sweet and milk)

*You can toast the coconut in the oven or on the stove top.  For the oven method, preheat the oven to 300º F.  Spread the coconut evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until golden.  For the stove-top method, toast the coconut in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until, stirring frequently until the coconut is golden.

Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing excess to hang over edges for easy removal.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and blend.  Reduce the speed to low and beat in the flour and salt.  Mix until combined.  Pour the crumbled dough into the prepared pan.  Using a sheet of plastic wrap, evenly press the dough into the pan.  Prick the dough several times with the tines of a fork.  Bake until the crust is set and the edges are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Set on a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, in a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt 7 ounces of the chocolate on high for 1 minute.  Stir and microwave at 10-15 second intervals if needed.  Pour the melted chocolate over the shortbread crust and smooth using an off-set spatula.  Set aside to cool and harden.

In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the caramels, half and half, and salt.  Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping every 1 minute to stir.  When the caramels have melted and the mixture is completely smooth, add the coconut and coconut extract.

Using the parchment overhang, remove the shortbread crust from the pan.  Carefully invert the crust onto another sheet of parchment paper so that the chocolate layer is on the bottom and place on a baking sheet.  Place spoonfuls of the caramel topping onto the crust.  Working quickly, use an off-set spatula to spread the mixture into an even layer.  To keep the chocolate layer from melting, place the baking sheet in the refrigerator to set completely.

Once the chocolate is set and completely cooled, remove from the refrigerator.  Transfer the parchment to a cutting board and cut into 24 bars.  Melt the remaining 3 ounces of chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl.  Using a piping bag, ziploc bag with the corner cut off, or a spoon, drizzle the chocolate over the cut bars.  Allow the chocolate to set completely.  Store in an airtight container in a cool location.  Enjoy!

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